"Patriarchal", "Sexist". Those are the terms that you think most feminists would use when describing the Catholic Church. After all it is an organisation headed exclusively by men, only men can be priests, only men can be bishops, only a man can be Pope. But ironically a few feminists are coming to realise that in the Catholic Church women have their greatest ally.
In the fundamental area of reproductive health and fertility they are coming to see that the Catholic Church is right; that Her policies which seemed out of step with the times and repressive are in fact the reverse – ahead of their times and liberating; and that it is the modern contraceptive culture that is really repressing women.
It is only the Catholic Church that does not see women’s fertility as something that must be cut out, tied up or treated with long-term medication as if it was a disease. It accepts women as a creation of God and seeks to work with women’s nature rather than against it (as it equally seeks to work with men’s nature rather than against it).
This is the very opposite of artificial contraception - or what is euphemistically called Birth Control. Inasmuch as it is control, it is rather the kind of control that is repression, namely the repression of a natural process within a woman’s body. We should therefore not be surprised when we discover that this kind of "control" has all sorts of negative side effects. Let us imagine that for one minute women could convince men that they should receive medical treatment to stop urinating. How soon before some serious side-effects started showing up?
This repression of a natural function is what tens of millions of women are doing when they use artificial contraception.
But it doesn’t stop there, most women have precious little knowledge about contraception. How many women are aware of the side effects of the Pill? How many know that the IUD (intra-uterine device) can cause early abortion? How many women know that taking the Pill has been associated with increased incidence of breast cancer in those who take the Pill before a first full-term pregnancy, with an increased risk of stroke, blood clots in the lung and cervical cancer? Of course all medicines have side effects, but these are perfectly healthy women who do not need to be on these medications. Along with these life-threatening side effects significant numbers of women on the Pill also experience migraine headaches, loss of libido, moodiness and weight gain. Nutritional expert Patrick Holford advises women seeking to lose weight not to take hormonal contraceptives.
The most pernicious form of repression is that most women do not know that there is a safe, non-surgical and highly effective alternative to artificial contraception. A recent study conducted in Germany and published in the leading European reproductive health journal, "Human Reproduction Today" shows that the pregnancy rate for women who used the Sympto-thermal method (STM– a modern form of natural family planning] correctly was 0.4%. That is one pregnancy a year for every 250 women. The Pill has a pregnancy rate of around 0.5%, which makes the Pill less effective than the Sympto-Thermal Method. Even a radical method such as sterilisation for either men or women has a 0.5 % pregnancy rate. So people who claim that they are using artificial contraception because to have another child would endanger their lives would be better off using a natural form of birth control.
Natural family planning is so successful because it focuses on finding out exactly when a woman is fertile. A woman’s chances of falling pregnant are a lot lower than one would normally think. The prime reason for this is that once a woman releases an egg (the ovum) each month, at ovulation, that egg only survives for twenty-four hours. If conception is to occur the sperm (which can survive for a few days within a woman’s body) has to come into contact with the egg within that time or it cannot be fertilised.
The female body gives a number of signs that indicate that ovulation is about to occur or that ovulation has occurred. Natural family planning works by observing these signs and interpreting them. If a pregnancy needs to be avoided the couple simply refrains from engaging in intercourse during this period. As medical research has shown, this can be done with a high degree of reliability.
Is there then any medical reason why Catholic women should choose not to follow the teachings of the Church? When I put this question to leading fertility awareness researcher and trainer, Dr. Heinz Wirz he answered "There is no medically justifiable reason for using artificial contraception."
The challenge is for Catholic women (and their partners) to become fully informed and to insist upon being informed about all of the aspects of contraception and for them rather to take control of their fertility naturally.