How “Humanae Vitae” helped one nun find her feminist voice

A packet of birth control pills is shown in this 2010 photo. Canadian doctors who refuse to prescribe birth control pills have become the focus of a debate over physicians' rights to freedom of conscience and religion when practicing medicine. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

I am a former radical feminist. Feminism is the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities. Radical feminism goes further, denying the existence of any significant differences between men and women, except for a few “reproductive body parts” that are seen and treated as unessential and inconsequential to the person as a whole. Radical feminists believe that men and women are practically identical and should behave and be treated as such.

We now have all kinds of science that demonstrates that there are, in fact, striking differences between men and women, even in body parts that we have in common. When a woman says, “I can be as good as a man,” it is a false admission of inferiority. By adopting a supposedly gender-neutral way of being human in the world, radical feminists are actually adopting a male paradigm and obliterating the feminine paradigm and distinctly feminine gifts of the body and soul.

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As a young woman I thoroughly rejected most church teachings and was planning on leaving the Catholic Church.

I was first offered birth control pills when I was 13 years old. My pediatrician suggested I use it as a way to normalize my irregular periods. Despite being a budding feminist and fully intending to avail myself of birth control some day, I refused because I assumed she was proffering it as a “just in case I became sexually active” measure, and I was not planning on becoming sexually active any time soon. Although the pill has many benefits for those dealing with hormonal irregularities, in my case it would have masked the underlying cause of my malfunctioning thyroid. Hormonal contraceptives are classified as carcinogens and can increase risks for some cancers and can carry other potential side effects, such as depression, weight gain and blood clots.

As a young woman I thoroughly rejected most church teachings and was planning on leaving the Catholic Church. I thought the church was a draconian institution that oppressed women, wanted us barefoot and pregnant, and told us to sit down and shut up. I believed that secular culture was what gave women dignity and rights. But, ever so slowly, I gave the Catholic Church a second chance.

But, ever so slowly, I gave Catholicism a second chance. 

I began reading and studying and listening to intelligent Catholic women who found liberation in the church’s teachings. I began to realize that female contraception actually suppressed femininity, as though women were born wrong and had to “fix” their bodies to be like men’s bodies. By design, contraception thwarts a healthy, functioning system (fertility) over long periods of time. That did not seem very body positive or pro-woman to me.

I decided to seriously reconsider “Humanae Vitae.” Maybe its prescriptions were not so farfetched after all. What alternatives to the pill did it offer for spacing out births? The answer, natural family planning, makes the man attentive to a woman’s cycle. A period of abstinence is observed during the woman’s fertile time. Mother nature has cycles: It’s not always spring and summer—there’s fall and winter. Mother church has cycles: It’s not always Christmas and Easter—there’s Advent and Lent. Women have cycles—we are not always available. To say otherwise is the lie of porn, prostitution, male domination and a mistaken understanding of the Scriptures.

Contraception and natural family planning are “two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.”

Huge flash-forward: I became a nun. So what does it matter what a celibate woman thinks about contraception? It matters for many reasons but mainly because it fundamentally shapes my self-perception as a female. I had a lesser view of myself, body and soul, when I “believed” in contraception. As St. John Paul II put it, contraception and natural family planning are “two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality” (“Familiaris Consortio,” No. 32).

One of the predictions made by Pope Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae” was the following: “A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection” (17).

So maybe, in this 50th anniversary year of “Humanae Vitae,” we need to take another look at this document—through faithfully Catholic truly feminist eyes.

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Elaine Boyle
1 month ago

A woman who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to the sexual act. Too much Sex And The City lifestyle. This leads to one-night stands, abortions, STDs, delaying motherhood and then having kids with autism, etc.. Contraception has led to horrific outcomes for women.

Dolores Pap
1 month ago

Let's be real here. People can't afford not use contraceptives because they don't want to curse their families with poverty. Also, what woman wants to be a brood mare? Do you know any Catholic women who do NOT practice birth control? I certainly don't- and they are doing just fine.

Patty Bennett
1 month ago

You DON'T know any Catholic women who do not practice birth control? I know many. I think all of us often automatically travel in circles where most of our friends have a lot in common, so we are actually SURPRISED to hear about those who have different ways of living. I think it's important to learn from others who think differently than we do. (which is one reason I often read "America")
I know many couples who use Natural Family Planning. It's not only healthier, but it fosters deeper love and respect in the couple, and it works! It fosters deeper trust in the Lord, and the generosity of "accepting children lovingly as a gift from God" becomes REAL, and not merely lip-service. We really meant it when we made those vows.
Please read the informational insert that comes with the contraceptives. As an RN, I know that women appreciate it when their husbands DON'T want them to take unnecessary cancer-causing chemicals.
Remember that the PURPOSE of medicine should be to HELP the body's healthy function. But if the PURPOSE of a "pill" is to STOP the body's healthy function, we know right away that there's something seriously wrong here.
Also, are you aware that many forms of contraception cause early abortions? Many people are not aware of this.
Do we really think God made a mistake?

James Haraldson
1 month ago

Ddlores Pap be real. You live in a world of caricatures and shortsightedly obliviousness to how a spiritually organic social ethos is transformed by more and more people doing the moral thing.

