It’s a sad fact of modern life that even among Catholic women, artificial contraception remains the norm. It’s a source of great hope and joy that Natural Family Planning is gaining ground and not just in Catholic circles. When a positive discussion of Natural Family Planning methods makes it into a major medical journal, the idea is making headway.
We tend to overlook something in the discussion of contraception: Oral contraception creates an illness; it doesn’t cure one. Infertility is not the normal state of affairs for women in their childbearing years. Patients spend billions of dollars a year to reverse the effects of infertility. It’s interesting that artificial contraception, which treats no disease and intentionally interferes with the normal functioning of an organ system, was so readily accepted as standard medical practice.
It was driven by the desire of patients to space the birth of children. If patient pressures can change medical practice in this way, the same kind of patient pressure can help bring NFP into the mainstream that too often sees NFP as ineffective and “too Catholic” to be of much use.
Women themselves can help. We share our experiences about everything from laundry detergent to child rearing — why not NFP? Personal witness is critical in educating women about NFP and creating demand for it, but requires command of certain critical facts if it is going to be effective:
Studies show NFP to be as effective as other methods of family planning, and without adverse medical side effects. Used properly, NFP is as effective as the pill in avoiding pregnancy, though it is less effective in women with irregular cycles. When not perfectly practiced, NFP has a pregnancy rate slightly higher than that of oral contraceptives improperly used, but NFP avoids the serious medical complications, ranging from stroke to an emerging connection with breast cancer. Side effects of oral contraceptives may be comparatively rare on a percentage basis, but with so many women on the pill, they are not uncommon, and when they occur, they can be devastating.
NFP can be difficult for some couples. We need to be honest here. Sometimes finding the right method is hard. It takes work. But it isn’t impossible. Support groups — and resources like A Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning — are essential and an excellent idea for parish outreach.
NFP may not be covered by insurance. Although far less expensive than artificial contraception, there are some costs with NFP: initial training and consultation with an NFP coach, ovulation indicators, thermometers. Some insurance plans will cover these costs, some will not. Odds of coverage are better when a physician provides a prescription for NFP — another reason that acceptance by the medical community is important.
NFP is “green.” It’s a source of some amazement to me that women, who are up in arms over trans fats in cookies and non-organic produce, are willing to ingest, on a regular basis, artificial hormones to avoid pregnancy. Natural family planning is just that — natural.
NFP respects a woman’s body. NFP methods are designed to work with an individual woman’s cycle, not change it. It’s the ultimate in empowerment and dignity.
NFP helps women take control of their overall health. By making women more aware of the changes in their body through a menstrual cycle, NFP helps them identify when something is wrong, often early on.
NFP has proved effective for poor women. It’s cheap and it doesn’t create additional medical problems for them. In fact, as far back as the late 1990s, studies of NFP used by poor, rural woman in India showed it to be as effective as the pill and more easily accepted by the community.
Medicine is not immune to the law of supply and demand — when women begin to demand NFP from their doctors, it will become a standard offering. It’s time to get vocal and spread the word.
Barbara Golder had a 40-year career in medicine and law, including health care ethics. She is now the award-winning author of the 'Lady Doc' mystery series and serves as Director of Adult Faith Formation and Evangelization at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, Chattanooga TN. She blogs at ladydoclawyer.com.