By Virginia G. Guzman-Manzo, MD
According to the plan of God, marriage is the foundation of the family and the institution of marriage and conjugal love are ordained to the procreation and education of children. The matrimonial covenant which establishes a lifetime partnership between two baptized persons, a man and a woman, has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a Sacrament. Unity, indissolubility and openness to fertility are essential to marriage. God blessed man and woman with the words, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28).
The gift of conjugal love given to husband and wife by God making them “one flesh” does not end with the couple because it makes them capable of the greatest gift–the gift by which they become cooperators with God in giving life to a new human person. The refusal of fertility turns married couples away from the “supreme gift”, the gift of a child (Gaudium et Spes, 50 & 1).
The spouses’ union achieves the two-fold end of marriage: unitive (the good of the spouses themselves) and procreative (the transmission of life). The conjugal love of man and woman stands under the two-fold obligation of fidelity and fecundity. They will fulfill this duty with a sense of human and Christian responsibility. This is known as responsible parenthood.
Humanae Vitae, an encyclical issued by Pope Paul VI in 1968, teaches two ways of living responsible parenthood:
to raise a large family or, for just and grave reasons, to have recourse to temporal or periodic continence in order to delay possible frequent births. In both cases, the intention ought to be the same–not to oppose, but rather to fulfill the design of God regarding one’s family.
Regarding the responsibility in the regulation of procreation, the Church teaches that for “just and grave reasons,” spouses may space or delay the births of their children only through the licit and moral method known–Natural Family Planning or NFP. It is the only method of spacing pregnancy sanctioned by God through the Church. Any artificial form of contraception is unacceptable to the Catholic faith.
Artificial means of contraception such as the use of chemicals or substances (contraceptive pills, injections, spermicidals, etc.), barrier methods (condoms, IUDs, diaphragms, vaginal rings, etc.) and sterilization (tubal ligation, vasectomy) are morally wrong and sinful because they go against the natural law of which God is the Author and against the divine law which embraces God’s teachings and commandments.
For example, contraceptive pills stop a woman from ovulating and thus render her infertile. Ovulation is a normal and natural process in a woman’s body which is ordained by God to be that way according to His plans. Preventing a natural and normal process is against the order of nature, thus going against God who is the Creator and Author of nature.
Another example is tubal ligation or vasectomy. Rendering a perfectly normal organ of the body which has its own particular function mandated by God is mutilation. Destroying a perfectly normal organ to render it useless unless it is diseased is mutilation which is against the 5th Commandment. Life begins at conception which means that when an ovum is fertilized by a sperm giving rise to a zygote, God immediately endows it with a soul and therefore a human life has begun. Some contraceptives are abortifacients, meaning they prevent a newly formed human being from implanting on the uterus by rendering its environment hostile to life, thus causing abortion which is a grave sin.
Other negative effects of the contraception programs are sexual permissiveness, loss of respect for the sacrament of marriage, and degradation of women who become sterile objects for sex at any time.
NFP is an umbrella term for certain methods used either to achieve or postpone pregnancies. These methods are based on the observation of naturally occurring signs of the fertile phase of a woman’s fertility cycle. Couples who wish to have children may use the NFP by having sexual relations during the fertile phase of the wife. On the other hand, those who, for just and grave reasons, wish to space or delay pregnancy will avail of the wife’s infertile phase. There are no drugs, devices or surgical procedures used in the practice of NFP. NFP is a marvelous resource God has built in our bodies. It allows couples to use their human wisdom in cooperation with God and to build their families in a loving and responsible way.
The different natural methods are: 1) Symptoms based: Billing’s Ovulation and Basal Temperature Methods, 2) Calendar based: Rhythm and Standard Days Methods, and 3) Lacto-Amenorrhea or Breast Feeding Method. Due to space constraints, these methods cannot be discussed here extensively. It is best that more detailed information about NFP be discussed with a trained NFP instructor or with a private physician who is an advocate of NFP. There are parish churches that may have NFP instructors or physicians who can help in explaining and giving instructions which method is best for a particular couple as these vary upon the individual circumstances of the spouses. (Ed. Note: quick online reference is available at http://www.nfpandmore.org/ and http://www.prolife.org.ph/article/articleview/964)
NFP is unique among the methods of family planning because its users work with the body instead of against it. Fertility is view as a blessing, not a curse, a reality of life that is accepted, not a problem to be solved. The advantages of NFP: 1) Because it works with the natural physiology of the body, NFP has no harmful side-effects (that may lead to cancer, pelvic infection, weight gain, depression, headaches, hypertension, risk of strokes and blood clots, etc.) that are often the result of prolonged use of artificial contraceptives; 2) Free of any abortifacient effect and therefore acceptable in most cultural, ethnic and religious contexts; 3) Lessens maternal and infant mortality; 40 Virtually cost-free; 5) Restores dignity to women since both spouses accept he fertility cycle and therefore the woman will not be reduced to a mere sterile object which may be used at will; 6) Builds strong marriages because it calls for shared husband and wife responsibility; and 7) Most of all, it is moral acceptable.
Humanae Vitae cites “physical, economic, psychological and social conditions as possibly compelling reasons” to avoid pregnancy. It is the duty of the spouses to make certain that their desire to practice NFP is not motivated by selfishness or egoism but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. There are varied “just and grave reasons” particular to different individuals depending on their circumstances such as serious or debilitating physical illness of either spouse, heavy financial difficulties, psychological or emotional incapacity of one or both spouses, etc. These reasons have to be consulted with a priest or one’s spiritual director for proper guidance.
NFP is illicit and immoral even among married couples whose motives are purely selfish and egoistic such as hedonism, vanity or frivolity, refusal to bear the burden and sacrifices of pregnancy and rearing of children due to fear of physical and financial burden even though the spouses are physically and financially capable. For example, if a wife does not want to have more children because she does not want to lose her beautiful figure, or because the spouses fear the physical and material sacrifice in raising a child, or they want to enjoy life without the burden of having several children, etc., then NFP becomes immoral.
Needless to say, NFP is also immoral among unmarried couples.
When couples are taught by a competent teacher and follow the rules of the method carefully, NFP is highly successful in achieving their intended family plan. Numerous studies (including one done by the U. S. government) have shown that the most common NFP methods are 97% effective for avoiding pregnancy. That is as effective as the birth control pills and far more effective than barrier methods. This means that among couples who are well taught in NFP, who have made a clear decision to postpone pregnancy, who understand the rules of avoiding pregnancy and follow them carefully, no more than 3% of these couples will experience failure in spacing the births of their children. There are no known disadvantages unless the need of the spouses to practice self-discipline and acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions is considered a disadvantage. Actually, this is an advantage because it makes the couple stronger in the practice of virtues.
Children are gifts from God whom He has entrusted to parents to love, to educate and to raise up worthy to be called children of God. The Church encourages married couples to have many children because the “number of guests at the banquet table should not be diminished”. As long as they have been brought up to be good children imbibed with Christian values and virtues and taught of the love of God and family, children will always be a great source of joy to their parents and a loving and strong support in their old age. Admittedly, the rearing of children entails a lot of sacrifice but there is no love without sacrifice. In the final analysis, when we face our Creator, every single sacrifice in this earth will be rewarded abundantly in heaven. God cannot be outdone in generosity.
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