Catholic Church's New Birth Control Option?

madonna and childI'm Catholic -- although, I must add, the kind of Catholics I roll with are much more likely to get arrested protesting at a nuclear weapons plant than at an abortion clinic. The church I go to (run by the Jesuits, an especially intellectual order) has a diverse congregation including gay people, divorced-and-remarried people, and at least one person who lived with her husband before marriage (that would be me).

So that's to say I'm Catholic for a lot of reasons, none of which have to do with agreement with many church teachings. So the top of my head about blew off when I saw that this week is Natural Family Planning Week. It celebrates what non-Catholics know as the Fertility Awareness Method, used as much to get pregnant as to avoid pregnancy. And now some Catholic doctors are trying to zazz it up with a new high-tech sounding name and suggest it as a cure for infertility as well.


Called NaProTECHNOLOGY (caps theirs), this supposed nifty new method is exactly, and I do mean exactly, a higher-tech version of what we were taught in our pre-marriage classes: watch your cervical mucus and body temperature to be aware of when your peak conception days are. And we all know what an effective birth control method that is.  Strict Catholics will tell you that it's nearly perfect when used properly --  but those people all seem to have a whole lot of kids.

The only difference is that it purports to be a better method for helping infertility as well. See, in addition to banning birth control and artificial sterilization (probably the least-followed rule in the church, if the fact every single Catholic friend I have has at most three kids is any indication), it also bans most infertility treatments. According to them, every sex act should be both unitive (bringing men and women together) and procreative, containing at least the possibility for conception. When the unitive act doesn't result in concepetion and never ever will, we're supposed to accept it a the will of God, even if that results in deep suffering for the couple in question.

I will say I agree with NatPro's central premise: that when IVF started, many of the diagnostic tools available now didn't exist. What that's turned into, in point of fact, is that there's too often a rush to do IVF without looking hard enough for the true cause of infertility.

Where I take issue, though, is two things: One, lots and lots of couples go through the whole battery of invasive, sometimes painful tests and surgeries only to find out nothing's wrong, but they still can't have a baby. IVF is probably the best treatment  in these cases, and NatPro doesn't really offer any answer for true, genuine, unexplained infertility.

Two, I really hate that they're dressing up an old method in fancy new high tech clothes, trying to make Catholic couples who actually follow the rules feel like they have the same options as everybody else if they choose to stick with the tenets of their faith. They don't, and it's not fair. My husband and I dealt with this issue seeking counsel from our wonderful, compassionate, truly Christian priest who told us it was a matter of our own conscience -- and happily baptized our baby a year later without asking how she came to us.

I expect better of my church than to fancy up its long-held rules with flashy marketing, and that's exactly what "NatProTECHNOLOGY" sounds like to me.

Did your religion affect your approach to family planning?

Image via Dominic Alves/Flickr



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