Sandi Sinor
4 weeks ago

Dolores, I see that there has been a huge pile-on of people who take issue with your comments. So, I will respond to your comments as well as to the banal generalities this young nun has assumed are the "truth" about modern birth control.

I am 71 and have had years to observe the church's ongoing war against modern contraception. Although it is clear that this is a teaching that has not been "received" by the faithful, and is not an infallible teaching, the male celibates keep digging in their heels. The data show that more than 90% of Catholic women use birth control at some time during their marriages. It is not an issue for most. When I was a young bride, I studied the church's teaching in some depth (and was horrified at what I found about the church's two thousand year stance on sex, even marital sex, and on women.) I read books by moral theologians and attended talks by one who taught at Catholic University (not one of the "liberal" Catholic institutions). I made my decision to take advantage of the pill when I married. My husband is not Catholic and couldn't even begin to understand the Catholic church's strange reasoning, although he had agreed to go along with whatever I decided. As the years passed, and our family grew, I often thanked God for the gift of modern contraception, as it permitted our intimate life to flow in a natural rhythm, not forced to conform to an unnatural way of living out our marriage. My emotional well-being as a married woman was enhanced by knowing that we could express our love freely,, and not on an unnatural schedule lovemaking wasn't even possible during the "non-fertile" periods. My husband and I were equal partners in our lovemaking, just as in the rest of our marriage. Sex wasn't a joy just for him, but for us. The reduction in stress levels, especially as we got older and had decided our family was complete, was also a great support for our marriage.

As couples get older, and their families are complete, most turn to permanent sterilization. It is the single most commonly used form of birth control in the US. The second most popular is the pill, favored by younger women up to about 35-40. The condom is third. The CDC data for ALL women of normal childbearing age (15-40) shows that about 0.05% uses NFP for birth control (all religions and none), the least used form of birth control.

The scare data about the dangers of using the pill were originally based on the first years after it was developed. At that time, some young women died of strokes, not many, but too many, and there also appeared to be a risk of higher rates of breast cancer. The scientists adjusted the amounts of hormones and the health risks dropped dramatically. There is a slightly elevated stroke risk now, primarily for women with other risk factors - high blood pressure, a history of migraine headaches, and smokers. Age is also a factor for some women, who may be advised to use another form of contraception after 40. Many choose permanent methods. Their doctors usually advise women who are at higher risk of breast cancer or stroke than the average woman to use some other form of birth control - a barrier method, or IUD, or sterilization if the woman does not wish to have any more children.

The very slightly elevated risk of breast cancer is offset by the slightly reduced risks of pill-takers for endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer kills far more often than does breast cancer, as there is no screening test available for it, and by the time it is discovered, it is usually too late to save the woman. Taking the pill appears to have a fairly long-term protective effect, even years after the woman stops taking the pill. So, if the pill actually protects against ovarian cancer (my mother in law died from that, as did a friend just recently) and it is the greater danger, then health concerns not only balance out, the pill wins out as a protective measure. As it does in preventing pregnancy.

Although the risks of death from pregnancy in the developed nations is fairly low (there are only about 700 deaths/year in the US from pregnancy/childbirth), the risks of pregnancy/childbirth in the third world are MUCH, MUCH higher than they would be from the pill or condom.

Unfortunately, the Catholic church has been the primary force in making it harder for women in poor countries to obtain birth control. In some poor countries the maternal mortality rate from pregnancy/childbirth is many, many times greater than it is for women in developed countries, and very often their unborn or newborn babies die with them.

The Catholic church forbids Catholic Relief Services (one of the best humanitarian aid organizations around) from providing any kind of birth control information other than NFP - no condoms or pills or IUDs to help women plan their families, and no condoms to help reduce disease and mortality from HIV/AIDS. Many innocent unborn children contract HIV from their mothers while still in the womb. Yet the "pro-life" voices in the west refuse to push the church to support condom distribution to reduce HIV rates. The Catholic church also refuses to look at the cultural factors at work in many countries, where many in the population are not even Catholic. Women are seldom in a position to be able to "refuse" their husbands when they wish to have sex. I had a priest tell me that he wishes a non-Catholic group would come to his parish in a poor country and help the women obtain modern, effective birth control. His own hands were tied, and he said he got tired of burying so many young women and babies and toddlers. He got tired of seeing women become old, bodies worn out, before 40, because of having too many children too quickly (if they didn't die from having them), and seeing the hunger and disease of the entire family worsened because of too many children. I visited him once in his parish, and, while there, met the mother of a young man who was in seminary, sponsored by this priest. She had 14 children (the seminarian was the oldest, the youngest was about 2) and I thought she was around 15-20 years older than I (I was 50 at the time). It turns out she was only 35. I was stunned to learn this. The priest had arranged for her to go to the city, and had arranged a tubal ligation for her as well. He did the christian thing, even if he might have been in serious trouble with other clerics had his help to this woman become known. He was concerned she would die if she had too many more kids, her husband had no interest in having her practice NFP. Men were often violent to their wives, and considered their "needs" to be paramount. If their wives tried to practice the NFP (as taught to them by nuns who would have preferred to hand out condoms or pills) and their wives refused them, they sought out another woman, increasing the rates of infidelity because of the church's refusal to help the women get pills or condoms. This was a "Catholic" country, and few humanitarian groups that were not Catholic came to his villages (the parish had 60,000 people scattered throughout many mountain villages, many reachable only on foot or mule). The nuns taught basic health to the villagers, to try to reduce disease). NFP is a luxury reserved to the affluent westerners in the Catholic church.

