Dear Cecile Richards: NFP isn’t Insane, it’s Countercultural

Last week, the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, sat down for an interview with editor Tina Brown. During the interview, Richards had a few (incorrect) words to say about natural family planning (NFP). An excerpt:

“We just have seen a leaked memo that basically says that they’re going to try to redirect all the family planning program, where millions of women, how they get access to affordable birth control, to now begin to use it for fertility awareness,” she [Richards] insisted. “But to really redirect it away from ‘artificial’ family planning to ‘natural’ family planning.”

Brown gasped, “You mean we’re going to go back to the Rhythm method?” and likened the decision to an “episode of Mad Men.”

 Richards confirmed, “Yes, back to the Rhythm method.”

 “It’s completely insane,” Richards added. “We provide birth control to millions of people every year, and what we usually call folks who come to us who use the Rhythm method, is parents.”

 Yikes.

I have a lot to say about this; but it’s specifically worth pointing out that, first of all Cecile Richards doesn’t know what she’s talking about (or is being intentionally deceptive) and the fact that she thinks NFP is insane reflects the sad state of our culture today.

NFP is NOT the “Rhythm Method”

 Let me say it louder for the people in the back: NFP IS NOT THE RHYTHM METHOD. The rhythm method is literally using a calendar to count the days between cycles, pretty much guessing when you ovulate and when your fertile/infertile days are. Unsurprisingly, it’s not very scientific and not very reliable re: achieving or avoiding conception.

It seems like people use this misnomer for NFP when they want to portray it as something that is unrealistic, archaic, backwards, or not driven by science. If you don’t think NFP is based on science, go sit through an introductory session at your local hospital. You’ll change your mind.

Just a note to you, my reader, who may or may not be Catholic, and may or may not understand why a lot of Catholics get so riled up about this issue: the Church teaches that contraception interferes with the unitive and procreative act between husband and wife in marriage. Marriage, by definition, is to be free, total, faithful, and fruitful; contraception inherently prevents the marital act from truly being all of these things.

We’re called to trust God and be open to life. But that doesn’t mean we’re not also called to be prudent, responsible, and always discerning when it comes to having children and spacing children. Natural family planning methods (there are several!) rely on certain biomarkers (the woman’s body temperature and/or cervical mucus) to determine when a woman is fertile or infertile. A couple can then discern which days to use for intercourse if the goal is to avoid or achieve conception.

I could write a whole blog post about how great NFP is, how it is healthier, doesn’t come with the risks and side effects of artificial birth control, and how it works, but for now, click here for more info on all that. To summarize, it’s natural. It’s not artificial hormones messing up your body. It’s effective. It’s morally sound.

Jesse and I have been practicing NFP for the past six months since our wedding in June, but we’d been charting and studying NFP for over eight months of our engagement before that. And I want to be honest with you: NFP is difficult.

Some days, it’s really hard. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. And honestly, we should really be more candid with engaged folk about how difficult it can be. It depends on the person, of course, but it seems to me that the most difficult part of it all is that the body doesn’t always (read: most of the time) work the way we’d like it to, which often causes frustration and at times, tears. But those tears are usually borne of a lack of trust, lack of patience, lack of self-control, or all three.

While it’s difficult, it’s also beautiful and brings so much to a marriage. It requires communication between spouses: constant discussion about family planning and a frank understanding of day to day fertility. It requires patience. It requires self-control.

It requires trusting God. It’s a school of these virtues—patience, self-control, faith—and all in all, it’s pretty darn sanctifying.

Let’s Be Honest, Cecile

 That said, I’m really wondering why Cecile Richards referred to fertility awareness as, collectively, the “rhythm method.” It could be that she really, honestly doesn’t know what natural family planning is. Perhaps she’s never heard of Dr. Hilgers, who has made NFP his life’s work, basically created the Creighton Model of NFP, and in doing so has helped thousands of women either diagnose health issues (including myself) or solve fertility issues.

Maybe she really, truly doesn’t know the amazing science behind NaPro Technology (“natural procreative technology”). And if so, that’s a shame. You’d think someone in her line of work—“women’s health”—would want to be well versed on all the options out there, especially ones that empower women with the knowledge of how their body and their fertility works.

And if she really does know what NFP is (which I doubt, based on the way she speaks about it), then she is being intentionally deceptive; but I don’t think this would surprise anyone at this point, considering her organization’s track record of less-than-truthful business operations (i.e. selling the body parts of aborted babies).

Is fertility awareness really insane?

 “It’s completely insane,” Richards added. “We provide birth control to millions of people every year, and what we usually call folks who come to us who use the rhythm method, is parents.”

 First of all, it is interesting how folks like Cecile Richards and her Planned Parenthood cohorts throw around the word “parents” like it’s a bad thing. There’s a really easy way to NOT become a parent: don’t have sex. You can show your spouse love in other ways on days that you’ve discerned that you need to abstain. In fact, you SHOULD show your spouse love in other ways; it will make your relationship that much richer.

Is fertility awareness really insane? Think about what it involves. It allows a woman to understand how her body works. To know her fertility on a day to day basis. It requires that spouses abstain several days out of the month. It requires that spouses exercise prudence and responsibility in honestly discerning preparedness for children when considering what days of a woman’s cycle are fertile and infertile.

Insane? Not really. Countercultural? Absolutely.

What a world we live in when understanding our bodies and practicing self-control are spoken of in this way. If living a free, total, faithful, and fruitful marriage without artificial contraception is considered by this secular culture to be insane, then so be it.

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