What is Natural Family Planning?
People readily admit that “natural” things are good – natural orange juice, organically grown vegetables, free range eggs and foods free of artificial additives. However, at the same time, they use birth control pills which are not “natural” in any sense. Natural family planning is the most in keeping with our contemporary concern with what is natural and authentic.
Natural Family Planning has methods for achieving and avoiding pregnancy that are based on the observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of the menstrual cycle.
Couples using natural family planning methods to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman’s cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy.
NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, and promotes openness to life and the gift of the child. By complementing the love-giving and life-giving nature of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife.
Does NFP have a “contraceptive mentality”?
Some people claim that the intention of the couple practicing NFP may at times be no different (or not significantly different) from that of the contracepting couple.
There is nothing at all contraceptive about NFP, contraception and NFP are completely different. Contraception is against life. NFP is about abstinence during fertile times.
Some will hold that NFP, though not contraceptive, has the danger of being used with the same intention as contraception – this is philosophically unintelligible. The “end”, “goal”, or “intention” of contraception (speaking in terms of moral theory) is to render a particular sexual act infertile. The “mentality” of contraception is preventing procreation, i.e. making a procreative act to no longer be procreative.
Thinking about contraception and NFP in this way, it is quite clear that there is no possible way in which natural family planning could have a contraceptive mentality. While it is theoretically possible that NFP could be used in a bad way (and even a sinful way), it cannot possibly be used in a contraceptive way.
We may speak of the dangers of a “selfish” mentality, or even of a “sinful” mentality, but we simply cannot speak of a “contraceptive” mentality when it comes to natural family planning. Words are important, they communicate either truth or falsehood – it is false and harmful to claim that NFP is in danger of having a contraceptive mentality.
The “just causes” for using NFP
Some (even priests) will say that natural family planning can be used to space or limit child-birth only in the most extreme circumstances. We get the impression that, if the mother’s life is not in danger or if the family is not utterly destitute, NFP should not be employed as a means of limiting childbirth. This is not the teaching of the Church.
Very simply, the Church does not say that a couple must have “grave reasons” or be in “extreme circumstances” in order to make use of NFP. Rather, the Church speaks of “justae causae” – just causes. NFP cannot be used indiscriminately, but neither does the Church require families to have the absolute maximum number of children (at least, she has never indicated that this would be desirable).
For a couple to licitly make use of natural family planning, they must have a “just reason” – not a grave reason / extreme circumstance / life or death situation. The very nature of NFP keeps the couple open to the Lord’s gift of new and, if they remain united in prayer, they will be able to make a proper discernment of when to attempt to have another child.
There are 4 reasons that would justify the use of NFP given in the pontificate of Venerable Pius XII:
Example: When a woman is undergoing chemotherapy or are on drugs that would cause deformities in the child. In regard to serious medical reasons, Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae n. 16, also spoke of “reasonable grounds for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife.” Serious Psychological Problems.
If the couple would pass on dangerous birth defects or perhaps has a history of serial miscarriages, then periodic continence would make sense.
The married couple is too poor to provide for a new child.
The Holy Father refers here to serious social disorder. eg: a plague, war-time
Suggested articles for further reading and links
- From FLI Library: Natural Family Planning Nature’s Way – God’s Way. Wisconsin USA: De Rance Inc 1980 (Produced by Family Life Association, Tokyo).