This session was aimed at exploring the peculiarities of our faith as regards abortion, family planning and contraceptives with specialists well versed in the theory and practical aspects of these areas. The panel was made up of a member of the clergy and two medical consultants:
- Father Anthony Nwosu: Secretary to the Archbishop of the Lagos Diocese
- Sherese Ijewere: Nutrition Consultant and Natural Fertility Care Practitioner
- Wanda Alli- Balogun: Medical Doctor, Naprotechnology Medical Consultant
Don’t panic if you missed this session because the discussions held were very thorough and covered recurring concerns amongst married and unmarried people alike. Here’s a detailed recap of our session below:
Background: Life is Life!
Every single human life is sacred. The church’s mission includes to protect all life from being killed and to liberate life. Essentially, anything that could be done for the common good of people should be done. There are a lot of Biblical references from the Old and New testaments that support the fact that every life is sacred; here are some examples:
Gen 1: 26-31 – Man and woman were created in God’s image and likeness and they were ordered to be fruitful and multiply. At the end of creation, God saw that everything He made was good.
Deuteronomy 10: 17-19 – God loves the orphan, the widow and the stranger
Psalms 139: 13-16 – God formed each of us and knows us intimately
Proverbs 22: 2 – The Lord is the maker of both the rich and the poor
Luke 10: 25- 27 – The good Samaritan recognised the dignity in the other and cared for his life
Romans 12: 9 – 18 – Love one another, contribute to the needs of others, live peaceably with all
1 Corinthians 3: 16 – You are holy, for you are God’s temple and God dwells in you
1 John 4: 7-12 – Let us love one another because love is from God
These biblical instances support the fact that everyone has dignity of life. The phrase “Life is life”, means that there is not one life that is better than the other. When a value is placed on life, it is natural to think of the associated comfort and expectations that life will have but these should not change, irrespective of a person’s age or lifestyle.
As man was created in God’s image and likeness, he is not a product of chance and should not be treated as such. As human beings, we enjoy dignity and freewill which are often referred to as inviolable rights by the secular world. The concept is so profound that it can be found in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) where a right to life, freedom of worship, speech and pursuit of happiness in full measure is promoted.
Morality = Goal + Means
As humans, we often have goals we desire to achieve but the means we use may be immoral. In family planning, the goal is to either space out children or to avoid having them for reasonable circumstances surrounding each marriage and so this can be done by understanding our bodies and using natural (God-given) systems to achieve the goal. For example, the goal of a couple who may have complications conceiving will be to have healthy babies, however their chosen method of In vitro Fertilization (IVF) involves immoral means- masturbation, freezing and killing of embryos.
Dr. Wanda explained that “as humans, we all have a conscience but the problem is how the conscience is educated”. In a circumstance involving abortion and contraceptive use, following our conscience may be subjective because we all have different moral and secular standards. Essentially, what is moral to one, may be immoral to another.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) Methods
NFP is a means of regulating family size which gives couples the opportunity to observe their body systems in the discernment of whether to welcome or postpone children. This discernment may occur as a result of introspection, divine suggestion through prayer and financial control. Some of its benefits include:
- The wife remains true to her cycle and preserves herself from intrusive chemicals or devices
- The husband shares in the planning and responsibility for NFP
- The couple learns a greater degree of self-control
- A deeper level of respect is developed between the couple
- It encourages spiritual and emotional bonding which will lead to a greater level of intimacy and joy
Here are some NFP methods that are popular and inexpensive with higher rates of success and no side effects:
The Billings Method: This method involves recording the appearance of cervical mucus secretion from the woman in order to ascertain her fertile (ovulation) and infertile days. A woman is ‘ovulating’ when her cervical mucus is at a very slippery consistency. This method is 99.5% effective with a failure rate of 0.5%.
The Creighton Model Fertility Care System (CrMS): This appears to be a development of the Billings method which involves charting and observation of biomarkers which are essentials to a woman’s health and fertility. External areas of the vulvar area where discharge occurs, the presence of bleeding and presence of dry days aid in ascertaining a woman’s procreative health. This method is 96.8% effective with a failure rate of 3.2%.
Natural Procreative Technology (NaProTECHNOLOGY): This fertility-care based medical approach has been developed over the span of thirty years with solutions to ovarian cysts, infertility, menstrual cramps and other related problems. The biomarkers in the CrMS are also used here to decipher a woman’s fertile days. NaProTechnology uses natural hormones called Isomolecular Hormones (IMH) in its treatment methods because they are identical to those which naturally occur in the human body (Estrogen and Progesterone).
Conversely, Heteromolecular artimones (HMA) are artificial hormones with estrogen-like and progesterone-like activity (HMA progestins and estrins) that have a higher potency than isomolecular hormones. These artimones are present in birth control pills and are responsible for metabolic and clinical side-effects, including life-threatening incidents.
NaProTechnology also has a 95% success rate for treating Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and postpartum depression.
