Morality of Natural Family Planning

Early on the morning of January 25th, NFP International received an email from a gentleman who is highly critical of NFP.  Though he does not use the word “providentialism,” that’s his position.  He also posted a similar note on a blogsite where a Catholic deacon was reviewing once again the terms used in ecclesial documents to describe the moral use of NFP.  This subject has been worked over more than a few times, so I will be relatively brief.

In all of the comments or rants I have seen against the use of NFP, the writers completely ignore Ecological Breastfeeding as a form of NFP.  What they mean by the generic term, NFP or Natural Family Planning, is solely what we call Systematic Natural Family Planning.  These writers fail to make this distinction, perhaps out of ignorance about eco-breastfeeding or perhaps in some cases because their argument about being open to God’s will falls apart completely with regard to eco-breastfeeding as a God-given natural way of spacing babies.  Unfortunately, this distinction is rarely made even within the NFP movement.

Our correspondent quoted section 17 of Humanae Vitae where Pope Paul VI predicted the harmful effects of the societal acceptance of contraception, but then he criticizes the same Pope for promoting NFP.  “In other words, Pope Paul VI predicted that contraception would evolve from ‘a lifestyle choice’ into a weapon of mass destruction. The Pope wrote all this and then went ahead and started promoting NFP.  Why?  The promptings to promote NFP are not from God[,] their [they’re] from hell…unless God is a liar!”  He then quoted familiar pro-baby verses from the Bible.

The anti-NFP critics have a point—Catholic teaching calls for generosity in having children.  But it also teaches the practice of Christian prudence which is different from materialistic prudence.  In our teaching we make it very clear that systematic NFP is not “Catholic birth control.”  The decision to use systematic NFP should be made in the light of an examination of motives and only in the face of sufficiently serious reasons not to  seek pregnancy at that time.  This is well spelled out in our manual, and any interested reader can obtain it in print or via a download at the NFPI website,  For many couples, this thoughtful consideration and decision making is the hardest part of natural family planning.

The decision to do Ecological Breastfeeding, on the other hand, doesn’t entail any such soul searching.  It requires only 1) the realization that this form of breastfeeding provides the best nutrition and baby care and 2) the mother’s freedom to have her baby with her.  For many couples, it is such a pleasant experience that they are looking forward to another baby by the time fertility returns.

It seems to me that the critics of systematic NFP would use their energy better to become well informed about what NFPI teaches in a well balanced way.  Then they would be in a position to present a rational and religious case and ask the diocese to insist that all these things be taught in all the various diocesan NFP efforts.  It is high time for every diocesan NFP effort to promote and teach ecological breastfeeding.

The right kind of diocesan natural baby spacing courses can be a work of the New Evangelization, making it clear that Jesus is the ultimate Author of Catholic teaching on love and marriage, but that may be rare at present.  In fact, some NFP programs take pride in being solely secular.  The time has come to proclaim without fear the fullness of Catholic teaching plus providing sufficient information—including eco-breastfeeding—so couples can make informed decisions for lives of Christian discipleship and baby care.

2 thoughts on “Morality of Natural Family Planning

  1. Excellent response to nay-sayers. I always want to show my support for your blog posts by leaving comments, but you are so good at nailing down every single point that I have none to add! All I can say is that I used to be suspicious of systematic NFP as “Catholic birth control” myself, and thought that ONLY ecological breastfeeding(non-systematic NFP) was the way to go, because Eco-bf is so obviously a part of God’s plan for the mother and baby. I agree very much with you that anyone who wants to criticize NFP would do well to familiarize themselves with Eco-bf. before doing so, as their ignorance can do a great deal of damage in promoting the very attitude they would like to promote. As you say, Eco-bf. is so pleasant, so wonderful, that is eases a woman into motherhood beautifully and therefore makes both parents much more willing to continue having babies.
    I am no longer critical of the use of systematic NFP unless it is truly being abused, which would not be your fault, because, as you say, you clearly and consistently warn against such abuse in your books and manuals. After much debate and thought, I have come to understand that the use of systematic NFP most certainly has it’s place. You can be entirely ready to accept God’s Will to give you a child, even if you are taking the precautions to avoid it for very good reasons. It is not at all sinful in this frame of mind.

  2. A.M.D.G.

    Thank you, Mr. Kippley. I have had the following said to me when I suggest that the NFPI program be mandatory for couples who are engaged to be married in the Catholic Church: 1) Eco-breastfeeding promotes a contraceptive mentality 2) Let’s worry about Catholic schools first 3) It’s improper to even talk about 4) It will cause men to have unchaste thoughts 5) Wait until they’re married to teach them 6) You’re a man. Why do you care? 7) Why are you so zealous for NFP?… and on, and on, and on… #1 on that list is absurd and the rest are not much better. These are all statements from practicing Catholics, too! I’m getting a sense of all the frustration you and your wife have felt over the years, sir. Keep fighting the good fight.

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