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Roxane B. Salonen, Published February 21 2014

Living Faith: Natural family planning overlooked in contraception talk

In her Jan. 28 post, “Privilege and the Pill,” Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans took on the controversial topic of government-funded contraception, arguing that pro-life Christians should embrace it.

Evans’ post had been prompted by a recent comment by politician Mike Huckabee, who’d suggested women expecting tax-funded contraception have bought into the idea that “they cannot control their libido” without the help of government.

She responded that for those not among the privileged, contraception can be cost-prohibitive, and many who seek it are financially ill-equipped to bring a child into the world.

Pro-lifers need to take heed, Evans said, since “the most effective way to curb the abortion rate in this country is to make birth control more affordable and accessible.”

She invited more women to engage in a more nuanced and informed conversation.

Huckabee’s poorly fashioned comments notwithstanding, I’d be negligent to not accept her invitation. Like Evans, I’m a woman of faith affected by this controversy and with overlooked information in hand.

In our very first years of marriage, we relied on artificial means to control whether and when we’d have children. I’ll admit to ignorance then on my church’s teaching on contraception.

Just before our foray into parenting, however, I began desiring a deeper faith life and seeking real answers to questions that had not yet been answered. Surprisingly, I found reason where I hadn’t expected it.

Most intriguing was a beautiful teaching honoring life at its core that encouraged not endless reproduction but openness to children accompanied by thoughtful communication.

We’d heard of natural family planning (NFP) before marriage and decided to take a closer look at this option for spacing children. Besides relieving our consciences, NFP produces zero side effects and costs absolutely nothing.

It’s also empowering. Practicing natural family planning has enhanced my understanding of how my body works. The reproductive cycle becomes not an enemy to fear but a gift deserving honor.

The method works by tracking signs of fertility. Couples can abstain during times of fertility when wanting to postpone or avoid pregnancy.

On a deeper level, natural family planning discourages the temptation toward objectifying one’s spouse for pleasure, even if subconsciously, and fosters respect.

Mother Teresa taught the practice effectively to couples in India who wanted a healthy, moral way of child-spacing. Though it might not be as easy as popping a pill, it’s doable.

When our third child died in miscarriage, NFP helped us discover low progesterone had played a role, which led to natural solutions in future pregnancies to prevent further loss.

The commitment required for observing fertility signs and frequent communication regarding family size seem a small sacrifice for these benefits.

So why does NFP remain one of the world’s best-kept reproductive secrets?

I think in part because if NFP were more widely promulgated, pharmaceutical companies producing contraceptives would be threatened.

Fear likely plays a role, too, and perhaps understandably. A baby is a tremendous responsibility at any time of one’s life. While the NFP mindset is geared toward welcoming larger families, that’s not always the result.

It seems, too, that we’ve come to believe the pill will give us complete control over our reproduction and set us free.

It’s been long known that hormonal contraceptives can increase the risk of hypertension, blood clots and stroke in some women, to name a few side effects.

Evans urged those who oppose birth-control coverage based on religious conviction to consider that lack of coverage may lead to more abortions, but completely ignores the fact that failed birth control also and often leads to abortion.

Some might scoff at the NFP option, saying it’s not practical, but I know for a fact it is possible.

Evans is right – it’s time for an honest discussion. But by dismissing NFP, we’re shirking a “free, green and clean” option that could address many of the issues that have plagued this public debate.

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email roxanebsalonen@gmail.com.