Beyond the health risk discussion, for women in the richer nations, the birth control pill and other modern birth control has been seen primarily as an enormous gift - to women AND men, to their marriages. As someone pointed out, women too seek out sexual intimacy in marriage. They are not just passive objects there to satisfy their husbands' "urges". They too have "urges", and consider them to be much more than "urges", but a gift from God also.

There is nothing natural about NFP when it comes to lovemaking in marriage. It relies on unnatural practices - few women find it "natural" to put their own fingers into their own vaginas every day to test their secretions. Taking one's basal temperature every morning before moving about is also not a natural, normal thing to do, especially for modern women who have jobs and children, or even are full time homemakers (I was both at different times, and 5:30 am felt just as early when I didn't have an outside job as when I did and I had to get up and get myself and the whole family ready for the day). Scheduling love around these un-natural practices creates stress for both partners in the marriage, and it reduces lovemaking almost to a fundamentally utilitarian objective. A friend who used NFP early in her marriage told me that she used to lock the bathroom door and cry quietly because she was unable to physically express love with her husband when they felt the desire for intimacy (for comfort, to express LOVE, not just to have an orgasm ), not when the bodily signs said she would be at lower risk for pregnancy. They finally gave it up completely because of its artificiality, and because of the stress it was placing on their relationship. I attended Catholic schools and university and know a LOT of Catholic women. This couple is the only one I know that ever used NFP, even though most looked into the church's teaching carefully. We had graduated from college and married during the first few years after HV was published and were fully aware of the church's teaching. Study made us realize that it was an teaching that showed no real understanding of marital life and the love relationship between spouses.. Almost all of our friends and family, contraceptive-using Catholics (and Protestant and Jewish friends who never gave using modern birth control a second thought) , have been married for somewhere between 40 and 50 years. It's possible that more would have divorced had they not had a marriage-supporting choice of reliable contraception and could manage their family planning in the best way possible to support their marital relationship and their entire family.

America has been on a real kick in recent years about NFP, with lots of articles promoting NFP and condemning modern, reliable birth control, almost all of which are written by celibates. Having Ms. Fischer on the staff to promote NFP as a married woman is a bit amusing. After all, a mother of 10 is not what most would call a good advertisement for the effectiveness of NFP in family planning. Very few people can afford more than two or three children these days, nor do many believe that large families promote a strong marriage and family. I was one of five, most of my Catholic friends growing up and in college and after (until birth control became pervasive) were members of families of 7-10 children and NONE of them thought it was the ideal and NONE chose to have more than 3 children of their own.. I personally consider modern contraception, especially the pill, as a genuine God-given gift to modern marriages and families. given at the precise time in history when it would be needed. God knows the needs of humanity. For most of history, infant and maternal mortality rates were very high. Many children were needed to ensure that enough would survive to help the family business (herding, farming, basic needed skills like blacksmith) and to care for the parents in old age, since there was no social security or any 401K plans. Since so many children died before age 5, "replacement" children were welcomed - not just for themselves, but for their utility to the family. The earth's population is in the billions, and this pace cannot be sustained for another hundred years. A hundred years ago, when my parents were children, the total world population was 1.9 billion. It is now 7.6 billion. The pace cannot continue without enormous harm done to billions of people in the world. Pie in the sky observations like "the problem is not lack of food and resources, the problem is distribution" are simply people avoiding the realities of the world in which we actually live instead of some ideal world they envision. They are choosing to deny the truth, no matter who is hurt by their denial.

Pope Paul VI chose to go with the authoritarian conservatives in Rome with HV rather than with the recommendation of the overwhelming majority of his hand-picked birth control commission. The Commission recommended that couples be guided, but that they should looks at themselves, their own marriages and family situations, and follow their own consciences. Most Catholics have done that, whether choosing NFP or choosing modern birth control That is the way it should be - the couples should choose, and the celibates who run the church should respect their choices.

Real married couples were invited to testify to the Birth Control Commission - the first and only time that I know of that the church "consulted the faithful" this particular matter of doctrine (consultation that was recommended to the church by John Cardinal Newman). The testimony of one couple surveyed in the Catholic Family Movement survey (invited by the bishops t do) is worth quoting here:

"A husband (and scholar) wrote: "Rhythm destroys the meaning of the sex act; it turns it from a spontaneous expression of spiritual and physical love into mere bodily sexual relief; it makes me obsessed with sex...endangers my chastity; ..has a noticeable effect upon my disposition.., and makes necessary my complete avoidance of all affection toward my wife for three weeks at a time (NOTE: NFP has improved on that at least - now it's about 10 days in order to be "safe". ...a magnificent spiritual and physical union [has dissipated] and, due to rhythm, turn into a tense and mutually damaging relationship. Rhythm seems to be immoral and deeply unnatural. ."

