On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.
Now as We noted earlier (no. 3), some people today raise the objection against this particular doctrine of the Church concerning the moral laws governing marriage, that human intelligence has both the right and responsibility to control those forces of irrational nature which come within its ambit and to direct them toward ends beneficial to man. Others ask on the same point whether it is not reasonable in so many cases to use artificial birth control if by so doing the harmony and peace of a family are better served and more suitable conditions are provided for the education of children already born.
To this question We must give a clear reply. The Church is the first to praise and commend the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator. But she affirms that this must be done within the limits of the order of reality established by God.
If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained.
Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the latter practice may appear to be upright and serious.
In reality, these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the later they obstruct the natural development of the generative process. It cannot be denied that in each case the married couple, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and wish to make sure that none will result. But it is equally true that it is exclusively in the former case that husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable. And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity.
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 15-16
Reflection – Well, this section is a bit longer, and so my reflections will be correspondingly shorter. Here we see first that use of anti-ovulant medications to treat other medical conditions is perfectly licit, and if you have understood the Church’s argument, this is obvious. It is not ‘ovulation’ that is the supreme good that must be preserved at all costs; that would be physicalism, or an elevating of mere facts of biology and physiology to moral supremacy. Rather, it is the intention to sterilize, and the taking action towards that end with a sterilizing contraceptive intention that is wrong. A woman on the birth control pill because of this or that medical issue is doing nothing wrong. I stress that because people do in fact get confused on that point.
P. 16 opens the door to methods of natural family planning such as the Billings Method, the sympto-thermal method, and the Creighton method. Far from the primitive and unreliable calendar rhythm method which is outdated by several decades of solid medical research, these methods are essentially highly accurate ways for a woman to tell if she is fertile, so that she and her husband can take appropriate actions to either conceive or not conceive, as they discern together.
These methods give the couple the necessary information, out of which they can, in fact, plan their family in a rational and thoughtful way. The Church, is, indeed, in the strict sense of the word, in favor of 'planned parenthood', and 'birth control'... but only if we properly understand the divine order of things and how we are to exercise our sexuality within that order.
The Church deliberately says very little about the reasons why they should or should not make the decision to conceive, as it is really up to the couple, in dialogue with the Lord, to sort these matters out. Our teaching is never about ‘how many children when’, but about the integrity of the sexual act and its correspondence with the divine nature of love and life.
At any rate, the document is perfectly clear here, if you read it with care and attention, so I will leave it there for now. I actually have a little more to say about that subject tomorrow, in another context, so we’ll come back to this then. Have a good Sunday, everyone!