Our next appeal is to men of science. These can considerably advance the welfare of marriage and the family and also peace of conscience, if by pooling their efforts they strive to elucidate more thoroughly the conditions favorable to a proper regulation of births. It is supremely desirable, and this was also the mind of Pius XII, that medical science should by the study of natural rhythms succeed in determining a sufficiently secure basis for the chaste limitation of offspring.
In this way scientists, especially those who are Catholics, will by their research establish the truth of the Church's claim that "there can be no contradiction between two divine laws—that which governs the transmitting of life and that which governs the fostering of married love."
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 24
Reflection – It was just as HV was being published that two doctors in Australia, John and Evelyn Billings, were responding in advance to this appeal from the Pope to men (and women) of science. Studying the fertility cycles of women, they developed a method, not so much of contraception, but of highly accurate tracking of the monthly ovulation cycle through certain manifestations that women could be taught to observe.
The Billings Ovulation Method developed by them has proven itself to be an invaluable tool empowering millions of married couples to know their own patterns of fertility and infertility and rationally plan their families accordingly. Used properly as a means of avoiding pregnancy, it has an effectiveness rate of around 97%, comparable to the birth control pill.
Many will dismiss NFP as ‘the rhythm method’ and trot out the hoary old joke about ‘What do you call women who use the rhythm method? Mothers.’ It should be hoary old joke indeed, since to conflate NFP with the calendar rhythm method is rather like discussing the gas mileage of cars by conflating together Hummers and Priuses, or discussing the survival rates of heart surgery by combining statistics from the 1940s to the present.
In other words, science has indeed marched on, and the Billings and other modern methods of NFP are ‘not your grandfather’s NFP’, to paraphrase the old car commercial. I find it a bit darkly amusing that people who claim the mantle of modernity and scientific rationality are about 50 years behind the times on this question and resolutely resist updating their knowledge.
People do sometimes quote a 25% failure rate for Billings (in the sense that ‘getting pregnant’ is counted as failure, which is in my view a problematic statement—few of us would care to be told that our existence was a ‘failure’ by our parents), but this number is misleading. It would appear (from my reading on the subject) that this reflects either poor teaching or use of the method, decisions to ignore the information re fertility (which is all NFP gives you) and have intercourse during the fertile period, or an actual choice by the couple to go ahead and achieve pregnancy using that information.
NFP is not, really, a contraceptive method, but a method of acquiring knowledge, the woman’s knowledge about her own body and its workings, the couple’s knowledge about their mutual fertility. It is interesting that, under the mantle of supposed ‘feminism’, many would choose to deprive the woman of this knowledge, keep the poor thing in ignorance about her own body, and instead hand her a bunch of pills or devices that have high levels of health risks and unpleasant side effects, or if they don’t, probably don’t work all that well, since it is the normal healthy state for a woman's body to be fertile (but if the contraception fails, abortion is always offered as a back-up plan) and can make it difficult to achieve pregnancy down the line.
Contraception essentially treats fertility as a disease and women’s bodies as if they are defective. Scientists (usually male) need to reconfigure the body of the woman to fix her, since she is broken and inferior, even if by making her sterile they cause her to have all sorts of other health issues.
NFP, promoted by the Catholic Church among others, treats the woman as if she is a rational agent capable of understanding herself and her physicality and capable of making choices to plan her life based on the actual way her body works and its inherent rhythms.
Uhh… remind me of who the feminists in this picture are, again?