His wife's testimony:

"I find myself sullen and resentful of my husband when the time of sexual relations finally arrives. I resent his necessarily guarded affection during the month, and I find I cannot respond suddenly. I find also that my subconscious dreams and unguarded thoughts are inevitably sexual.....All this in spite of a great intellectual and emotional companionship and a generally beautiful marriage and family life".

The Commission heard many similar testimonies from devout Catholic couples who were members of the Catholic Family Movement.

The fear-mongers who push NFP must be afraid to tell people the truth - the pill is far less dangerous for most women in the world than is pregnancy. In the rich countries with good healthcare and low maternal/infant mortality rates, the pill may carry a very small risk of breast cancer, while causing a more than countervailing reduction in the risk of the far deadlier ovarian cancer. The slightly higher risk for stroke is tied into the medical considerations of individual women with other risk factors for stroke. The vast majority of marriages of people who are not at high risk for divorce to begin with have very, very low divorce rates. Divorce is correlated with age at marriage and level of education attained at the time of marriage - the older and more educated the better. Divorce rates are highest in the bible belt, with lower average ages at marriage and lower educational attainment. Divorce rates are lowest in Massachusetts and other states where the population has higher average educational attainment rates and higher average age at marriage. One might note that Massachusetts is also the least "religious" state in the country.

America seems afraid to put forth the total picture. It also seems afraid to invite long-married Catholics who have used modern birth control for decades, and are grateful for it, to write articles.

Another Jesuit, Thomas Reese, SJ, has much better commentary on the subject than appears in America.

Why not publish his article - currently available to view at National Catholic Reporter online and on the Religion News Service site.

Tracey Jones
3 weeks 5 days ago

Sandi what a thoughtful and accurate summary of contraception and its affects on women and marriage. I am a retired Ob/gyn and can confirm the low risks associated with hormonal contraception and indeed the protective effects against ovarian cancer.

Franklin Cho
3 weeks 2 days ago

Sandi - This is complete and utter heresy. Contraception was always taught as a grave evil even before Humanae Vitae. You are 71, but I'm glad to be part of a younger generation of Catholics who seek to live out our faith authentically (no matter how challenging and inconvenient to my ego it may be) as taught by JP2. You capitulate to the desires of the world (concupiscence) by separating intercourse from procreation (all for your own selfishness) and somehow come to the unfounded conclusion that without contraception divorce rates would skyrocket. Not everyone holds to such indecent views, especially those who espouse to the Catholic faith. Funny thing is that you sardonically mock Catholics for not truly being "pro-life" by advocating condom use to reduce HIV rates and then go on about how the world is overpopulated. Sure, divorce rates are higher in the Bible belt, but what do nominal evangelical Christians who wed early have to do with the Catholic faith and Humanae Vitae.

John Paul II was canonized and Pope Paul VI is about to be canonized. Thomas Reese apostatized a long time ago. Appreciate all the info, but I really get the sense that you are so stuck to your views that the RCC is run by "white celibate males" that you can't truly grasp and understand the truth and beauty of HV. The social devastations of birth control are quite clear - the explosion of promiscuous sex, rampant STDs, the rise of fatherless homes, abortion, pornography, objectification of woman (*cough* Weinstein *cough*), and cohabitation. Praying for you Sandi.

Franklin Cho
3 weeks 2 days ago

You also left out the fact that there is significantly less divorce (as well as focus on the family/children) for couples who use NFP vs. contraception. (14.4 % for those who use contraception vs 9.6% for NFP users). Just because you can't exhibit a level of self-control doesn't mean that you have to lead the Catholic faithful astray with left-wing ideology.

Dolores Pap
3 weeks 5 days ago

The fact is, that the overwhelming number of Catholics reject natural birth control, despite what the church's position on the subject might be. 98% of Catholic women do use, or have used, birth control during their reproductive lives. Also, if family planning is important to you,would you use a method that has a 24% chance of failure?
The church is just out of step on this issue..
https://thinkprogress.org/birth-control-goes-against-catholicisms-teach…

Lillian Vogl
1 month ago

Holy cow, did you just blame autism on women’s previous sexual histories and then imply that autism is “horrific”?!? You need to go to confession about your slander and your disregard for the dignity of every human life.

My oldest child is high functioning autistic, and she’s the most innocent sweet soul you’ll ever know. I never once used contraception or had sex outside of marriage. But let me tell you, following Church teaching on marriage and family planning has not been any picnic or joy. Neuroatypical behavior runs in my husband’s family, but I didn’t realize that or how hard it would be to live with that because I followed Church teaching about not living together before marriage. And there’s no joy in NFP; it just means that we can never make love when my hormones are best disposed for that. I obey at the same time as calling complete hogwash on this propaganda touted mostly by people who have no experience with what they’re taking about.

Seriously, hold your tongue about things you have no actual knowledge of and you’re just parroting stuff you heard from questionable sources. And treat autistic persons with the love and respect you want for yourself.

Robert Klahn
4 weeks 1 day ago

"did you just blame autism on women’s previous sexual histories and then imply that autism is “horrific”?"

