Archive for the ‘Contraception’ Tag

organic family planning

As a result of the HHS Mandate, the Catholic Church’s teachings on contraception have garnered an abundance of media attention.   It is clear from the  headlines that Catholics are depicted as a people divided when it comes to contraception.  It is widely—though erroneously —reported that 98% of Catholic women will use a form of contraception at some point in their lifetime.  With numbers like these, and headlines like, “Catholics Take Sides over Health Law’s Birth Control Policy,” what’s a Catholic to do?  Many Catholics know that the Church views contraception as immoral, but are unsure exactly why.  Catholics may be unfamiliar or have misconceptions about what options are considered morally licit.  So while everyone is clear that the Church disallows contraception, the Church’s side of the story is not widely known.

With this in mind, last year I pitched Church teaching on contraception to my classroom of high school students. I began the conversation by asking them what they thought about the recent trend of environmental activism: everything nowadays is about “being green” and farming organically and cleaning with elements found in nature rather than chemicals. Everyone chimed in with examples from their own lives or advertisements they had seen on TV.  I then posed the question, If we are concerned with the chemicals that we put in our bodies, if we spend extra money to buy organic produce, use botantical cleaning supplies, and eat only antibiotic-free meat, why, then, are we so quick to use chemicals to control a woman’s fertility?

The room was quiet for a few moments—a small feat in an all-girls environment—and then the conversation really picked up.  I explained that the Church encourages married couples to use Natural Family Planning, or NFP, to plan their families.  Natural Family Planning can be used to achieve or to avoid pregnancies.  There are several different methods, but each works in conjunction with a woman’s menstrual cycle to determine the days that she is able to conceive.   NFP does not use any chemicals and does not involve any act before, during, or after intercourse to prevent a pregnancy from occurring.  Upon hearing this one student remarked, “It’s organic family planning!”  The real beauty of NFP, though, is that it fosters care for the whole person, body and spirit.

Marriage has two essential qualities: it is unitive—bringing the couple together in body and in spirit—but it is also procreative—that is to say, open to life.  As Pope Paul VI writes in Humanae Vitae,

“…the  fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called.”

When we deliberately remove the procreative element of sex through contraception,  we are removing an essential quality of the marital act.

That is why NFP is not considered contraception or birth control; it involves an awareness of naturally occurring times of fertility and infertility.  Couples who wish to avoid a pregnancy simply abstain from intercourse during the woman’s fertile phase.  Contrary to popular belief, NFP is 99% effective if a couple seeks to avoid a pregnancy and uses the system correctly.

More than anything, though, NFP requires a couple to embody agape love, that is, sacrificial love.  It requires sacrifice because short periods of abstinence are required if a couple is trying to avoid a pregnancy.  It calls couples beyond themselves to a mutual responsibility for their fertility.  It does not rely solely on the woman or the man—it necessarily requires mutual responsibility. It is a remarkable exercise in authentic self-gift. In fact, couples who use NFP report that it strengthens their marriage because it fosters communication and a deeper appreciation for the other.

Natural Family Planning acknowledges that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and it promotes a deep respect for our bodies’ natural cycles of fertility.  In a society where “being green” is so prized, we shouldn’t settle for using chemicals to alter what is a remarkable natural cycle.  This week is NFP Awareness week –take the opportunity to learn more about authentic Church teaching on contraception. For more information on NFP, I’d urge you to check out the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website.  In addition, the book Women, Sex, and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching, edited by Erika Bachiochi, is filled with essays (written by brilliant, academic women) about the theology and the history behind these teachings.

answer teen pregnancy with compassion, not pills

The FDA has made the Plan B emergency contraceptive pill available to all women ages 15 and over without a prescription or parental consent.  Prior to this ruling, anyone under age 17 needed a prescription to obtain this drug.  Proponents of the legislation argue that all women should have timely access to emergency contraception, regardless of age.  Thankfully, the Department of Justice filed an appeal against the ruling late on Wednesday.  Reactions to the appeal were mixed, but perhaps one of the most disappointing headlines I read this morning was, “Women’s groups decry appeal on morning-after pill.”