Q & A
The highly interactive session paved a way for lots of comments and questions in a no judgment zone while opening up our minds to real life instances in light of the Church’s teaching.
Q: What is the church’s stance on AS + AS marriages?
A: There is no law that stops such marriages from taking place as the church’s role is solely to counsel and prepare you for the circumstances that may follow by providing psychological, spiritual and emotional support. Love is the most important factor here.
It is important to note that if such a couple marries, there is a possibility of having children that carry the AA, AS or SS genotypes. All children from this couple may even carry the same gene out of these three possibilities.
Q: The use of contraceptives and casual sexual activity have increased; the removal of contraceptives in everyday use will correspond in an increase of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Infections (STIs and STDs). How can we promote health in line with the church’s teaching?
A: It is important to note that the church promotes chastity before marriage which negates the use of contraceptives on a premarital basis; contraceptives may also cause infertility. Birth control methods (pills, condoms, Intrauterine Device, implants, spermicide, etc) in general are not a 100% effective as some women still get pregnant and suffer side effects.
While premarital sex is considered normal by the world, there is a growing belief that men can’t do without sex and this calls for men to exercise self-control and be more mature in requesting for sex (in a marriage). It is possible for anyone to find fulfilment in life without sex in relationships and courtship.
Q: Do women have a role to play in feeding the sexual desires of men in a marriage/relationship?
A: Yes, women need to be able to say no to sex sometimes especially if they aren’t comfortable with a spouse that requests it on a rampant basis. The paradigm should shift from women being perceived as sex objects to true companions who can find other ways to share a bond without genital contact. Ideally, the woman is a person and the act should be fitted around the person and not vice versa. Men may also subconsciously appreciate a woman who has decided to wait till marriage.
Q: To what extent does a condom help in contraception?
A: A condom is not a 100% effective. It is also important to note that if sex is body language, then the use of a condom prevents the fullest expression of communication because love in marriage comes with the whole package of sexual bonding and having kids.
Q: How should a couple address the revelation that one partner is diagnosed with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)?
A: They should be open to a lot of self-sacrifice and serious counsel from the church and if they really love each other, they may decide to cohabit with no genital contact. Although there is an anti-AIDS drug (Truvada) which is said to protect the spread of the disease during intercourse it is important not to consider this a viable option as a spouse should not be considered an object and the drug not considered as a means to a sexual end.
Q: Is it better to abort a baby with birth defects than to bring them into the world to suffer?
A: Before a final decision is taken to abort a baby, other viable options should be explored. It will be useful to consult a foetal surgeon and conduct a prenatal diagnosis as there have been successful surgeries and subsequent deliveries. Aborting the baby without seeking other options first will not be giving him/her a chance at life- it should be the last resort when both the mother and the baby are in danger as it is better to save one life than to save none.
Abortion could lead to Post Abortion Syndrome (PAS) which may require counselling to reset a woman’s emotions to a healthy equilibrium. This syndrome includes depression, panic, suicidal thoughts/attempts and sadness when around babies and any vacuum-like sound that is similar to the abortion suction device.
Q: What is the church’s reason for allowing Natural Family Planning (NFP)?
A: The church promotes NFP because it allows use of our body’s natural system created by God to decipher fertile days and space pregnancies. Here, it is the duty of the couple to track fertile days knowing that intercourse may lead to pregnancy. The church also promotes responsible parenthood which focuses on the awareness of individuals that engaging in the marital act they may become parents, using their means responsibly to raise a family.
The use of birth control/contraception is seen as hindering God’s intention for procreation and our bodies using man-made products while NFP involves using a natural system created by God; Contraception simply means AGAINST conception and does not allow a married couple to truly become one flesh.
Creative abstinence may help couples in their journey of marital chastity where commitment, spiritual, physical and emotional communication create a strong intimacy between a couple during times they set out to practice NFP.
Q: What is the church’s stance on taking birth control pills for regulating menstruation?
A: A woman may take pills for the sole purpose of regulating her menstrual cycle for a period of time or she may alternatively use natural hormones as provided in the NaProTECHNOLOGY system. Birth control pills have more side effects compared to the function it performs in the human body.
Q: Is it reasonable for a person to have an abortion if she has been raped?
A: An abortion is the intentional termination of a human pregnancy usually during the first 28 weeks. While rape cases should be treated on an individual basis, it is important to take the rape victim to the hospital immediately to be cleaned up or within 72 hours of the incident to collect any substantial evidence and receive care.
Q: What can we do to make women more aware of NFP?
A: It can be discussed in doctrinal classes as well as pre-marital classes.
Q: Is the practice of Eugenics considered to be immoral?
A: This practice involves picking specific traits in order to create the “perfect being” and in so doing, breaking the natural process of creation; it is considered immoral.
Q: Why does the church not promote the use of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and Stem Cell Research?