She did neither. Autism has been linked to pregnancy at an older age, and she said part of using contraception is having children when the woman is older.

I will add the probability of a woman becoming pregnant at the upper limits of age do drop drastically.

She said contraception has led to horrific results for women, not that autism is horrific.

You need to learn to read more closely. I happen to disagree with much that she said, but false accusations are not acceptable.

Robert Klahn
4 weeks 1 day ago

"A woman who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to the sexual act."

The sexual act does not need or rate "reverence". It is not a holy act, nor sanctified. It is pleasurable, and builds a bond between a man and a woman. I recommend sex within marriage because there is a possibility of pregnancy, and monogamy is the best protection against, STDs, and the best wall against them becoming epidemic. Monogamy is also the rule in any human society I am aware of that is not pushing the boundaries of the environment's capacity to support the population. After all, polygamy does tend to reduce population growth.

James Haraldson
4 weeks ago

Mr. Klahn: I'm sure God is relieved to have the burden of inspiring a sense of the sacred in His creation for creation by your much sensible utilitarianism. In fact, He should have consulted with you before He created the universe.

Debbie Baker
3 weeks 6 days ago

Oh please! The days of talking about sex and morality and the Church all being bundled up are over for most post Vatican folks. Gone are the days of being punished for every " unclean thought, word and deed." Sex is a private issue between two people, not a subject nor an activity to be judged by others and based on some outside authority. Women all over the world are treated as sex objects by men and it is up to women to protect themselves especially in third world countries. The Church says it is against global warming, yet its stance of being against birth control in any form (to stop "immoral" behavior) has lead to overpopulation which is one of the greatest causes of global warming! Jesus did not weigh in on birth control because women were property in Biblical times and women are property in many places in the world now! Again, sex between two people is not anybody's business except between the two people and the Church leadership of all people do not have credibility in condemning sex, especially with all the sexual abuse of children and adults at the hand of priests and then the coverups by Church leadership for many decades and for hundred of years. Men call the shots in the Church and women do all the work. So let's stop blaming women (especially Catholic women) for wanting to protect their lives!

Brenda Sheridan
1 month ago

Sister, you make it sound as if sex only happens if the man wants it. Women have desires too and I remember my high school religion teacher telling us that she had several children because though she used natural family planning, her husband traveled. So when he was there, she didn't want to abstain. Women's bodies want sex just as much as men's do. Your argument is so strange. And not every woman or girl given birth control pills for medical reasons will have it mask another problem. Too many falsities and exaggerations in your piece to give it any real credence. I am sorry, because I expected something better from the title.

Rhett Segall
1 month ago

Brenda, your teacher's honest sharing, about yearning for intimacy with her husband who's been away from home, is a feeling that I'm sure is experienced by many whose spouse's occupation keeps them away from home, such as soldiers, actors, athletes, etc. Sometimes, too, accidents and illness can prevent sexual intimacy between spouses. Sister Helena's point that both husband and wife have to be committed to NFP, which sometimes entails the cross, should nevertheless instill in the marriage a special sense of joy that one's spouse, who is faithful to NFP, will also be faithful when there is a necessary separation, as well as a special intimacy when they can be together again.

Lyn Heffernan
4 weeks 1 day ago

Sex in marriage is about so much more than gratifying lust. It is an expression of love, comfort, and sharing. NFP takes the joy, and spontaneity out of sex and makes it just another calendar event.

Robert Klahn
4 weeks 1 day ago

I read your first sentence and began mentally composing my rebuttal. Then I read the rest and had to admit... you got it right. Though I do believe you came down a bit too hard on NFP, the main failing of which is it's failing too often.

Robert Klahn
4 weeks 1 day ago

Faithful when they are separated, or not faithful as a "special intimacy" is special only because it exists at all.
Sexual relations between husband and wife should never entail the cross. Self imposed suffering is pleasing only to those with a distorted view of reality.

Rhett Segall
4 weeks ago

Robert, Christianity recognizes that the cross cuts across reality and is redemptive in Christ. Innumerable factors distort sexual intimacy, which is meant to be a profound joy and unifying gift: misunderstandings, workaholism, infidelity, lust, children's death, poverty, etc. The Lord is there sacramentally to nurture and comfort the couple in such times.

