Tag Archives: birth control

“Church-Approved Birth Control” and A Lesson in Logic

I got a question from a reader asking why NFP is ok when the Church says artificial birth control is not.  I was reminded of this comment I received on a recent post of mine:

Use the pill for a month while having sex. No pregnancy.

Use condoms for a month while having sex. No pregnancy.

Use NFP for a month while having sex approximately for a possible 10-11 days of the month because that’s when fertility is low [disclaimer: this number is way off].  No pregnancy.

Different ways of getting the same thing. No real difference.

Well, NFP does have a difference I guess. It means having a lot less sex.

I see why the Catholic Church approves. 

Zing!  Gotta love the one-liner, right?  Unfortunately, while one-liners are great for eliciting laughs, they’re rarely ideal for facilitating thoughtful discussion.  And even though thoughtful discussion may not be the goal of the mock-news shows we watch on Comedy Central, it becomes a problem when us normal, everyday-folk confuse these snarky remarks for valid arguments.  So let’s take this one head-on.

“Natural Family Planning is just Church-approved birth control”

The funny thing is that no one is really trying to say this premise isn’t true.  The Church has always said that there exist valid reasons that a married couple may have for wishing to delay or space out pregnancies.  If you want to call it “control” then fine, but we’re less delusional about how much control we actually have over things in this life, so we call it “planning.”  Semantics, I guess.

Anyway, the issue I have is with the unspoken punch line that, since the Church approves a “natural” form of birth control, it’s silly for Her to oppose it in an artificial form.

Logic 101

Clearly this argument is operating on the [false] assumption that just because two parties may agree to a certain end, it automatically follows that they must agree on each and every means to achieve that end.  (“Different ways of getting the same thing.  No real difference”) We hear it argued again and again that contraception and natural family planning are of the same moral and ethical weight because their goal is [often] to achieve the same end: No pregnancy.

Allow me to show you how absurd this assumption is.

I can agree with you that someone who is 70 pounds overweight should probably lose those 70 pounds.  It doesn’t mean that I have to agree with you when you tell that person, “Hey!  A great way to shed those pounds is to just throw up after every meal…you can eat whatever you want to and still lose weight!”

End result of bulimia: 70 pounds lighter.
End result of healthy diet and exercise: 70 pounds lighter.

“Different ways of getting the same thing”?  “No real difference”?  Hardly…

No psychologically healthy person is trying to say that these two options used to achieve weight loss should be treated equally, much less that the option that makes rapid weight loss “easier” (bulimia) should be preferred to the natural and healthy way.

A common goal does not automatically validate every means used to achieve that goal.

To be clear: Even if you don’t think there is anything wrong with using artificial contraception, please realize that you’re not making any sort of witty argument against the Catholic Church by pointing out that the Church, too, understands there are valid reasons for delaying pregnancies.  …You’re kind of just helping out bloggers like me in showcasing Her Wisdom.

The Church’s Teaching: NFP vs. The Pill

So we have established that NFP and artificial contraception are not one and the same, and that to support one does not necessarily mean you are required to support the other.  Now we should probably answer the question of why, according to the Church, NFP is ok and artificial birth control is not.

[I’ve already written a post about why the Catholic Church is against artificial birth control, so I won’t re-hash all of that here.]

To deny the reciprocal total gift of self its true expression in the marital act is to deny a true expression of love, which the Church is just not ok with.  You are not expressing love for someone when you are holding back a part of yourself from him or her.

So, then why is NFP ok?  Well first of all it’s not always ok.  If your motivations are simply selfish and there really is no serious reason why you cannot or should not have another child at this time, the Church does not intend for NFP to become simply a “natural” alternative to artificial birth control.  It’s meant to be a way for families who would be harmed financially, or in some other way, by having another child at that time.  Also, it should be said that choosing to practice NFP has to be agreed upon by both husband and wife.  If at any time either the husband or wife wishes to stop practicing NFP, the other cannot use NFP as a justification for denying his or her spouse their marital right.

Natural Family Planning is not simply a “natural” alternative to artificial birth control because it does not reduce sex simply to a means to achieve pleasure.  It’s not that pleasure is bad; it’s just that sex is supposed to be about so much more than pleasure—it’s supposed to be about love (i.e. total gift of self).

So yes, while practicing NFP, you are choosing to abstain from sexual activity during those days on which you are most fertile (which by the way, is usually about 4 days out of the month).  But you are choosing to do this with your spouse, whom you love, and whom you would never wish to reduce merely to an object of achieving pleasure for yourself.  It’s a more consistent expression of the life-giving love that isn’t afraid of a little sacrifice for the greater good of the family.

Ask Mary: I really, really don’t want kids.

