The current controversy over the US government’s mandate with regards to women’s healthcare has shone a light on the Catholic Church and her teachings. Considering how many people, both inside and outside of the Catholic Church, are ignorant of this beautiful and unalterable teaching, this debate provides the perfect opportunity to enlighten the population.
Understanding The History
Firstly, a brief history lesson is necessary. In 1798, Thomas Malthus, an English economist proposed the first population scare. He wrote that population would increase at a rate that would surpass the available food supply, thereby, leading to mass starvation. As an Anglican clergyman, Malthus recommended that people delay getting married (which at that time did not mean they should live together for a few years) and that couples should practice total abstinence once their desired number of children was reached. In 1823, his dire predictions continued to be promoted by the neo-Malthusians; however, they dumped the pesky morality component that called for abstinence and encouraged people to have their cake and eat it, too, by contracepting . American Protestant reformer, Anthony Comstock successfully petitioned the US Congress and several states to outlaw contraceptives in 1870 because at that time all Christian churches understood that contraception was fundamental wrong.
Enter Margaret Sanger, who like Hilter wanted to rid the gene pool of misfits (like people of other races or abilities), she was the famous American that dedicated herself to promoting unnatural forms of birth control. Ms. Sanger is the mother of Planned Parenthood, the organization that continues her legacy today by setting up clinics in communities which predominantly consist of minorities. By 1930, the bishops of the Church of England also caved into the secular pressure for contraception during the Lambeth Conference. Then, a year later, in the US, the Federal Council of Churches followed down the same slippery slope. The Catholic Church understood that the moral teachings given to her by Jesus Christ are and always will be unalterable. So, the Catholic Church stood alone, and continues to do so today, in proclaiming that contraception and sterilization are inherently wrong.
While it is true that several shepherds within the Church, personally and publicly, rejected this teaching, they had no authority to do so. Like Judas, their consciences were corrupt and they misled others with their public dissent. In order to correct the confusion, Pope Paul VI, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote the encyclical Humanae Vitae in which he reaffirmed the Church’s Tradition. Prophetically, he spoke of the ends (including abortion, diminished respect for woman, increased divorce rates) that would result should people accept contraception. Today, it is quite clear that Pope Paul VI’s warnings were divinely inspired as every consequence he predicted has come to pass.
Consider that Malthus’ theories were wrong. Our ability to produce food is such that we here in the US routinely throw mountains of food into the garbage every day. Of course, Malthus’ failed ideas have simply morphed into today’s environmental hysteria which is based on similarly infantile science. The populations of Europe are currently dying out, literally; not from lack of food, but from lack of people. As the number of births has declined, whole generations are missing to enter the workforce and to care for the elder generations. Like Hitler, Margaret Sanger is long dead, unfortunately their racist agenda persists and is now even funded by the government. It is no secret that Planned Parenthood continues to target the poor and minorities and now there is a new tool in the arsenal, ultrasound. With ultrasound, doctors can inform parents whether or not their unborn child is even worthy of being born.
Has The Church Failed?
So, what are couples expected to do, you might ask. Is the Catholic Church forcing women to bear more children than they are able to properly care for? Is the Catholic Church some archaic, male-dominated institution that seeks to enslave women by keeping them barefoot and pregnant? Are these teachings simply the musings of a group of sad, old men who have no idea of the struggles of family life? Has the Catholic Church simply failed to keep up with the changing times? Nothing could be further from the truth!
Firstly, one must understand that God, Himself, created the joy of sex. He gave man and woman the power to procreate while He retained the role of Creator. In the marital embrace, he designed the perfect way for husband and wife to physically manifest their sacramental union of oneness. Both of these gifts, unity and the power to procreate, belong in every act of intercourse and when they do, the truth, beauty and joy of the sexual encounter is experienced by the couple. Contrary, to “modern” theory, God isn’t a prude and He knows well the crosses that couples bear in raising a family. So, in His infinite wisdom, He designed woman with limited periods of fertility.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, based on the science of the time, physicians developed and promoted the Rhythm Method for spacing children. The Catholic Church was able to accept this method because it did nothing to destroy the marital act nor destroy a potential child. It should be noted that all married couples are called to generosity, but that they are free to prayerfully discern if they have a just reason to postpone a pregnancy in any given month.
