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Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

By Maggie Maslak
 
(CNA/EWTN News)--For some, it was a health-conscious decision. For others, it was environmental. For still others, it was faith-based.
 
But no matter the reason, more and more women are ditching the pill and opting for fertility awareness methods as a natural way to achieve or delay pregnancy.
 
“In the U.S., there does seem to be an increase in the interest in fertility tracking and understanding the signs and symptoms of our bodies to plan and prevent pregnancy,” said Dr. Victoria Jennings, director of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University.
 
“Our work has shown that simple fertility awareness messages are extremely attractive to a wide range of women and can address their family planning needs,” Jennings told CNA.
 
July 23-29 is national Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, coinciding with the 48th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae, which laid out the Church’s long-understood teachings on the sanctity of human sexuality. 
 
The Catholic Church has always taught that contraception is immoral, because it divorces procreation from the sexual act. However, the Church approves of Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods, which allow couples to remain open to life.
 
Through Natural Family Planning, a woman learns to understand her body’s natural monthly cycle. By tracking the signs of her own fertility each day, she is able to determine when she is fertile and infertile. Decisions about whether to engage in sexual activity can then be made, based upon this knowledge, and the couple’s desire to achieve or postpone a pregnancy.
 
While NFP is sometimes mistaken for the primitive “calendar method” of generations past, it is actually an umbrella term for a collection of modern fertility awareness methods. Carefully evaluating each woman’s individual body and cycle, modern methods are rooted in science and are 99.6 percent effective when used correctly – a number that competes with the pill, according to the Couple to Couple League, a group that promotes Natural Family Planning.
 
Additionally, these methods are free from the host of side effects and health risks accompanying hormonal contraception. They don’t pollute the environment. And they can even help women identify underlying health problems that may otherwise go undiagnosed.
 
And Catholics are not alone in their use of Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM). Increasingly, they are being joined by women of various faiths and no faiths at all, as the benefits of natural methods draw new awareness.
 
In recent years, many Evangelicals and other Protestants have started to find fault with artificial birth control and are turning to natural fertility-based methods instead.
 
“All women – Protestant, Catholic, atheists, and nones – can appreciate this hormone-free (and conscience-free) alternative to chemical contraception,” said Chelsen Vicari, the Evangelical program director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in an article last year.
 
Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the University of Utah found that more women, religious or not, are seeking alternatives to hormonal birth control without turning to surgery. And a 2015 study from the University of Iowa found that more than 1 in 5 women would be open to using fertility monitoring instead of the pill if they knew how it worked.
 
Methods for understanding fertility are also on the rise, and thanks to the help of modern technology and research, women are able to re-think the long list of side effects that can accompany hormonal contraception, such as depression, increased risk for stroke, and reported lower quality of life.
 
“Specifically in the app world, the use of fertility apps to track cycles or plan/prevent pregnancy is increasing exponentially,” Jennings said, noting that there are more than 1,000 fertility apps available on Apple and Google Play stores.
 
However, Jennings did warn that some of the apps have been proven to be inaccurate or “make claims that are either unsubstantiated or misleading, making it difficult for women to know which apps are most likely to meet their needs.”
 
Among the most well-respected fertility apps is Kindara. Launched in 2012, the iOS app offers charting tools to help women track when they are fertile by highlighting the ovulation period of a woman’s monthly cycle.
 
“Over the past couple of decades, fertility awareness has been studied a lot. We know scientifically, based on evidence now, that it does work, and it works very well if you use it correctly,” says Lauren Risberg, the Content Lead for Kindara.
 
Another fertility app, Natural Cycles, was started by a nuclear physicist in Sweden and was recently approved by the European Union as a certified method of birth control.
 
The growing interest in fertility awareness also comes at a time of concern over false expectations of reliability with artificial birth control.
 
New statistics released this month indicate that more than half (51%) of the abortions performed in the UK last year were due to failed contraception from the pill, implants or patches.
 
In an interview with the Telegraph, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service Ann Furedi said that by encouraging women to use contraception, “you give them the sense that they can control their fertility.”
 
“Our data shows that women cannot control their fertility through contraception alone,” Furedi stressed.
 
In contrast, Church teaching surrounding Natural Family Planning emphasizes an openness to life, steering away from the notion that women control their fertility and instead empowering them with the knowledge to understand their bodies and cooperate with them to the fullest possible extent.
 
Emphasizing the gift of fertility and the ability to be co-creators with God to bring about a new human life, the Church teaches that couples should only avoid pregnancy through NFP when they have a just reason to do so.
 
With fertility awareness continuing to grow in popularity, the medical community would do well to pay attention, Jennings told CNA.
 
“Significant numbers of women worldwide don’t use birth control due to fears of side effects, negative beliefs about contraception, and because they don’t think they need it at the time,” she said.
 
“We believe the reproductive health community must take women's concerns seriously – and also take seriously evidence-based methods that rely on people knowing their own fertility.”
 
  • Published in Nation

Women’s March on Washington

After being removed from a list of partner organizations for the Women’s March on Washington, members of a pro-life group based in Texas decided they still would take to the streets Jan. 21 to take part in the historic and massive event. And they said it was a good decision.
 