Question:

I’m an 18 year old female college student, and I have just gotten back in touch with Catholicism…

…I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting back into my faith, but there is something that REALLY continues to rub me wrong. I’ve prayed and prayed about it, but I am not getting any answer. I’ve researched it, but just hear the same things over and over and it just doesn’t sit right with me, and that is the issue of contraception. I’ve read humanae vitae, I’ve researched “natural family planning”, and it all still leaves me completely unsatisfied still. I see where the Church is coming from on this issue, however, I feel that God has called me to do something else with my future besides staying at home with my “loving” husband and having a billion children…And then I went to the church and asked my female minister about it. The gist was this: If you have the financial capability, happiness, and wealth, your job is basically to be popping out children.

This just honestly does not sit right with me…Some women love being mothers, and being a mother is certainly an honorable duty, but I don’t think I’m cut out for it. I’m very ambitious and have goals of working for the Department of Defense, not sacrificing all my happiness because the Church says I should.

I was considering getting an IUD. I am not in a relationship currently and have no plans of having sex any time soon, but just in case, I know for SURE that I don’t want children for at least 5 years. I know the Catholic church hates “the pill” because there’s this ridiculously tiny chance that sperm and egg meet, but with an IUD, that never happens. 

Is it still just so completely wrong? I’ve prayed and prayed about this issue, and have not received any answer it seems. I just get that same feeling I always have had. I don’t think birth control is such a horrible sin against God like people make it out to be. Prayer, research, and everything keep me coming to the exact same conclusions! I don’t want to say that God says it’s alright because I don’t know, but I’m not feeling a ridiculously large objection here!

What do you think? I’m just horribly frustrated. Thanks for any advice you can give.

Answer:

Thanks for this question.  I would like to begin my answer by asking you a question of my own…

You say in your last paragraph, “I don’t want to say that God says it [birth control] is alright because I don’t know.”

My question is this: Why don’t you know?

A lot of people see the “rules” of our Catholic faith as something that tie us down and keep us from being free to discover God and the truth on our own.  But this is a huge misunderstanding.  For one, God is infinite, and so far beyond our human capability to understand that, were it not for Him reaching down to us and divinely revealing Himself to us, we would never be able to ascend to Him on our own.  The truth is that, far from hampering our ability to know and understand truth for ourselves, the teachings of the Church (which come from the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles and their successors) are precisely what enable us to understand truth in the first place.  When we live the teachings of the Church, we become more—not less— free to discover truth, beauty, and goodness (and thus, God Himself).

My point: You actually do know what God says about birth control.  He has told you in the moral teachings of the Church, that practicing artificial birth control is not, has never been, and will never be true, beautiful, or good for you.

 

Why Not?

Now, I could be totally off here.  But it seems to me that your understanding of why the Church “hates” the pill is because it can, at times, act as an abortifacient?

That may be true…but that is not the only reason.  The Church is also against condoms as a means of birth control, and they’re not aborting any babies either.  There’s something deeper to the reason for this teaching that you may be missing.

Let’s talk nature.  The natural end of sex is a baby, just like the natural end of food is nutrition.  Not every crumb of food we eat ends up being used to nourish our bodies.  And that’s ok.  Likewise, not every sexual encounter results in a baby.  And that’s ok, too.

But let’s say I decided I didn’t want to allow food to nourish my body at all—that I just wanted to enjoy the taste of it and nothing else.  I could make the decision to vomit every meal (or at least the majority of meals) I consume.  …But then you’d call me bulimic, because that behavior is disordered (hence the term “eating disorder”).

Likewise, I could decide I just want pleasure of the sexual encounter, without giving any real opportunity for the natural end (procreation) to occur.  …But the Church would call that disordered because, well—from a purely natural standpoint—it is.

I know you said you’ve read it, but I’d like to direct your attention to paragraph 17 of humanae vitae for further clarification of the Church’s teaching on contraception:

Another effect [of the use of contraception] that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Many may read this and scoff, but I think it’s pretty apparent that the widespread use of contraception has in fact led to this result.  Sex has become little more than pleasure, and no longer a total gift of self (after all, you are holding a part of yourself back from your partner when you use contraception, so you cannot truthfully say you are giving yourselves entirely to one another in that union).  As a result, those with whom we engage in the sexual act when we are using contraception become, for all practical purposes (and whether we are conscious of it or not), nothing more than objects we use to bring about our own pleasure.  We may tell ourselves it’s ok because the using is mutual.  Call the Church crazy, but it has always held, and will always hold, that the mutual using of one another for pleasure is not love.

