Does NFP (sort of) cause more embryo deaths than the morning-after pill?

Does NFP (sort of) cause more embryo deaths than the morning-after pill?

Logic is apparently not a prerequisite for philosophy professors at the London School of Economics. A number of bloggers have noted a recent story in the Journal of Medical Ethics, in which Luc Bovens claims that more babies die from the rhythm method than other forms of “contraception” (sic). (Link goes to the American Papists blog entry.) The article is full of half-truths and misrepresentations and errors of logic. For one thing, he claims that the “rhythm method” is the only method of “birth control” condoned by the Church. Not so. The Church promotes Natural Family Planning, not the rhythm method. Likewise Natural Family Planning relies on abstinence during all of a woman’s fertile period, unlike the old rhythm method.

But the most outrageous claim is that “the “rhythm method” may kill off more embryos than other contraceptive methods, such as coils, morning after pills, and oral contraceptives.” How, you may ask?

“[The rhythm method] may owe much of its success to the fact that embryos conceived on the fringes of the fertile period are less viable than those conceived towards the middle. We don’t know how much lower embryo viability is outside this fertile period, contends Professor Bovens, but we can calculate that two to three embryos will have died every time the rhythm method results in a pregnancy. Is it not just as callous to organise your sex life to make it harder for a fertilised egg to survive, using this method, as it is to use the coil or the morning after pill, he asks?”

Active hostility v. natural causes

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  • Imagine the horrors you could justify using this kind of utilitarian calculus.

  • I learned in seminary that the disciples of the dissenters (Haring, Curran et. al.) often had little or no grasp of the biology of artificial contraception.

    My own “moral” theology prof (a disciple of Curran—we called his intro course “Loopholes 101-102”) once asked us to write a paper on how we would advise a woman in the confessional who was using “the pill.”  We knew that he wanted us to give a “nuanced” and “modern” spin on it, so I wrote a bit about the principle of double effect—that is, if the woman were using “the pill” only for its effect on regulating her irregular cycle, any contraceptive results might be considered unintended secondary effects and would therefore be not-immoral.  It was my best attempt at getting out of putting down on paper what he was trying to goad us into (and therefore be able to call us “un-nuanced” and therefore unworthy of ordination!)

    At any rate, he returned my paper and I found underlined in red the line about regulating her cycle, with a big question mark next to it.  When I spoke to him later, it turned out he had no idea that this was one of the uses OB-GYN’s make of “the pill.”

    I often wonder if any of the dissenters even know anything about female biology—or even care, for that matter.

  • Mike’s original posting, above, left me somewhat uneasy in its starkness.  Let me elaborate.

    While I am offer my wholehearted support to the couple that opts for a large family, there are, in fact, moral reasons for not choosing one.  Pope Paul VI recognized this in Humanae Vitae, specifically in Paragraph 10 which I quote here:

    Responsible Parenthood

    10. Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood. Thus, we do well to consider responsible parenthood in the light of its varied legitimate and interrelated aspects.

    With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person. (9 – See St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 2.)

    With regard to man’s innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man’s reason and will must exert control over them.

    With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time. [emphasis mine]

    Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.

    From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out. (10 – See Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, nos . 50- 5 1: AAS 58 ( 1 966) 1070-1073 [TPS XI, 292-293])

    That is, Mike is quite right when he says that, for a couple to use their knowledge of NFP to keep from bearing children at all is a mortal sin—but the sin is in the violation of the natural order of marriage, which is ordered toward both the unity of the spouses and toward children.

    (to be continued…)

  • (continuation….)

    But for a couple who, having cooperated with God in their marriage and having “accepted children lovingly from God,” also accept responsible parenthood for the children they have and decide to “keep[] a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society” by choosing not to have any more children—I just don’t think that one can call them guilty of mortal sin.

    I know this is controversial, so let me just wrap it up like this:  does not one cooperate with God by prudentially using one’s knowledge as well as one’s fecundity to provide not only for future children but also for children already born?

    I don’t condone artificial birth control, but prudential regulation of birth, using the faculties and natural provisions at hand, is surely a moral decision by parents.

    I bring your attention to Paragraph 21 of the same document:

    21. The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions. For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need for self-denial. Only then will the expression of love, essential to married life, conform to right order. This is especially clear in the practice of periodic continence. Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character. And if this self-discipline does demand that they persevere in their purpose and efforts, it has at the same time the salutary effect of enabling husband and wife to develop to their personalities and to be enriched with spiritual blessings. For it brings to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It helps in solving difficulties of other kinds. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity. It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities. And finally, it confers upon parents a deeper and more effective influence in the education of their children. As their children grow up, they develop a right sense of values and achieve a serene and harmonious use of their mental and physical powers.

  • There are several serious reasons that come to mind immediately:  having already a severely disabled child, who will require a disproportionate amount of the parents’ time and attention, might give rise to a prudential judgement to limit the number of children in the family; both parents carrying a specific recessive gene (let’s say for lupus or cystic fibrosis) that is almost certain to result in the birth of a child who is severely disabled; and there are many other specific reasons that present “serious reasons” that call couples to responsible parenthood.

    Financial means (or lack thereof) are NOT one of the grave reasons that I usually find morally compelling; most often in the United States, parents who plead this as a reason for not having more children have been deluded into a materialistic approach to life, an approach that I do my best to disabuse them of.

    That said, there do exist such dire financial situations, although I rarely am asked to be involved in such situations.