A: The church is against IVF because it encourages immoral means to achieve a desired goal. These immoral means include:
- Masturbation for the collection of sperm- it involves use of the sexual faculty outside the marital act where there is no mutual self-giving and possibility of human procreation in the context of true love
- Embryo selection process involving the destruction and freezing of less desirable embryos- no human life is better than the other
Did you know that IVF research was originally intended for the production of food? And eggs obtained from smart women are sold at higher prices?
Stem cell research may lead to the discovery of cures to human diseases but also involves destruction of a large number of embryos as part of trial and error.
Q: What is the church’s stance on vasectomy and hysterectomy?
A: These processes involve the hindrance of the body’s natural reproductive processes and are against conception, therefore, are not in line with the church’s teaching. These processes should be done only as a last resort to life threatening circumstances.
Philippians 3: 2- “…look out for evil-workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” – mutilating the body to prevent conception is not desirable to God.
Q: Is sexual intercourse for the sole purpose of procreation?
A: No, marital bonding is encouraged as it is not practical to merely have sex only on fertile days in a woman’s menstrual cycle. Marriage is seen as both unitive and procreative – not either/or; it is becoming “one flesh” which implies complete self-giving without exception just as Christ withheld nothing from His bride (the church) by dying for her on the Cross.
Q: Under the concept of responsible parenthood, can the woman forego having children for health or any other issues?
A: Responsible or Conscious parenthood is a rich concept which focuses on the awareness of individuals that engaging in the marital act, they may become parents. The woman may forego having children if she is faced with health issues that may threaten her life or cause complications to the baby. An abusive marriage is also not a conducive situation to raise a child so the woman may forego pregnancy.
Q: Why are these topics not deliberated on by priests from the pulpit?
A: The clergy’s (priest and other religious) main focus at mass is to announce the gospel while the laity (people of the church) have a duty of discussing these topics more as we make up the body of Christ.
Particularly, in the opening declaration (Gaudet Mater Ecclesia) of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII rejected the thoughts of “prophets of doom who are always forecasting disaster” in the world and the church’s future. He explained that the church’s nature was pastoral and did not need to repeat or reformulate existing doctrines and dogma but rather had to teach Christ’s message in spite of the contemporary world’s ever-changing trends.
To read success stories of couples who turned to NFP, please visit: http://www.naturalfertilitymatters.com/case-studies/
Predictions of Pope Paul VI (1968)
- Widespread use of contraception will result in “conjugal infidelity and general lowering of morality”.
- Man will lose respect for woman and “no longer care for her physical and psychological equilibrium” as he considers her “a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion”. Hence, the real beneficiaries of contraception are men especially as women suffer the side effects.
- Widespread use of contraception represents a dangerous weapon to be used by public authorities who do not consider morality. Population Control policies are part of foreign aid discussions and are based mainly on the use of contraceptive technology.
- Contraception would make human beings believe they had total control over their body resulting in exaggerated feminism from “liberation” provided by contraception and abortion. Man takes no responsibility in these events where fertility is seen as a disease/infection a woman is to be cured from.
- New reproductive health technologies will change our understanding and stance towards sexuality, fertility and marriage. In truth, IVF, cloning, genetic manipulation and embryo experimentation are descendants of contraceptive technology and have changed our perception of natural human relationships and their purposes.
Practical Resolutions: What Now?
As a community, we must seek to educate ourselves on these phenomena by creating interactive forums and promoting such topics in doctrinal/pre-marital classes at our local churches. The Love + Life courses are one of such resolutions being made in the Catholic church where concepts like Creative Abstinence and Responsible Parenthood are taught in addition to NFP. You can become a Love + Life instructor as it takes 7-8 months (one session every month) to be qualified. To teach the Creighton model, one has to be a graduate while the Billings method can be taught by anyone with secondary school education.
The Church also has a lot of documents on family life that you can read in your personal time. Some of these include:
- The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality– Guidelines for Education within the Family, by Pontifical Council for the Family, 1995 (No. 14, 15; pg 17)
- The Letter to Families from Pope John Paul II, Year of the Family, 1994 (No.9; pg 19)
- Familliaris Consortio – Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II- “The Splendor of Truth” 1993 (No. 43,44; 58-59)
- Humanae Vitae – Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI “Of Human Life” 25th July, 1968
It is also important to remember that you can find help and good counsel if you require it. Feel free to contact Young and Catholic Nigeria via firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like us to refer you to any of the consultants that were present at this session.
Need some light-hearted encouragement?
- Remember the ABCs of premarital sex:
- Abstinence when you are single
- Be faithful and celibate when you are in a relationship
- Chastity in your marriage
- Keep it locked, till you get that rock!
The church exists as a moral authority and will not alter its stance on worldly developments so it is important that we do not promote or have expectations regarding the active secularisation of our faith in these discussions.
The fact remains that in life, there are things that we physically and supernaturally can’t change:
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations”- Jeremiah 1: 5
Will you join us at our next session?