To be honest, I just spent hours working on an article to post here. I unpacked this issue from a scientific and medical perspective—is this pill an abortifacient? Is this pill safe for young girls? Armed with my facts and my arguments, I presented the article to my faithful editor (read: husband) and he lovingly told me that he thought I had missed the mark. Annoyed, I hung up the phone and sat down at the computer. I prayed. And I realized that he is right.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter what science says about this pill.  What matters is that we are treating pregnancy like the common cold.  We are saying to our young women that pregnancy, like cold symptoms, can be treated with a quick trip to CVS.  Even worse, we are saying to our young women that we will not be there for them when they need guidance.

When I was in college, I was an intern at Catholic Charities Pregnancy Plus Medical in Tampa. I met with women daily, gave free pregnancy tests, and talked through next steps with the women once the results were in.  I was 19 years old, single, no children.  What did I possibly have to offer these women?  I had no pregnancy advice, no relationship advice. I had no words about overcoming addiction or abuse. The only thing I could offer was compassion and a shoulder to cry on. My youngest client that summer was 15 years old, and all I remember is that she just needed someone to talk to, someone to reassure her that everything was going to be ok when her pregnancy test came back positive.

This ruling robs us of the ability to support the young women who find themselves in these difficult situations. If a young girl is sexually active and her birth control fails, she can go to CVS and pick up a pill and end her pregnancy.  Did she abort an already conceived child?  Perhaps.  Is this pill safe?  Will this affect her fertility in the future?  We don’t know the answers to any of these questions. We can speculate, but we don’t know.

What we do know is that God calls us to reach out to one another in love. Our call, our purpose, is to love one another.

He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25: 31-40

Call it what it is

I am deeply saddened by President Obama’s duplicitous remarks at a Planned Parenthood function earlier today.  That I am disappointed that the President would so clearly align himself with one side of a polarizing issue is another matter entirely.  Here, I’d simply like to express my disappointment at his choice of words.  Today it seemed that the President chose his words carefully to disguise the nature of the truth.

President Obama said today:

“As long as we’ve got to fight to make sure women have access to quality, affordable health care, and as long as we’ve got to fight to protect a woman’s right to make her own choices about her own health, I want you to know that you’ve also got a president who’s going to be right there with you, fighting every step of the way.  Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you.”

That is a great sound bite.  If I didn’t know any better and I had heard that clip on the radio, I’d be filled with pride.  But what do his words really mean?

By “access to quality, affordable health care,” I imagine the President is referring to the Affordable Care Act.  In the context of his speech to Planned Parenthood, he is most likely referring specifically to the HHS mandate, which requires all employers to provide contraceptive coverage to employees. Women’s access to contraception is so important that it has been written into the Affordable Health Care Act, with shallow exemptions in place for those who find contraception morally unacceptable.  As a woman, I am offended by the assertion that offering me “access to quality, affordable health care” means providing me with contraception.  Furthermore, why is men’s reproductive health care not included in the Affordable Care Act?  Why will my employer pay for sterilization for women, but not for men? And why will the Affordable Care Act not cover other methods of family planning, such as Natural Family Planning?

By “we’ve got to fight to protect a woman’s right to make her own choices about her own health,” the President is  most likely referring to a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.  The President really means that I should be able to choose to end the life of my child if I so desire. I should be able to make this decision up until a late stage in my pregnancy. I have the right, as a woman, as a mother, to feel my child’s heart beating inside of me and decide that I can end my child’s life.  I should have access to an abortion clinic, and if my doctor “botches” my abortion and my child is born alive, my doctor should be allowed to kill my child on the table.  To quote a Planned Parenthood official, it has become a “patient-doctor” issue, and to be clear: I am the patient, not my newborn child.

