CCL offers a bi-annual Live Clergy Seminar. In 2023, the “Ask Me (Almost) Anything” webinar, hosted by three Catholic doctors, gave clergy the chance to ask questions that were the most pressing for them about natural family planning, contraceptives, fertility and faith. Priests and deacons, diocese and parish staff, and even one international clergy from Australia, submitted questions and attended.
This summary article features questions fielded by Dr. Les Ruppersberger, a retired Ob/Gyn, who along with his wife, was an NFP instructor for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for nearly 20 years. Dr. Ruppersberger, an NFP-only physician, has been the past president of the Catholic Medical Association, works with Philadelphia-area crisis pregnancy centers, and has extensive experience on boards and in collaborating with national groups.
Q: How can Catholic parents combat the contraceptive mentality of some doctors?
Many, if not most, physicians are trained with a ‘contraceptive mentality’ in most medical schools and Ob/Gyn and Family Medicine residencies. The medical literature is replete with articles condoning/suggesting/recommending hormonal contraceptives both for elective use as well as ‘treatment’ for many conditions. However, there has NOT been ONE double blinded, placebo-controlled study (the gold standard) evaluating hormonal contraceptives for treatment! Management, yes, but NOT treatment/cure/remission/resolution. THAT is the problem. It is so much ‘easier’ for a healthcare professional to prescribe hormonal contraception than to diagnose and appropriately treat whatever condition they may be called to address, and, unfortunately, the patient may not be aware of the risks versus benefits of such a prescription because most, if any, do NOT receive fully informed consent as to the risks of hormonal contraceptives.
Parents need to take an authoritative role and realize that if your children are under the age of 18, you’re the parent. You’re in charge, and you get to make the decisions for your children who are minors. This is your child, and you need to be in that exam room. You have the authority to decide legally, morally, as well as medically, what is best for your child.
Educate yourselves and ask questions. Try to find Catholic practitioners that can give you information and faithful answers. Fertility Science Institute has a directory of vetted medical providers who can evaluate and diagnose through telehealth and in-person appointments. MyCatholicDoctor is also a great organization that brings a network of faithful medical professionals to patients.
Q: Is NFP training included in the curriculum to be a doctor?
Medical school curricula are extensive, intensive, and filled with valuable information and the teaching of traditional, documented, and accurate knowledge. However, the courses are taught, not necessarily by Professors of Medicine who are certified experienced instructors, but by practicing physicians with medical degrees, years of clinical experience and knowledge, who ‘add’ into their teaching their own particular biases to the subject at hand. In the world of reproductive medicine, the course work is comprehensive in anatomy, physiology, and endocrinology along with what is normal, and not, and what is disease, and not.
However, the one piece that is missing is the ‘application’ of all the above-mentioned knowledge of the God-given normal ‘phases’ of a menstrual cycle, which include periods of non fertility, and how these phases may be used to both achieve as well as postpone a pregnancy. No one makes any money on NFP/Fertility Awareness Based methods and medical literature uses articles that suggest an almost 25% failure rate of NFP when, in reality, that percentage is only 2-7% depending on used competency.
NFP is the best kept secret of not only the Catholic Church, but the medical profession. So, we have to look to options like Couple to Couple League, Natural Womanhood, FEMM, Marquette, NaPro Technology through the Pope Paul VI Institute, and the Creighton model of reproductive medicine. These are excellent options that can be utilized to diagnose and treat and connect people with the right kinds of information.
FACTS is a group of physicians, healthcare professionals and educators working together to provide information about natural or fertility awareness-based methods (FABM’s) of family planning with the medical community, especially during medical school and residency.
The Catholic Medical Association has presented their Boot Camp in conjunction with their conference every year, for the last 11 years, so those in medical school and residencies who attend are able to access information and become more versed in natural fertility awareness.
Q: How can we reconcile the contradiction of the use of NFP and letting God being in control?
There is no contradiction to the use of NFP and letting God be in control. In fact, letting God be in control is an exercise of the free will in discerning using the principles of ‘responsible parenthood’ in choosing to do so. Using NFP and FABM’s is another choice of free will in utilizing the biology and science created by God and revealed through scientific research in using the natural cycles of a woman and fertile and non fertile times to either achieve or postpone pregnancy based on specific circumstances related to the specific couple. This allows the couple to make a choice of free will–discerning what God wants for them and for their families and for their children. Any such ‘contradiction’ may be a product of a weakness in the exercise of the principles of responsible parenthood, always placing those responsibilities first to God, then the spouse, then the family, both immediate and extended, and then society in THAT order.
The Couple to Couple League NFP classes include instruction in responsible parenthood–which is very different than society’s values today. In the world today, everything is about responsibility to the culture, society, overpopulation, climate control, and our carbon footprint. We have roughly 73 million women of childbearing age, 70% of whom are sexually active. Women are having to avoid conceiving while being sexually active for 20 to 30 years, so they are advised by their doctors to do the quick and easy thing which is covered by insurance companies: either the pill for those under 30 or sterilization for those over35. Much of the onus of the responsibility for all of this is unfairly placed on women.
God is always in charge, but he gave us all free will. With natural family planning or fertility awareness-based methods, both partners are called to be involved in forming themselves to make the decision of motherhood and fatherhood, prayerfully discerning what their responsibilities are.