“Overall, it was an amazing experience,” said Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, of New Wave Feminists, one of the groups removed as a march sponsor.
 
“We were prepared for confrontation and instead were supported by so many women,” Herndon-De La Rosa told Catholic News Service.
 
The group posted photos on their Facebook and Instagram accounts of their participation, holding signs that read, “I’m a pro-life feminist.”
 
“They kept coming up and telling us how glad they were that we were there and how, even though they didn’t necessarily agree on the abortion issue, they thought it wrong that we were removed as partners,” said Herndon-De La Rosa. “It was very cool.”
 
Women like Herndon-De La Rosa marched for a cause. In her group’s case, they are concerned about President Donald J. Trump’s changing position on abortion and say they wanted him to know they’d be watching what he does on pro-life issues such as abortion, the death penalty and violence.
 
Margie Legowski, a parishioner at Washington’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church, said she took to the streets “in support of values that I don’t see in this administration.” Those values include equality for women and also caring about immigrants who need help.
 
“I want to take a stand. I don’t want to be passive about it,” she said. “In our faith we’re called to solidarity.”
 
That means standing up against wealth inequality and defending the vulnerable, she said. It’s a means of building the Kingdom of God on earth, and she doesn’t see that as a priority for the new president.
 
Jean Johnson, another Holy Trinity parishioner, attended the march with 11 nieces and four grandnieces. They arrived in Washington from around the country, some driving long distances and picking up other family members along the way. She said she felt pride in her large group, particularly because they adopted the values of her Irish Catholic immigrant parents and are concerned about the common good, for women and for others.
 
She wasn’t marching against a cause or person, but rather marching for women’s dignity, she said.
 
“I went to a Catholic school where the nuns told me I’m a temple,” she told CNS. “The march is for that dignity.”
 
Some women who attended said they didn’t feel president Trump valued that dignity, particularly after a leaked recording was aired during the campaign in which he was heard making lewd comments about women to an entertainment reporter.
 
Jack Hogan, who once worked for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty program, said he was attending the march with neighbors and friends because he considers what Trump goes against Catholic social teaching. He said he was hoping other Catholics, as organizations and groups, as well as Church leaders, would speak up more forcefully for the poor and vulnerable at this time.
 
He said worries about the new president’s stance on climate change, on the poor and other issues that seem to go against what Pope Francis, as the leader of the Catholic Church, says are important. He thinks Trump lives and espouses the opposite of what the Church values, including family.
 
As a citizen, “what (Trump) stands for is not what our participatory democracy stands for,” Hogan said, adding that he could not celebrate his inauguration. Ever since Trump was elected, Hogan said he has participated in various protests and prayer events with other organizations because he worries about what will happen to the vulnerable in society. The Women’s March was one of those instances, he said.
 
While organizers said the event was to “promote women’s equality and defend other marginalized groups,” some pro-life groups that wanted to be partners in the march were either removed as official sponsors days before the march — or their application to be a sponsor was ignored.
 
In an interview before the march, Herndon-De La Rosa told CNS no one contacted members of her group to give them the news they were taken off a roster of sponsors, but they found out after a flurry of stories about it. The groups And Then There Were None and Students for Life of America also were denied or taken off the Women’s March roster.
 
However, many members of those organizations attended the march.
 
  • Published in Nation

Pope tells women religious Vatican will study women deacons

Pope Francis told the heads of women's religious orders from around the world that he would set up a commission to study the New Testament deaconesses and he also insisted more can and should be done to involve lay and consecrated women in Church decision-making at every level.

Asked if he would establish "an official commission to study the question" of whether women could be admitted to the diaconate, Pope Francis responded: "I accept. It would be useful for the Church to clarify this question. I agree."

The pope spent more than an hour May 12 responding to questions posed by members of the International Union of Superiors General, repeatedly asking if they wanted further clarification.

"I like hearing your questions because they make me think," the pope told close to 900 superiors general, representing almost 500,000 sisters around the world. "I feel like a goalie, who is standing there waiting for the ball and not knowing where it's going to come from."

Asked about deaconesses in the New Testament and the possibility of the modern Church admitting women to the permanent diaconate, Pope Francis had said his understanding was that the women described as deaconesses in the Bible were not ordained like permanent deacons are. Mainly, he said, it appeared that they assisted with the baptism by immersion of other women and with the anointing of women.

However, he said, "I will ask the (Congregation for the) Doctrine of the Faith to tell me if there are studies on this."

Pope Francis also promised to have the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments send the UISG a full explanation of why women cannot give a homily at Mass. While women can preach at a Liturgy of the Word when there is not a celebration of the Eucharist, he said, at Mass the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are parts of a whole and only one who is ordained can preside and preach.

The main part of the question was about the lack of influence women religious are given in Church decision-making processes. Pope Francis said the obligation to listen to women in the parish, diocese and at the Vatican "is not a matter of feminism, but of right."

All the baptized–women and men, lay or consecrated–have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit for the good of the entire Church, he insisted. The entire Church suffers when some voices are excluded from the conversation, he said. (CNS)

  • Published in Vatican
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