NFP, IUDs, and The Pill

Natural Family Planning can be very effective when practiced properly.  And while you should not practice NFP with a “contraceptive mentality,” not every Catholic couple is necessarily called to have 12 children, either.  The following is an excerpt from a brief article that I think does a good job explaining the Church’s teaching with regards to the choice to have children:

There is no decision more serious to a Catholic couple than whether or not to participate with God in bringing a new human person into existence. The more serious a decision, the more it is due prayer, discussion and discernment. I teach my seminarians in Denver that God has a plan for every married couple; that the plan includes how many children they should have; and therefore if a couple is concerned about doing Jesus’ will, they should try to discover whether Jesus wishes them to have more children. They should have all the children that Jesus wants them to have, no less, and no more. Therefore, whenever they are conscious that they might become pregnant, they should discuss and pray over the question: “Does Jesus want us to have another child?” The idea that this question is intrinsically tainted with selfish motives is rigoristic and should be rejected. Every potentially fertile couple, as well as infertile couples capable of adopting, has the responsibility to ask it.

Finally: birth control pills and IUDs (in addition to the spiritual and emotional damage they can cause) are also associated with many other medical problems.  And since you’re not yet married nor planning to get married anytime soon, there should be no reason why you’d be considering getting an IUD at this time anyway.  (By the way, it is definitely not true that an IUD cannot cause an abortion).

The Church Wants You to Be Happy

If you get one thing from my reply, let it be this: God wants you to be happy even more than you want yourself to be happy.  And seeing as He created you and thus knows you better than you know yourself, He knows better than you do what will make you happy.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m NOT saying: “God knows that 12 kids is really what makes every woman happy…so just drop this whole Department of Defense dream and start popping out babies.”  (There are many examples of women in the Church whom we revere as saints that never had children!) What I am saying is this: you can’t be as happy as God wants you to be if you are disobeying the teachings of the Church that He established.  They are there for a reason—and that reason is your happiness.

I don’t know what your vocation is.  God could very well call you to marriage, religious life, or even to the consecrated single life.  I can say with 100% certainty that whatever He calls you to, it will make you happier than you ever imagined.  I can say with 100% certainty that eternal happiness is not something we have to wait until we die for.  It is something that can begin right now by clinging to God in prayer and by living in accordance with the teachings of the Church (even when we may not fully understand them yet).  I can say with 100% certainty that God will never desire for you to disobey the moral teachings of the Church, so if you think that you are hearing God tell you it’s ok, it’s probably not God’s voice you are listening to, but your own.

It’s a long answer, but it was a big question 🙂  I hope it provided some clarity for you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:34)

A woman visited her doctor. “Doctor,” she said, “I have a perfectly functioning circulatory system.”

“That’s good,” the doctor replied.

“Well,” she said, “I was wondering if you could give me a drug to make it stop functioning the way that it is supposed to.”

“That’s crazy!” the doctor replied. “Why would I give you something to make your circulatory system stop functioning well?”

“Ok,” the woman replied, “but how about my respiratory system. It seems to be working fine. Could you give me something to mess it up?”

The doctor was shocked. “Of course not! No doctor in their right mind would intentionally give you a drug to mess up a healthy respiratory system.”

“Well, how about my reproductive system?” asked the woman. “Can you give me something to make it stop functioning the way that it is supposed to?”

“Certainly,” the doctor replied. “We have all kinds of medicines to do that.”

Because Religious Freedom Is Cool

There are 195 bishops in the United States.  At the time of writing this, 101 of them have spoken out against the new HHS mandate, which requires that sterilization and contraception, including controversial abortifacients, be among the “preventive services” coverage in almost every healthcare plan available to Americans, including health plans offered by religious organizations.

In short: this requires Catholic organizations to violate basic tenets of their faith or shut down.

Rather than writing a post about this, I thought I’d link to one that sums it up quite nicely.  Please—Catholic or not— spread the word and sign the petition.

This injustice is not something that need solely concern the Catholic Church — if the federal government can force Catholics to act against their consciences, they can force anyone to act against their conscience, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Atheist, and by the same pitiful reasoning.

When I get married, I want 17 kids.

Ok— maybe I’m not honestly planning on having 17 children.  Actually, I’m not thinking about having children at all right now (due, of course, to my unmarried state).

I do, however, come from a family of 5 children—which for many people is a lot of children, especially given the fact that we are all within 2 years apart from one another.  Every one of my 4 siblings is married with at least 1 child, giving me a grand total of 8 adorable nieces and nephews.  And wanna know the “crazy” thing?

None of my siblings (nor my parents) practice artificial birth control.  And if/when I get married, I won’t either.

Call it what you will.  Irresponsible.  Insane.  Outright disturbing.  I’ve heard it all before, and it only makes me more proud to be a part of a family that lives out and takes seriously this most controversial teaching of the Catholic Church.  It’s not that I enjoy controversy for controversy’s sake.  No—it’s that I wholeheartedly believe that a fuller truth, a truer happiness, and a more authentic love are on our side when it comes to the stance my family takes on using artificial contraception.