Tim Donovan
1 month ago

Does the opinion of a (now) celibate gay Catholic man matter? Perhaps not. However, I believe that I can relate to the struggles of people who use natural family planning. Many years ago (I'm now 56) because of loneliness I had sex with men. However, in time I saw my acts as being empty and wrong, saw the error of my ways, and received forgiveness and consolation from a compassionate priest through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I commend Sister Burns for presumably recognizing that the early feminists were pro-life and opposed the violence of legal abortion. Susan B. Anthony, who was a prominent activist in securing the right to vote for women as well as an abolitionist, along with fellow women's rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, assisted in editing The Revolution newspaper. According to an article written by a member of Feminists for Life, the newspaper "published advertisements from women physicians like Dr. Clemency Lozier, fellow women's rights activist and mother-in-law of Dr. Charlotte Lozier, but refused are from abortion providers." Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to earn a medical degree, who was active in both the woman's suffragette movement and abolitionist movements, wrote, " Look at the First faint gleam of life, the life occurs embryo, the commencement of human existence. " Ironically, for some years in Philadelphia there was a center which killed many thousands of unborn human beings named the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center. In fairness, the center did also provide some legitimate health services for women. Dr. Blackwell also wrote, ",The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism. " I might note that Feminists for Life, which has established centers on some college campuses to provide pregnant students with assistance to give life to their babies, has been in the past been a group that I've contributed modest sums to. Dr. Blackwell graduated first in her class at Geneva Medical College in Geneva, New York in 1849. Also, Quaker Alice Paul , who was the author of the original Equal Rights Amendment, wrote to a colleague in 1923, "Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women." I believe that abortion is a human rights issue. I strongly support both laws to provide maximum legal protection for the Sacrament innocent unborn, as well as education about the realities of abortion, and support for the numerous crisis pregnancy centers nationwide which provide pregnant women and their babies with practical, compassionate care. I give modest contributions occasionally to the Mother's Home in suburban Philadelphia, a home for homeless pregnant women and their children, that also provides other services as well. I also contribute to Mom's House. These are a network of about six homes that provide low-income pregnant women with free quality day care so that they can complete their education. I might add that I know several women who 'be had abortions. Although I firmly disagree with their decisions, I don't harbor feelings of "hatred" towards them. One such woman was the older sister of my friend who became pregnant at age 17 while a senior in high school by my other friend who was 19 years old and in college. Despite many difficulties, they chose life, and my friend gave birth one month after she turned 18 to a beautiful boy. My friend's for married 9 months after the birth of their son. My one friend graduated from college and became a civil engineer. His wife some years later graduated from college and became a pharmacist. Along with my friend's sister, we enjoyed caring for their son as often as we both could as he was growing up. I might add that my friends used natural family planning. Also, some years later my friend's sister who has chose the violence of abortion have birth to a daughter and raised her as a single motuer. Although I believe in the church's teachings in Humanae Vitae, which forcibly concerns contraception and abortion, but warns of the dangers of women being exploited by irresponsible men, I do favor legal contraception that isn't abortive in nature as well as legal sterilization for adults. I also believe that the Church should emphasize the benefits of natural family planning on Pre-Dana courses, and the side effects of contraception. Also, the Church has an outreach, Project Rachel, for women who've had abortions. Yes, I know I'm a gay man and so don't have to worry about pregnancy. I'll accept criticism. However, as a retired Special Education teacher of brain damaged children and as an uncle of three (now) adult nieces and one nephew, whom I helped care for as they were growing up, I believe that I have some legitimate experience in both childcare and family life!

Michael Ward
1 month ago

Thanks for pointing that out Tim, and appreciate and affirm your experince stated here and your offering it. After having lived in an NFP marriage for all of its fertile years I can confirm that the biggest issue that it raises for men is self mastery and what it means implies for who one really is spiritually in the face of desires and honor and respect for ones spouse and her being as a woman.. Most these days think that self mastery is impossible or not valued which is why they believe that contraception is 100 percent "necessary". Many also feel that it is unhealthy or even immature to resist any desire, and that sexual urges and desire is like a "sneezing of the loins". Thats all quite untrue and even spiritually harmful from my perspective.

Tim Donovan
1 month ago

Thank you, Michael for your kind words. I admire you and your wife for using natural family planning, despite what I'm sure are some difficulties as well as pressure from others at times to use contraception. It's especially tragic that some so-called methods of contraception are abortive in nature (including IUD's). All the best to you, your wife and family.

Robert Klahn
4 weeks 1 day ago

The biggest obstacle to any conversation between the supporter and opponents of contraception is the tendency of those like you to trivialize the beliefs and positions, and the persons, of those who disagree with you.
You aim at the lowest level of reasoning and pretend that all who disagree with you are at that level. If it's not all, then even many do not rate discussion at all. Address the best of the opposition's arguments, else all you said is noise without meaning.

Robert Klahn
4 weeks 1 day ago

The biggest issue in the entire argument is justifying the position that there is some superior morality or spirituality, or respect for your spouse, in refraining from sex at some particular time, for reasons that cannot stand on their own.

I do seem to catch a whiff of women do not enjoy sex in any discussion of respecting her by not having sex with her.
The fact that I do not kill people I think deserve it is self mastery. Using NFP instead of contraception is a matter of preference.

When I find self mastery among those who preach principles they cannot defend on any other basis than spirituality I will be impressed. God never said artificial contraception is wrong that I know of. Until He does, it's not.

Michael Ward
4 weeks 1 day ago

Oh come on. You actually don't know me at all...or from a cord of wood as Tip O'Neill once observed. . NFP was intially completely my wife's decision as she just wasn't going to live any other way. I acceded to that out of respect for her, without of really being intellectually on board. Part of my reasoning was clearly based on reciprocity. I wouldn't put that stuff (drugs and foreign objects) in my body it it were me. So why should I expect or pressure this person I love to. Condoms have the highest failure rate so scratch that. NFP was more effective. So off we went. I neded to get my head around why. It took some time to get there. Your actually flying at a pretty superficial level in this and I'm not going to respond further.