Yet, President Obama did not once use the word “abortion” in his remarks today.  He continuously used the phrase, “right to choose.”  Why, in addressing the nation’s largest abortion provider, did President Obama not use the word “abortion?”

I am not passing judgment on women or men who agree with these policies or those who find value in them.  I am insisting that we use the appropriate language and truly call these policies what they are.  When we rewrite the language, when we say things like “a woman has a right to choose,” we need to finish the sentence. What does the woman have the right to choose? If we can say, out loud, in public, on television, to Planned Parenthood officials, “A woman has the right to kill the child growing inside of her” then I think we would be making an enormous leap toward truth.

Yet we do not use these words, because these words are harsh, difficult, painful.  Perhaps we are afraid to speak the truth. The truth is not pretty; no one wants to hear about the abortion as a life/death issue when we can easily reframe it to be a rights/choice issue.  Between the lack of mainstream media coverage (or sporadic coverage at best) of the Kermit Gosnell trial and President Obama’s remarks today, the need for truthful language is clear.

The President and I can agree on one thing today— I too would invoke God’s blessing upon Planned Parenthood. I pray for them, and for all of us as a society,  that we may start to call things what they truly are. There is power in truth.

His message is love

There was a time in my life when I couldn’t relate to Good Friday.  I just did not understand how it fit in with the rest of the events of Holy Week.  On Palm Sunday, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and is greeted by the people with much fanfare and celebration.  He is welcomed as the man who had healed the blind, cured the sick, helped the lame to walk.  Yet, mere days later, this same man is arrested on charges of blasphemy.  He is accused of speaking words of hate, when truly his message is love.  On Good Friday he is crucified, and though he is wrongly accused, he does not fight back.  He completely empties himself and dies for all of our sins.  He rises from the dead on Sunday, his glorious Resurrection conquers death.  It all turns out beautifully in the end.

Yet for the first time in my life I think I am finally starting to understand Good Friday, or at the very least, I am beginning to see it in a new light.

This week I have been struggling each and every day with my fear of speaking out.  I am a people pleaser.  I love to be loved, I love to be liked.  I don’t like confrontation, I don’t like to stir things up.  I would rather that people just think that I am really nice while I silently disagree with everything they are saying. I can’t for the life of me figure out when I started to be this way, but I can tell you that I haven’t always felt like this. But somewhere along the way, fear took over, and I am deeply afraid of sharing my true beliefs with others, even close friends.  But this Good Friday morning, as I meditate on my Lord and Savior dying on the cross for my sins and for the sins of the world, wrongly accused even though his message is love, I find courage and suddenly it is time to speak.

Today, my alma mater, Boston College, is under fire for disciplining students who are handing out condoms on campus.  People are outraged—how could a university punish students for promoting “safety” and “sexual health?”   In one article, an ACLU attorney, Sarah Wunsch, stated, “Boston College has the right to express its views and try to persuade students of the rightness of their opposition to contraception, but I don’t think they get to impose that view on what students in this case are doing.”

But Boston College is a Jesuit, CATHOLIC institution. The Church’s position on birth control is clear.  The Church’s teachings on contraception are, in a word, beautiful.  The Church teaches that sex is unitive and procreative, and the Church emphasizes that married couples are called to be co-creators with God.  We are given this gift to co-create with the Master Creator, if that is God’s will for us.  For this reason, the Church views contraception as immoral, because contraception is a conscious decision to leave the Creator out of the creating process.

To say that this message is unpopular is an understatement. But that doesn’t change what is objectively true, what is objectively right.  I understand that many people disagree with the Church’s teachings on contraception, and I understand why.  But a Catholic institution that is necessarily grounded in the beliefs of the Catholic Church can and must be true to that identity. I am proud that BC is standing up for her identity, even though it is an unpopular position.  I would expect nothing less from a Catholic university.

John 18: 19-23

“The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his doctrine.  

Jesus answered him, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing.Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.”

When he had said this, one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?”

Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”

Bob Rice

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