Natural Family Planning is hailed as a natural way to avoid pregnancy, but its use can be abused and even lead to harming marriage.
A number of publications have reported increasing numbers of women quitting hormonal birth control owing to debilitating side effects and concern for the environment. Varying from an increased risk of depression and anxiety to cancer and a loss of libido, millennial women are unwilling to risk their health and well-being for hormonal contraception.
Instead, women are revisiting old methods using new technology. Once ridiculed for its high failure rate, the concept of the Rhythm Method coupled with technology is now hailed as being more effective than chemical birth control.
A number of new apps have been developed and claim to help a woman predict when she is fertile. Using data from a woman's body temperature, level of hormones present in the urine, moods or other cues, the apps then calculate the risks of becoming pregnant. Over time, the apps are supposed to "learn" a woman's cycle, making the predictions more accurate. More accurate predictions reduce the number of days a couple is supposed to abstain.
The secular reports clamor for a "new and improved" pill — one with no side effects. These reports describe women complaining to their doctors who put the blame for their depression or anxiety on social media or other factors. They prescribe the women antidepressants and tell them it's "all in their heads." These reports are claiming that the doctors are ignoring recent studies linking hormonal contraception and depression.
For example, Dr. Cora Bruener, chair of the committee on adolescents for the American Academy of Pediatrics, downplayed the study linking contraceptive use to depression saying, "An unintended and unwanted pregnancy far outweighs all the other side effects that could occur from a contraceptive."
With dismissive responses such as these from doctors, the articles report women have become distrustful of the medical community and have begun taking matters into their own hands. One of the main concerns with these apps is that they recommend using an alternate form of birth control, not chaste abstinence. Additionally, many Catholics believe this is a "legal" form of birth control to be used by all married couples as they see fit.
The Catholic Church does say Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a licit form of spacing births, but there must be serious or "just reasons" for practicing NFP. Kevin Kukla from Prolife365 outlines some of the right reasons. He notes the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes Guadium et Spes (51) "which says 'objective criteria' must be utilized to determine if a grave reason exists to observe periodic continence."
One of the reasons to use NFP is to space out births. Paragraph 2368 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, "It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality."
A homily on "The Sanctity of Marriage" quotes Pope Pius XII:
The mere fact that the husband and wife do not offend the nature of the act and are even ready to accept and bring the child who is born in spite of the precautions they have taken would not of itself alone be a sufficient guarantee of the right intention and the unquestionable morality of the motives themselves.
A second example noting the serious nature of NFP comes from Humanae Vitae:
If there are serious reasons to space out births, reasons which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is morally permissible to take into account the natural rhythms of human fertility and to have coitus only during the infertile times in order to regulate conception.
The catechism and Humanae Vitae both warn against the indiscriminate use of NFP for a whole host of reasons. Kukla notes the CCC points out "true love and NFP use do not necessarily go hand in hand" if NFP is being used for the wrong reasons. He says the contraceptive mentality "devalues each gender, turning them into sexual objects. The contraceptive mentality also leads to a devaluing of all human life, both preborn and in old age."
A number of Church leaders agree. Cardinal John Wright said, "The separation of childbearing and love has in turn allowed man to turn his wife into a mistress until her ability to satisfy his lust wanes."
The CCC states in paragraph 2363, "We must remember the twofold purposes of marriage are for the procreation of children and the betterment of the spouses. These two cannot be separated — as NFP abuse can lead to —without causing spiritual harm to the couple and to the family."
Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, the leader of the Hungarian Church until 1973, has much harsher words for couples that intend to "be careful." He says, "Those who attempt to avoid the responsibility of conceiving a child turn the sanctuary of marriage into a den of iniquity. The marriage partners become companions in sin."
For those who think that abstaining during fertile times is somehow "virtuous," Carey Winters wrote in "NFP: "Catholic Contraception?" that the "true asceticism of marriage is the submission to the Divine Will in bringing into existence those children whom God chooses to create, regardless of the accompanying hardship."