What is the difference between NFP and artificial birth control?
A few weeks ago, the USCCB issued a statement on married love (104k PDF). They are for it. The usual suspects editorialized against the bishops’ reaffirmation of the Church’s consistent teaching. Catholic Pillow Fight did a fine job of refuting NCR’s editorial.
JCEICL3 took a slightly more nuanced approach, in which he raises a good question. What makes NFP morally different from artificial birth control (ABC)? Many otherwise orthodox Catholics see no difference between the two.
Some use this belief to conclude that no form of contraception, natural or otherwise, is permissible in marriage. I disagree with their position, but I must respect the fact that they are erring on the side of life. For those like who cannot in good conscience see a difference between NFP and ABC, the only morally acceptable option for avoiding pregnancy is abstinence.
Others use this belief to accuse the Church of hypocrisy and to attempt to debunk the Church’s teaching. If NFP is permissible, they argue, other forms of birth control must also be acceptable because there is no essential difference between the two. To draw this conclusion, they must ignore the large body of Catholic teaching about the evil of contraception. JCEICL3 seems to be doing just that. He writes:
The real question it almost seems that the Church is avoiding is this: What renders it morally licit to deliberately, freely, and knowingly engage in conjugal acts during a period when the woman is known to be infertile?
The most obvious answer I can discern based on the doctrinal statements from the Vatican such as Humanae Vitae is that the expression of unitive love renders conjugal acts licit even when the procreative dimension is entirely absent.
What JCEICL3 is missing from his formula for licitness is openess to life. This leads him to conclude:
If this is true, we can ask if there are situations where unitive love can be expressed even when the procreative end of sexuality is neither primary, or present. There obviously are, such as when the woman in a married couple passes the age of menopause, or when infertile heterosexuals marry. Can this same logic apply to contraception practiced within a marriage that is open to children overall? Can this same logic apply to gay unions?If it cannot, how do we show that it cannot without calling into question how natural family planning is morally licit?
For the unitive aspect of the marital act to be complete, the couple must be willing to give everything to eachother, including their fertility. They must be open to life. The question arises, why is NFP open to life when ABC is not? Maybe this analogy from Christopher West will help answer that question:
A young couple are planning their wedding. They can only afford to invite a small number of guests to the reception and the groom has a huge family. Conveniently, the groom’s family all live overseas, so it is not likely that they will not be able to make it to the wedding. If they sent the groom’s family invitations, knowing they were not likely to come, would they be open to the groom’s family attending? Let’s answer that by posing this question. If, by some miracle, the groom’s family did show up, what is the couple’s response? If they were overjoyed to see his family then I’d say they were open. If they were disappointed and really did not want them there, then I’d say they were not open. It’s a matter of their interior attitude. Conversely, if the couple did not send the groom’s family invitations, or worse, went out of their way to ask them not to come, then, regardless of their interior attitude, the couple would not be acting in a way that is open to the groom’s family.