Reyanna Rice
3 weeks 4 days ago

Condoms do not have the highest failure rate. After the pill, that are the second most readily available effective form of birth control. NFP has about a 20% failure rate. It’s the least effective! And the hormones in birth control are not “chemicals” as in synthetically produced. If hormones are “chemicals” then God has put “chemicals”, all kinds of them in our bodies.

Reyanna Rice
3 weeks 4 days ago

Condoms do not have the highest failure rate. After the pill, that are the second most readily available effective form of birth control. NFP has about a 20% failure rate. It’s the least effective! And the hormones in birth control are not “chemicals” as in synthetically produced. If hormones are “chemicals” then God has put “chemicals”, all kinds of them in our bodies.

James Haraldson
4 weeks ago

Your reasoning is consistently shallow. Aside from the fact that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Magisterium, the evil and poisonous nature of contraception is self-evident. God is not the idiot you assume who needs to baby us.

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1 month ago

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Lillian Vogl
1 month ago

Most differences between men and women besides reproductive ones ARE only averages and often socially constructed ones at that. E.g. https://www.ft.com/paidpost/CBS/gender_differences/index.html

I don’t understand this tic of Catholics in recent years to deny the real science of sex and gender and tout pseudo-science instead. God is the original radical feminist, from declaring us equal in Genesis 1 to making Mary Magdalene the first apostles of the resurrection to putting Mary Theotokos in charge of crushing Satan. One can be for women’s equality and reject gendered stereotypes and be pro-life and a faithful Catholic. Articles like this just consign our faith to increasing irrelevance among people of goodwill who reject sexism.

James Haraldson
1 month ago

Not everyone is dumb enough and shallow enough to be taken in by the junk pseudo science of sex and gender or the twisted abuse of language and metaphysics that would contrive a nonsense accusist word like "sexism."

Robert Klahn
4 weeks 1 day ago

So, unless you are saying ALL research on sex and gender are pseudo science, you just accused her of favoring pseudo science over real science.

Only someone disconnected from the real world, or a sexist, would even suggest sexism is not real.

Robert Klahn
4 weeks 1 day ago

So very well said.

aravind aru
1 month ago

Great blog!!
Thanks a lot for sharing.
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Dina Janis
4 weeks 1 day ago

I appreciate the discussion- but this article again denies the non-unholy fact that women have desire as well as men- an equal desire for sexual gratification and intimacy. In this important sense- the article dis-empowers women again... framing the conversation about sex and the use of modern and advanced medicines as a conversation about "availability" from the man's point of view. This is so unfortunate- because it is not reflective of the equal pleasure and desire that women can have ownership of in a committed relationship. I would also add that the argument for natural conception methods based upon a belief in the women's natural calendars would certainly not be applied to cancer victims or diabetics... so this application is specific here and once again a response to "moral" issues which in this case- do not allow for women to own their sexuality and desire in a way that is revered actually- rather than not allowed. A woman is not simply an object or passive human being- whose sexuality serves the sole purpose of gratifying her partner and/or- procreation. The world is not flat... and women are not one-dimensional.

Rhett Segall
4 weeks 1 day ago

Dina, I think some people hold that sex is a sine qua non for human existence in the same way as food, water, and sleep. Circumstances can prevent couples from sexual intimacy as in the example of cancer you refer to. I know of a couple in a car accident on the way to their honeymoon. The accident left her incapable of sexual activity. Her husband was called to a loving commitment without the physical sexual component. And such a life can be not only meaningful but also happy. Who can bear such a cross? When Corey Ten Boom was a little girl she asked her father if she would be able to bear a cross when she got older? "Corey", her father said, "when we take a train do I give you your ticket at home?" "No, Papa, you wait till we get to the station so I don't lose it." "So too, Corey, God will give us the strength when we need it."

Dina Janis
4 weeks 1 day ago

Of course there are so many ways one can experience loving commitment- and sex is not in any way a requirement. But that is a different point I think. What I am saying is- that sexual desire can be a wonderful part of a relationship and that women have equal desires as men... so this discussion of availability is disempowering. Modern science and medicines are not questioned when it comes to heart conditions, diabetes, cancer- so why is it then that medicine that makes it possible for women and men to decide when they are ready to bring a new life into this world is considered a morally bad thing. Your story of your couple who were unable to have sex and/or children demonstrates a beautiful version of love. But that has nothing to do really with the argument I am making. In that sense- I am arguing that contraception can be a valuable tool and an advancement in our times that can add to - not detract from- those of us who are lucky enough to find ourselves in committed and loving relationships.

Paul Ferris
4 weeks 1 day ago

Sister Helena has a right to change her mind...a woman’s prerogative “. Still she bases her latest opinion on her reading, not based upon her experience as a wife and mother. No one ever said Humanae Vitae did not have good things to say so her quote misses the cutting edge judgment of the decision. Recommend she read John Noonan’s classic Contraception. Maybe she can change again. Paul VI bases his argument on Natural Law. The church also said slavery was acceptable as natural law. That is why priests and nuns were allowed to own slaves.

