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October 30, 1999
Column #948

NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING BETTER THAN THE PILL

     In last week's column I confessed that I have changed my mind, and now agree with the Catholic Church's opposition to ''the Pill'' and other forms of artificial contraception. Pope Paul VI predicted in 1968 that widespread contraception would lead to soaring rates of premarital sex, out-of-wedlock births, divorce, widespread abortion and even euthanasia.

     He was right.

     However, one reader responded, ''Are you saying we should ban contraceptives? That would help the abortion problem and STDs!''

     No, I am not suggesting banning contraceptives. But I am supporting an alternative which is as effective as the Pill or IUDs, but completely without their possible side effects of bleeding, pain, weight gain, loss of libido, menstrual irregularity, or increased risk of cervical cancer and blood clots. This alternative is also free, and almost eliminates the possibility of divorce! It can also be used to achieve pregnancy more rapidly than other methods and can even be used to select a child's sex!

     This alternative is ''Natural Family Planning,'' the best way to limit family size and to space the birth of children, and to do so in harmony with nature. NFP is based on the fact that a woman can conceive only during 100 hours of each month. Furthermore, a woman can learn how to identify when those times are when she could become pregnant. For those days about a week a month, to be safe, the couple abstains from sex.

     Two Australian physicians, Drs. John and Evelyn Billings, made a breakthrough discovery which they called the ''Ovulation Method'' in the 1950's. The husband-wife team began their work with women who were having trouble conceiving, focusing on the time of the month when they could conceive. They found this same knowledge could be used to help couples avoid pregnancy.

     They discovered that women secrete a special mucus which appears at the time of ovulation. This clear, slippery lubricant ''keeps the sperm alive and potent and actually facilitates its penetration to the egg,'' wrote Dr. Hanna Klaus in a 1988 article in ''Family Planning Perspectives.''

     The woman is trained to observe her own monthly pattern. The moment mucus appears, she tells her husband to abstain. ''If you are dry, the sperm will die. If you are wet, a baby you may get,'' says Mercedes Wilson, who has written the definitive book on the subject, ''Love and Family,'' that has sold a half million copies and has been translated into 21 languages, most recently Russian and Polish.

     Since the process requires intimate conversation, and a degree of selfless sacrifice, it builds a strong bond of mutual trust between husband and wife. Women feel more cherished. They say, ''When my husband is willing to wait, it is because he wants me and not just to use my body.'' That's why divorce is very rare among NFP couples. Preliminary studies say it is no more than 2 to 5 percent.

     Dr. James Statt, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Phoenix says, ''I cannot bring to mind a single couple who have been living NFP who are now divorced, and I have been teaching it for over 20 years.''

     The only downside of NFP is that sexual restraint is necessary during times of fertility. However, abstinence is essential during other times late in pregnancy, after child birth, in times of sickness or the fatigue of a partner or after a loss to death. And it is desirable during years before marriage, or when a spouse is away from home.

     Dr. Klaus, Director of the Natural Family Planning Center of Washington, argues that ''fertility is not a disease'' to be treated with chemicals that carry health risks. ''The solutions are behavioral, not chemical or mechanical. To think otherwise is to imply that men and women are powerless to direct and control their sexual urges.''

     Critics often sneeringly dismiss NFP as ''the Rhythm method.'' However, Rhythm tries to estimate the time of ovulation based on previous ovulation cycles. It led to pregnancies because there are changes in the ovulation pattern of a woman. NFP measures those changes precisely.

     Others say NFP is too complicated to be useful to most people. However, Dr. Klaus directed a study of women in India, Korea, Bangladesh, Kenya and the U.S. Many of the women were illiterate, yet all could learn the technique and applauded it for three reasons. First and foremost, is economy. It costs nothing. Second, is the ecological reason of liking its natural approach. Religious reasons were the third most important reason for support.

     What I can't understand is why Natural Family Planning isn't being promoted by women's magazines, Planned Parenthood, and those concerned about population or divorce.

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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