Why?  Because I believe in marriage, and I believe in love.  I believe the most perfect expression of the love between a husband and wife is the sexual union.  And I unreservedly reject anything that seeks to cheapen or distort that expression of love and turn it into something it is not.  To me (and I believe to anyone who really sits down and reflects on it with an open mind for some time), contraception is one of those things.

My family believes (as the Catholic Church teaches) that the purpose of sex within marriage is twofold: 1) for the unity of the couple, and 2) for the procreation of offspring.  Don’t misunderstand my meaning.  This DOES NOT mean that I think every time a married couple has sex that they need to be intending or trying to have a child.  It simply means that the married couple needs to be open to having children as a result of their union.

It’s pretty clear why the unitive aspect of sex is so important to a married couple; but to our modern society, it’s far less clear why it matters that a couple be open to having children every time they engage in sex.  Simply put, the reason is: love.

Life-giving Love: Sex is supposed to be a total gift of yourself to your spouse.  The act of sex renews the wedding vows, to hold nothing back from your partner.  Using contraception, we close off a part of ourselves from our spouse, cheapening the authentic expression of total, life giving love that sex is meant to be.

Respect: Because contraception rejects the life-giving aspect of the sexual union, I believe that it is a form of disrespect to the body—making the body little more than a mere instrument used for sexual pleasure.  Of course, it is not at all that I think that most couples that use birth control are doing so with the intent of using one another, but I do think that, over time, it can be an unintended, and undesired effect (even if the couple cannot specifically point to birth control as the reason for their eventual emotional distance).

Come on, Get Real

I do realize (as does the Catholic Church) that often times there are legitimate reasons to space out or delay pregnancy within a family.  In those cases, it is still not ever a good idea to contracept, because all of the negative effects that come with it still apply.  However science has made great strides in a natural way for couples who need to either delay or achieve pregnancy.  It’s called Natural Family Planning, and it has a near 99% success rate.

Rather than unnaturally altering or inhibiting the proper functions of the body, NFP requires the couple work with the woman’s body to achieve the desired result (it involves charts and temperature taking and all that jazz.  Of course I’ve never done it, so I can’t really tell ya from experience).  I can tell you that couples who practice NFP have a divorce rate less than 1% (fact).  Though it’s important to realize that it’s not necessary for every couple—I believe that if you have the means to support a family and don’t have a good, non-selfish, reason for delaying children, there is no need to practice NFP in order to delay pregnancy.  Love can’t be selfish, so neither can sex, right?

A Final Word on Children

People are uncomfortable with large families and lots of kids.  I’ve never understood why.  Though children are often messy and difficult to control, any mentally stable person who has children will tell you without hesitation about the joy that children bring to a life and to a marriage.  Is raising a family easy?  Hardly.  Does the love they bring to a family make up a hundred fold for all of the struggle?  Drawing from my own experience growing up in a larger family and from literally anyone I have talked to about their children, you better believe it does.

Condoms, Cookies, and Children

Last week, the Philadelphia Public Health Department launched a new campaign encouraging teens to “take control of their health”.  The website, TakeControlPhilly, educates teens on the importance of condom use, and invites children as young as 11 to request to have a package of condoms mailed to them—completely free of charge!  Yippee!!

When asked by members of the public if perhaps giving condoms away to 11-year-olds wasn’t such a good idea, the City Health Commissioner, Donald Schwarz replied:

“Clearly, we don’t think it’s OK for 11-year-olds to be having sex,” says Schwarz. “But we don’t have the infrastructure in place to fix [that] problem fast. We can, however, make condoms available fairly quickly to whoever needs them.”

Schwarz wasn’t the first to use this talking point, and he won’t be the last.  For some reason, people actually believe that giving away free condoms without discretion actually solves more problems than it creates.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that using condoms doesn’t help to stop the spread of certain diseases (though just a fun fact for you: HPV is the most common type of STD and the condom is useless against it).  I’m saying that arguing that giving condoms away doesn’t encourage more people to have sex is like trying to argue that little kids won’t eat cookies that are placed right in front of them.  …Which reminds me of a video I saw on YouTube a while back…

Ok so you get the point.  These kids were even given a real incentive for not eating the cookie right away…they would get another cookie!  And even then some couldn’t do it.  Can you blame them?  The cookie was right there, and no real consequences threatened them if they decided to eat it.

Obviously we’re talking about something much more meaningful (and much more appealing) than cookies, here.  And what is the incentive that the city, who is giving the 11-year-olds condoms, giving them for not using them?  “Only use these if you need them”?  What does that even mean to an 11-year-old?  Giving condoms away doesn’t really solve any real problems.  It’s like settling for putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.