Fr. Terrence Donahue, Dr. Rene Leiva and Fertility Care counsellor Linda Smith at a panel hosted by Saint Paul University Students for Life. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

The two solitudes of family planning

  • March 22, 2012

OTTAWA - The same week a student group came under fire for distributing condoms on the Saint Paul University (SPU) campus, a pro-life group hosted a panel on the benefits of natural family planning (NFP), revealing the contrasts between artificial and natural means of preventing pregnancy.

SPU administrators ordered the student group to stop leaving a bowl of condoms for free pickup by students. That prompted a student to write an open letter, backed by 100 others, that led to stories by the news media.

“I was shocked that it’s 2012 and we’re still having this conversation of science versus ideology,” said Zach Zimmel, the author of the open letter to the university administration.  

But University of Ottawa assistant professor of family medicine Dr. Rene Leiva, who practices NaProTechnology, a form of fertility care that maximizes gynecological health, disputes that a Catholic approach to family planning lacks a scientific basis. He does however, concede there are many misconceptions about NFP that date back years to when Catholic teaching on family planning was dubbed “Vatican roulette.”

Leiva said that in many cases the pill does not prevent ovulation and studies have shown an increase in the abortion rate in countries saturated with birth control. The family doctor’s position was bolstered by a recent report that shows in New York City, which offers easily accessible contraception, 41 per cent of pregnancies end in abortion, rising to 60 per cent among African-American women.

NFP allows couples to achieve pregnancy or avoid pregnancy, all the while maximizing a woman’s health, Leiva said.

Its success depends on accurate observation of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Leiva said that when people follow the method perfectly, NFP is 97 per cent effective, the same rate of effectiveness touted for perfect use of birth control pills.  

Fr. Terrence Donahue outlined the theological reasons why condoms and artificial contraception of any kind are contrary to God’s plan. Citing passages from John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, he spoke about the total gift of self in marriage that includes the gift of one’s fertility.

But the priest blasted the common stereotype that Catholic teaching demands people “have to have as many children as possible.”  

“That’s a heresy, condemned by the Church,” he said.

“It’s called natalism. We are called to be responsible parents,” he said, saying that parents must discern together whether to have more children or not to have more children for a prudent and serious reason.

The Church’s teachings allow parents to make recourse to the infertile times in a woman’s cycle, he said.

Using a condom or artificial contraception such as the pill, contradicts the language of the body. “We are saying one thing with our body and another with the contraceptive instrument,” he said. “I am totally yours except for my fertility.”

Leiva pointed out the increased risk of blood clots, breast cancer, cervical cancer and cardiovascular disease associated with the pill. Although there is evidence pill use lowers some forms of cancer, these forms are rarer than breast and cervical cancer, he said.

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