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Natural family planning.

Please note the nomenclature. The Planned Parenthood associations-whether national or international--are organizations which promote barrenness, not children. Similarly, "Family Planning Associations" are against having children. They do not want parents to have children. If women do become pregnant, these organizations recommend abortion.

On the other hand, Natural family planning (NFP) organizations work for families who want children but would like to space them better. They are the exact opposite of the first mentioned group. Unless this huge distinction is clear, people will be confused.

Our author refers back to a 2003 controversy which centred around a University of Saskatchewan academic.


"A safe time to have sex may not exist. Women may ovulate several times a month. There may always be an egg sac waiting to release an egg. Rhythm (natural family planning) generally doesn't work."

Those were among the astonishing statements made by Dr. Roger Pierson in relation to a paper published in the July 2003 issue of the scientific journal Fertility and Sterility. They are not justified by the facts contained in the paper.

It announced the discovery that women have recurring waves of attempted ovulation. The study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), was done by researchers led by Pierson, Director of the Reproductive Biology Research Unit at the University of Saskatchewan.

"We are literally going to have to re-write medical textbooks," he said. "This discovery shows that we have not fully understood the basic biological processes that occur during menstrual cycles."

Pierson's conclusions were based on vaginal ultra-sound monitoring of the ovarian activity of just 63 women for only one cycle. They made headlines, even though the "discoveries" are not new.

In NFP circles, it has been known for years that the body can make several attempts before ovulation actually occurs. Users learn to distinguish between an attempt and actual ovulation.

"Waves of anovulatory ovarian activity were documented by hormone assays and published in the scientific literature during the late 1950s and early 1960s," noted the Australian fertility expert Professor-Emeritus James B. Brown. Clearly the Saskatchewan team did not review or take seriously over 40 years of intensive NFP fertility research.

Of course, Pierson was not disposed to pay much attention to anything connected with natural methods of family planning. He repeatedly referred to it dismissively as "rhythm", and joked, "People trying to use NFP are called parents."

That statement could be refuted by government family planning agencies in India and China, both aware that modern NFP--benign and non-toxic--is as effective as any contraceptive.

"I have asked him how his remarks [can] fit with evidence from efficacy and fecundity studies on NFP," said Richard J. Fehring, Director of the Institute for Natural Family Planning, at Marquette University.

"Pierson's surprisingly uninformed and opinionated remarks about the effectiveness of NFP discredit the seriousness of [his] work," said Dr. Suzanne Parenteau, medical advisor to the NFP group Serena Canada. She also raised the possibility that "the vigorous vibrational intrusiveness of the ultrasonic probe method" may have skewed the results by affecting the sensitive follicles in the ovaries.

Some question Pierson's objectivity in the study, noting that in 2000, he was deeply involved in effectiveness studies, funded by Johnston & Johnston, for Ortho's Evra, the world's first contraceptive patch. It halts follicular development. Pierson hailed it as more effective than standard birth control pills at suppressing ovulation, and likely to become the most popular form of birth control.

On CBC's Quirks and Quarks in December 1999, he said one of the most significant advances for the new century would be the banking of reproductive cells and the development of designer embryos. In July 2003, he said, "[This new study] may lead to the design of new, safer and more effective contraception and may improve success with assisted reproductive technology [by altering] the way infertility specialists go about stimulating a woman's ovaries to produce extra eggs for in vitro fertilization."

CIHR encourages multi-discipline research. Accordingly, a key member of this team was veterinarian Dr. Gregg Adams, of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. He is very knowledgeable about ovarian function in horses, cows, sheep, buffalo, yaks and alpacas, and is referred to as "one of the best in the field of ultrasound". With Pierson twenty years ago, he developed a model of follicular waves in cattle. They suggest this new study demonstrates that women function in the same way.

How modern NFP really works

Stressing that the authors are "grossly in error" in their interpretation of this new study, Dr. Brown reiterated that women are fertile for only a short time every few weeks. Their bodies always announce the approach of fertility, and the return to infertility. Once ovulation has occurred, another ovulation cannot occur in the interval before the woman's next period. In addition, ovulation is not the only factor involved in conceiving. How can Brown be so sure?

Not from a study of only 63 women for a single cycle. But from the reports of millions of women using the Billings Ovulation Method over four decades, from the daily study of approximately 10,000 ovarian cycles in a large spectrum of women, from non-intrusive ultra sound studies, and from hormonal monitoring of 750,000 cases.

Hormones govern the whole sequence of events in a woman's fertility cycle. They interact with each other in a beautifully delicate, sequential way, always attempting to go forward to complete their task. Their activity may pause, or even cease, but the sequence never reverses itself. The accomplishment of ovulation sets in motion a series of biological activities to prepare for nurturing a tiny new child, should impregnation occur. The body does not interrupt those preparations to re-set itself and restart the ovulation process, but waits till after that "preparation phase" has run its natural course, ending in a birth or a menstrual period.