Mark Scibilia-Carver
4 weeks 1 day ago

Thank you Sr. Helena. Having learned something about the negative health effects of artificial contraception on women, my wife and I found Natural Family Planning's scientific knowledge to be a liberating gift. There is still great misunderstanding about NFP in some of the comments, unfortunately. Mark Scibilia-Carver

Edward Gallagher
4 weeks 1 day ago

Here is a passage from a 2016 AMERICA article reporting on a Pew Research poll on Catholic opinion:

"Most American Catholics, including those who go to church on a regular basis, have no moral problem with contraception, the survey found.
Just 8 percent said contraception is morally wrong, with 89 percent saying it was either morally acceptable or not a moral issue at all.
The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception, such as condoms and birth control pills, is morally unacceptable.
This teaching is rejected even among Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly, who tend to hold views on other social issues that fall more in line with official teaching when compared to the wider Catholic population. About one in 10 (13 percent) in this group said contraception is morally wrong, with 87 percent saying it is either acceptable or not a moral issue."

So, Sister Helena's article is terribly unlikely to convince many Catholics to flock to NFP. She's preaching to a tiny minority of US Catholics. The vast majority have firmly embraced the fruits of the Enlightenment.

Joe O'Neill
4 weeks 1 day ago

It seems a highly false, evidentiarily baseless, and uncharitable equivalency to ascribe irreverence, not to mention a Sex and the City lifestyle, to those many millions who simply cannot afford (if they wish to escape a subsistence or sub-subsistence life, let alone a life style) the risk of a large family that NFP combined with the non-sinful,non-exploitive need for non-scheduled sexual comfort represents. “Who am I — who can afford such risks — to say” what those struggling to get by owe god reverence-wise when it comes to loving, comforting sexual behavior?

mslitchick@gmail.com
4 weeks 1 day ago

I am glad Sister Helena found her feminist voice and place in the Catholic Church, but I respectfully disagree on a few points she made. First, there are many feminist theories. Radical Feminism is only one theory, and that is the one often cited that has led to the stereotyping that all feminists hate men and don't acknowledge biological and physical differences. My second issue is with artifical conception. My menstrual cycle has been highly irregular (I did not receive my first period until I was 15), and I was prescribed The Pill to help regulate it. I am a practicing Catholic, and I still use artifical birth control. The reason: I live with multiple s clerosis. Between my menstral cycles irregularity and the stress having my child put not only on my physical body, my husband and I concluded it was too hard on me to have more children biologically. Not everything is black and white. I had difficulty conceiving my daughter because of my irregular cycles, and I had been off The Pill for years.

And my husband has never treated me as less than because of artificial birth control. I won't go into details of our sex lives, but reverence has always been part of it.

Paul Ferris
4 weeks ago

I love what you write here. Your case is not that uncommon. For health reasons alone many women need to limit the number of children they should have. Sister Helen does not speak for them and has no experience of child birth. To quote Jesus: Father forgive her she does not know what she is doing.”

Paul Ferris
4 weeks ago

I find it ironic that some in the church want to “celebrate” the 50 year anniversary of a very divisive papal teaching. Normally anniversaries do not commerate such events.

Lisa Weber
4 weeks 1 day ago

Regardless of the theology of Humanae Vitae, its conclusions about contraception have been rejected by the vast majority of Catholics. Those not at risk of unintended pregnancy can feel any way they want about contraception while those who are at risk of unintended pregnancy use it. Generally speaking, adults don't ask for the opinions of others about their sex lives. The Catholic church offers unsolicited opinions about the sex lives of its members, and members mostly ignore it.

Ikechi Ohale
4 weeks 1 day ago

A woman who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to the sexual act. commenting from naija musics

Lillian Vogl
3 weeks 6 days ago

A woman who grows accustomed to scheduling sex according to her cycles because NFP is the only means she has of regulating births may forget that love has anything to do with sex. It’s an obligation of marriage to be calendared, like cleaning the toilets and washing the sheets.

Robert Klahn
4 weeks 1 day ago

"contraception and natural family planning are “two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality”

Actually, they are not. Other than the idea that sex is holy or dirty that is. In fact, it is neither, it is a natural function of every animal, and humans are animals in that area.

Sex produces babies, and for that reason should be approached carefully and intelligently, but it is not some religious ritual, just a powerful force intended to provide for the survival of the human race. If pregnancy was the only purpose of sex human women would not be open to enjoying sex when not fertile, just as animals are not. Humans are one of the few, if not the only, animals who have sex when pregnancy is not possible. Humans also continue to have sex after the woman is no longer capable of conceiving. Think about that and try to understand why that is. It does contribute to the survival of the human race.

I would like one person who thinks contraception is a great sin to tell me contraception is just as bad as abortion. Given those choices I support contraception.

BTW, that was why Margaret Sanger started Planned Parenthood and it's predecessors, because abortion, though illegal, was quite common back then, and she advertised for women to prevent pregnancy, not kill their babies. And yes, that is just how she described it.

Julie A Miller
4 weeks 1 day ago

I respect the reasoning behind the teaching against use of birth control, and exclusion of divorced Catholics from the Eucharist and remarriage. On the other hand, the first is almost universally ignored, making hypocrites of most most Catholic couples; and the second has done more to empty pews than perhaps any other dogma.

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