The Morality of Natural Family Planning?

Saturday, May 10, 2003



You know what the hardest part for me is in understanding the Church's teaching on contraception?

It's not the idea that sexuality is intended for procreation.

This may surprise most people, but it makes no sense why natural family planning is permitted. The proponents of natural family planning claim it's just effective or more so as the pill. So how does it express an openness to procreation?

It seems to me that drugs are made from the stuff of nature. The first law of thermodynamics is that matter can neither be created nor destroyed (by humanity, anyway). Birth control pills do not appear through magic. They are manufactured from natural materials found in creation.

So, if it's morally permissible to desire to have sex without wanting to have children, we might as well use the natural means that suit us best. Isn't that why we go to doctors when we're sick? How is taking "the pill" to prevent pregnancy different than taking an aspirin daily to prevent heart attacks or cure headaches (assuming we're not talking about abortificients)?

On the other hand, maybe children aren't supposed to be perceived as a disease to be prevented by pills or removed by surgery?

But if this is the case, natural family planning is a sin by its intent, because it still sees children as a problem to be avoided.

The real issue is this: are there legitimate reasons to express the unitive dimension of married sexuality without the intent of children?

If there are legitimate reasons for this, it doesn't matter what natural means you use, though I suppose natural family planning may be medically safer than using "the pill" or "the patch".

My wife and I don't use contraceptives, and we're trying to conceive. We both come from large families, love children, and if we can afford it, we really don't want to limit the number of children we have. However, that's our own choice, and our choices may not apply to every married couple.

Even Humanae Vitae seems to indicate there are legitimate reasons to have sexual relations within the context of marriage without desiring children in the manner of my wife and I. I have trouble understanding the Church's teaching because if it's legitimate to have such relations while simultaneously not wanting children, it should be legitimate to use the means God gave us to prevent conception! God gave us the means of preventing conception through patches and pills!

Some conservatives appeal to Scripture to demonstrate that "artificial contraception" is not permitted. This is done by appeal to the "sin of Onan" found in Genesis 38:8-10. The passage states that Judah's son Er had married Tamar. But Er offended the Lord and died. So, Judah told his next son Onan to "fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law".

In other words, Onan was supposed to impregnate Tamar for his deceased brother. Onan knew that there was nothing in this for him, so he let his seed spill on the ground. Onan offended God, and Onan died.

Most scholars see this as having to do with the law to preserve family lines as seen in Deuteronomy 25:5 and Ruth 2:20. In other words, it is not the withdrawal method being condemned. In fact, the passage has nothing to do with contraception. Rather, it has to do with family obligations. This is all pretty clear in context.

Interesting side note: Tamar would eventually disguise herself her self as a prostitute and have Jacob impregnate her. In Matthew's genealogy of Jesus, there are five women mentioned:

1) Tamar = committed incest with father-in-law disguised as a whore
2) Rahab = a prostitute
3) Ruth = a foreigner
4) The wife of Urriah (Beth Sheba) = an adulteress
5) Mary = an unwed mother

From these women came the savior of the world who would be called Emmanuel (God with us).

At any rate, the Bible really says nothing about artificial contraception, and the issue would not really become important to the Church until many centuries after the revelation of Christ.

While it may be important to consider that there was a near universal consensus among Christians that birth control is wrong when the issue first arose in popular culture, the very rapid dissent that formed also should be considered. It seems that the sense of the faithful indicates that there are legitimate circumstances under which artificial contraception can be permitted in God's design.

Peace and Blessings!

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posted by Jcecil3 5:56 AM

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