The Rhythm Method sought to give couples the knowledge about the woman’s fertile and infertile times each cycle, so that couples could avoid sexual intimacy during the fertile days if they felt called to avoid a pregnancy. Unfortunately, the Rhythm Method was based on elementary science which assumed every woman had a 28 day cycle and that every woman therefore ovulated on day 14 of every cycle. The days of fertility to be avoided were then based on a non-individual based calculation that was applied to every woman. This proved successful for some couples, but not for others. The Rhythm Method, sadly, became characterized as Catholic birth control.
The Science Of Our Times
Today our scientific knowledge has increased by leaps and bounds and so we now have 99% effective methods for postponing pregnancy. I say postponing because, unlike with contraception and sterilization, family planning is meant to be a continual, prayerful assessment of God’s call in our married lives.
My husband and I teach a method known as the Symptom-Thermal Method (STM) of Natural Family Planning (NFP). As volunteers, we have the privilege of teaching women that their body displays three detectable signs of fertility/infertility each month. With a little education, a woman can read her body signals (cervical mucus, basal temperature and cervix state). Unlike contraception, NFP methods respect the nature and beauty of a women’s body. NFP does not require women to insert nor ingest items or medications which cause harmful or unpleasant side effects. There are no long term costs involved in practicing NFP. There are no environmental hazards, like estrogen leeched into your drinking water. Practicing NFP is a two person job because it requires self control from both the man and the woman, so unlike contraception it is not solely the woman’s responsibility. Additionally, the knowledge gained through reading a woman’s body has helped couples of diminished fertility to conceive.
Where contraception attempts to alter the woman’s body hormonally, thwart the man’s sperm or destroy a newly conceived life, NFP leads couples to abstain from sexual relations during the fertile days each month. It protects the nature of the sexual act, to be unitive and open to life. When husband and wife come together, they speak with their bodies. They say to one another, “I love all of you (including your fertility), I give all of myself to you.” By avoiding the marital embrace during the fertile days, the couple has not violated the marital union in anyway. In fact, they have chosen to make a sacrifice of their passionate desire for union for the good of the whole family. Each one, husband and wife, has said through their abstaining, “I want the best for you and for our whole family, so I am willing to place my desires on hold for a few days.”
I could go on and on about how women feel empowered when they come to realize the gifts of their fertility. I could talk at length about how a knowledgeable woman is better able to care for her own health. I could further explain how NFP requires men to learn self-control and how that leads them to better respect their partners and to appreciate the sexual union. The Catholic Church knows well the truth of all of these benefits that is why she has and will hold fast to the teaching that contraception in not good for women nor families.
Are Women Too Simple-Minded?
Some would promote the idea that poor women are less capable of learning how to read their fertility (code for women are too stupid), but that is a gross fallacy and one that is right in line with Margaret Sangers’ eugenic agenda. Others would say that poor men are like animals and cannot control their sexual appetites, but that too is a lie. The Catholic Church views every man and woman as an image of the Creator and as such he/she is inscribed with an inherent intelligence and worth. The Catholic Church, seemingly alone, is crying out in the secular wilderness that contraception is not healthcare and women deserve better. It is not simply a matter of not wanting Catholic institutions to pay for immoral products and services, it is a matter of serving and protecting women of every race and religion.
If contraception was truly allowing couples to plan their family, why have 50 million babies been aborted? If contraception was empowering women, why are so many women alone and unhappy? If contraception was beneficial to families, why are so many families shattered by divorce or led by single mothers?
This controversy could turn out to be a blessing in disguise, if faithful Catholics have the courage to live out loud by sharing the truth with everyone who will listen. We must reeducate ourselves and others to the teachings given us by Christ. We must defend the Catholic Church’s stance against contraception, not because we need to defend the church as an historical institution but because we must defend the Body of Christ. As God is unchanging and unending, so too is His Church and this teaching.
References: The Art of Natural Family Planning, John and Sheila Kippley