Intensive leading edge research over several decades confirms that all the steps in the whole cycle--from the initial pituitary impulse through to actual ovulation and the related events that usually end in the death of the egg and the disintegration of the uterine lining--are so carefully orchestrated that recurring ovulations would simply be impossible. The Saskatchewan study actually confirms that.

Dr. John Billings, major developer of the Billings Ovulation Method now used in 130 countries, states: "The facts are incontrovertible."

Dr. Thomas Hilgers (Creighton Method) is convinced from other research that many cases of infertility result from undiagnosed hormone problems. When patients are appropriately diagnosed and treated, fertility is frequently achieved. In vitro fertilization (with its attendant destruction of "surplus embryos") is not only immoral in itself, but has also been shown to be associated with an increase in the incidence of disease in both mother and child.

Pierson's references to "months" and "normal cycles" suggest that he does not know that normal cycles can range from very short to very long, in the same woman, at different times. Some of those cycles can be infertile. That does not necessarily mean they are abnormal in the sense of needing to be fixed.

What does need to be 'fixed'? The myth that a normal cycle is 28 days with ovulation on day 14. This myth is the model on which the use of chemical contraceptives is based. It is still presented as fact by many doctors.... and obviously believed by some fertility researchers.

Since the mid-70s, World Health Organization studies have shown that modern methods of natural family planning are highly effective if used properly.

In China where the government has an intense interest in slowing down population growth, 48,449 teachers have been trained to teach the Billings Method, and 3,645,600 women have used it. Shao-Zhen Quian of the Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, said in March 2003, that the Chinese family planning agencies consider it "the simplest and most consistently effective method, artificial or natural, of preventing births." It addition, 48,270 supposedly infertile and sub-fertile couples have used the method to produce 15,640 wanted babies.

"The BOM has an efficiency in preventing conception that is not exceeded by any other medical or surgical technique," says Dr. Billings--as well as remarkable success in helping the supposedly infertile.


Modern natural methods of birth spacing began in the early 1900s with the much ridiculed 'rhythm' method (a mathematical model). A breakthrough in its time, it was as reliable as any of the contraceptive methods then in use.

Great strides have been made since then. Today the two major approaches use either multiple signs of fertility (Serena), or one key indicator (Billings). Spinoff groups like Couple to Couple League and Creighton Method use variations on the original methods. They differ in their approaches and statistical effectiveness, but not in their knowledge, dedication, or concern for women and families. Some health professionals teach NFP, but most instructors are carefully trained lay people.

At first, all Christian churches condemned artificial birth control. In 1930, the Anglican church began to permit it for married couples in very grave circumstances; soon other churches withdrew their opposition. Today, many Christians believe that all people, single or married, have a serious responsibility to use contraception.

The Catholic church alone continues to state that it is intrinsically wrong, a teaching widely ignored in recent decades.

The Church does not teach that couples must have all the children they can. It does teach that they must always be open to the possibility of new life as they seek to follow the Creator's plan for them in this realm. NFP safeguards that marital openness to life, by enabling them to use their fertility responsibly and prudently.

Dr. Theresa McKenna, a Creighton teacher, pointed out in 1998, "NFP has much to offer in restoring the dignity of the human person, a restoration that allows men and women to be fully human and fully alive!"

In January 1994 the Pope stated: "All couples have the right to know of [natural methods of family planning] and to have access to them." From every country where NFP is used, he hears that it strengthens marriages, protects physical and spiritual health, and assists couples in finding freedom, dignity, fulfillment, love, and happiness.

Many clergy, governments and lay people hear just the opposite. They are told that nothing is worse than having children, that nothing more completely obstructs freedom, dignity, fulfillment, love, and happiness. (This mindset is reflected in Pierson's repeated reference to "A safe time to have sex".)


In 1968, Humanae vitae warned that widespread contraception would have dire social consequences. Today, Planned Parenthood unrelentingly pushes contraception, even for girls as young as 10. A major objective of all the family-related UN conventions since 1980, it is also a key part of population control policies and often a condition of aid to countries in difficulty. Some governments have imposed both contraception and sterilization on their people.

Contraceptive use also increases abortion. Dr. Malcolm Potts, strong advocate for population control, makes that clear. "As people turn to contraception there will be a rise, not a fall, in the abortion rate.... No society has controlled its fertility [through contraception] ... without recourse to a significant number of abortions."

These are only a few of the multitude of increasingly disturbing developments that have led Pope John Paul to say "the family is being shaken to its foundations."

The late Archbishop Bishop Fulton J. Sheen told us, "If sex is not divinized by selfless love, it becomes diabolically perverse." That was Humanae Vitae's message too.

Anthropologist J.D. Unwin's exhaustive study of the 88 civilizations that have existed in the history of the world, showed that each began with a strict code of sexual conduct. Without exception, every one that became sexually permissive soon perished.

Widespread respect for fertility and adoption of the practice of NFP would improve our chances of survival.

Catholic Insight published Dr. Billings' article "Reason and religion in natural family planning," June 2000, pp.30-35.

Doreen Beagon is a freelance writer from Prince Edward Island.
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Author:Beagan, Doreen
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
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