All-NFP: a way forward?
In the controversy over the Reproductive Health bill, no one is against natural family planning (NFP) as a means of exercising responsible parenthood. Indeed, Catholic bishops in their prolife stand have endorsed the “responsible and natural regularization of births through natural family planning.”
However, NFP remains the “untried option” by both Church and government. Demographic surveys show that less than one percent of married couples adopt modern NFP methods. It is in this light that in the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro we are strengthening our All-NFP program as a positive and proactive alternative, whether or not the RH bill is passed.
In our program, All-NFP has four connotations: 1) We are including all modern scientific NFP methods; 2) We are reaching out to all parishes and barangays; 3) We are promoting NFP all the way, without backup contraceptives; and 4) We are involving all family-oriented organizations to promote NFP as their right and responsibility.
Since the start of our All-NFP program in the latter half of 2006, we have recorded more than 6,800 couple-acceptors. Ninety percent of our 62 parishes and chaplaincies have conducted orientation seminars followed by the training of more than 2,500 NFP volunteer counselors
Moreover, for the past three years the provincial governments of Misamis Oriental and Camiguin as well as the city of Cagayan de Oro have conducted their own NFP programs. They have asked us for assistance in the services of our NFP trainers and in sharing our training manuals, which include values formation. In this regard, we have not hesitated to assist these local government units in the promotion of NFP, particularly because they have issued executive orders and set aside their own budgets for the promotion solely of NFP.
We welcome the overall acceptance by LGUs of our four pastoral guidelines and core values in promoting natural family planning. It is good to keep these parameters in mind because these are the points for dialogue with proponents of the RH bill in its present form or with some future modifications.
Our first core value which we consider a nonnegotiable principle is that we are prolife. We uphold the dignity of human life from the moment of conception. We condemn abortion, which is also proscribed by the Philippine Constitution. We consider All-NFP as a proactive program that helps prevent the tragedy of unwanted pregnancies and resort to abortion. All-NFP also provides an alternative to contraceptive methods that may be considered abortifacients.
Our second core value is the exercise of responsible parenthood as the goal of our All-NFP program. Instead of “reproductive health,” Church documents prefer the term “procreation” to stress the parents’ exalted role in giving birth to another person, body and soul, i.e., “transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person.” (Familiaris Consortio, 28)
The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines convened by the Catholic bishops in 1991 explicitly states the meaning of responsible parenthood, synonymous with responsible procreation:
“Christian parents must exercise responsible parenthood. While nurturing a generous attitude towards bringing new human life into the world, they should strive to beget only those children whom they can raise up in a truly human and Christian way. Towards this end, they need to plan their families according to the moral norms taught by the Church.”
If responsible parenthood is the goal for Christian couples, natural family planning is the means considered consistent with the moral norms taught by the Church. This then is our third core value. In our All-NFP program, we have included six modern scientific methods—i.e., the basal body temperature, Billings cervical mucus, sympto-thermal, lactational amenorrhea, standard days, and two-day methods.
The most widely acceptable among these is the standard days method (SDM). This is a simplified, standardized, calendar-based method of NFP developed over the past decade by Georgetown University through computer simulation and the science of statistical probability. Based on our periodic reports, SDM users constitute nearly one-half of all NFP adopters.
The bishops in plenary assembly arrived at a consensus statement, first in 2003 and again in 2009, stating that “SDM, provided it is not mixed with contraceptives, is a natural family planning method and is consistent with the moral teaching of the Catholic Church.” The consensus statement adds that “the bishop may not prohibit any couple in his diocese from using SDM as their method of natural family planning.”
Our fourth core value and pastoral guideline in All-NFP promotion is to enable couples to make an informed and morally responsible choice according to the dictates of a right conscience. The Church’s role in this regard is twofold: 1) to help couples form a right conscience through values formation; and 2) to provide information on all scientifically based NFP methods.
Information on all valid NFP methods becomes a pastoral imperative, particularly in the light of three felt needs among a growing number of couples today. First, they want to plan their families in terms of spacing births and determining family sizes. Secondly, they prefer natural family planning, provided they are given adequate information on fertility awareness and the various NFP methods. And thirdly, they also want to choose among NFP methods according to their own circumstances and preference.
A Church congress declaration, referring to NFP methods, points out the role for government with regard to NFP methods: “All couples have the right to know of them and to have access to them. Governments should offer resources for natural family planning services and research without imposing discriminatory conditions.”
Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, is the archbishop of Cagayan de Oro.
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