Isn’t NFP Just “Catholic Contraception”?

In a word, NO.

But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s define what contraception is.

When people hear the word contraception, they immediately deduce that contra = against + conception, and they take it to mean that it prevents conception. However, things are not that simple. See the following, very simplified chart of when and how various contraceptives are supposed to work:

Form When one is supposed to use it When it’s supposed to work How it’s supposed to work
Condom Prior to sexual intercourse Prior to sexual intercourse Prevent sperm from reaching egg
Intra-Uterine Device (IUD) Stays in body During intercourse and after Prevent implantation
“The Pill” Daily During intercourse and after several mechanisms of action

For purposes of this discussion, we will zero in on the pill because it is the most popular form of contraception in the Philippines, even or particularly among men, since the burden of taking it is “the woman’s responsibility”. In debate halls on- and offline, it is often the Pill that has the most defenders. It is also what people usually think of when you mention the word “contraceptive”. So let’s take a look at how the pill works.

Mechanisms of Action of Oral Contraceptives/Birth Control Pills*
How it works When it works
keeps a woman’s ovaries from releasing eggs pre-ovulation
effects changes in cervical mucus to prevent sperm from fertilizing egg post-ovulation
effects changes in endometrium to prevent implantation of fertilized egg in cases of breakthrough ovulation post-fertilization

*Source: Planned Parenthood, Yasmin product literature, Basic and Clinical Pharmacology 11th edition.

As the table above shows, NONE of these things apply to Natural Family Planning. But since this is an area of confusion even among some pro-lifers, let’s dissect it a bit further.

When you use contraception, you use SOMETHING. When you use NFP, you use NOTHING.

Contraception is designed to work at different times around sexual intercourse — before, during, after. NFP is designed to work around NO SEXUAL INTERCOURSE.

There is no “mechanism of action” for Natural Family Planning. There is no egg, no sperm, no uterus, no fallopian tubes, no endometrium, no mucus, no cervix, no fertilized ovum to “act on”.

Many pro-RH advocates take the position that NFP is just another form of contraception, but to do that, one would need to stretch the definition to include anything that prevents pregnancy. We would then be obliged to include any and all activities which does not result in conception. That would lead to absurdities such as saying kissing, holding hands, watching movies, shopping, etc… are all contraception methods. Our definition is obviously more nuanced than that. Although Natural Family Planning can indeed be used to avoid pregnancy, by its very nature it is fundamentally different from artificial contraception both in intent and action.

That pro-RH argument, by the way, is a logical fallacy called the fallacy of accident (a dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid). The fallacy is committed when what is true about one thing is confused with what is true of another thing in some way.

Consider:

Cutting people with a knife is a crime.
Surgeons cut people with knives.
Surgeons are criminals.

and

Pregnancy is prevented by contraception.*
NFP prevents pregnancy.
NFP is contraception.

*That pregnancy is prevented by contraception is open to criticism.

Crystal clear yet? No?

Most Filipinos love basketball, so it might be helpful to use a basketball analogy here. In basketball, when the ball has been shot and is on a downward trajectory, interfering with it is a violation called “goaltending” and results in a penalty. In NFP, there is no attempt to shoot the ball, so to speak. The couple abstains from having relations during the woman’s fertile period (ovulation), and no sexual act takes place. There is no union of sperm and egg to prevent. The converse is true during infertile days: one doesn’t have to prevent the union of the sperm and egg, because there is no egg for the sperm to unite with. There is no possibility of a union, hence there is no union to prevent. Contrast that with a couple using artificial contraception as an attempt to prevent the union of sperm and egg, which is the sexual act’s natural result.

Coming up: Other modes of contraception, the moral implications of using artificial contraception vs. NFP, and why NFP is the smart choice.

Related: Why is NFP Not Contraception?

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Posted in The Scientific Perspective
2 comments on “Isn’t NFP Just “Catholic Contraception”?
  1. Judy Capistrant says:

    Was this meant to be an overview of NFP for Catholics? If so, why was it not told that the third thing the pill does is abortion, and also that there are guidelines for the us of NFP, by the Church? Very important starting points.

  2. Truthsayer says:

    Thanks for your comment, Judy. This is meant to be Part 1 of a series. We’ll be going over the moral implications of NFP vs. artificial contraception next. Part 1 was to answer the basic question is NFP Catholic contraception — it is not.

    Many people don’t understand what abortifacients are and what they do, and many are also confused about when life begins, so don’t worry — we’ll get there, just taking it one step at a time so as not to overwhelm those who are just now learning what all this is about.

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