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BY Jim Cosgrove
Susanne Ek, 36, the editor of two natural family planning publications at the Billings Ovulation Method Association, was born into natural family planning work. Her mother attended the first training session in the Billings Ovulation Method after pioneering doctors John and Lyn Billings first came to the United States in 1970.
In its 27th year of operation, the Minnesota-based organization now teaches in 11 hospitals and has nearly 30 employees. The group is helping supply the need for natural family planning teachers across the United States. She recently spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.
What is the effectiveness rate of the Billings Ovulation Method?
The World Health Organization did a five-country prospective study (Philippines, India, Ireland, New Zealand and El Salvador) and concluded it is 98.6 to 99% effective in postponing pregnancy when couples are taught by a certified teacher, apply the rules correctly and understand the method. It's also very effective for couples who want to achieve a pregnancy because it becomes immediately apparent when the woman is potentially fertile.
How does using natural family planning — identifying fertile times to avoid pregnancy — differ from using contraceptives?
That's a question all NFP teachers will inevitably be asked. The Church teaches that every marital act must be open to the possibility of a new life. … The tricky part in understanding how NFP and contraception differ, is to realize that with NFP a couple trying to postpone pregnancy are not putting something in the way of God's will such as a condom.
They are remaining open to the possibility even though they are using a time during the cycle when conception is virtually impossible. We're not asked to conceive a baby with each act of intercourse. We're simply asked to be open to the possibility of new life.
What do you see as the relationship between natural family planning and faith?
Although I have never been married, I have been told by many couples that NFP strengthens not only their relationship as a couple, but their faith as well. There are studies that have proven this to be true. It takes a certain amount of faith and trust in God to use NFP in its truest form. If it's used as just another contraceptive measure, it's not being used to its fullest potential.
What effects has contraception had on women?
I have great concerns about my generation. Very few people have been told the truth especially when it comes to Church teaching and the whole issue of birth control. So many women have been physically, psychologically or spiritually damaged by contraceptives. Many couples can't believe no one has told them about NFP before. They come to us because they're sick of feeling sick and often are trying desperately to conceive a baby — although most come to us to postpone or avoid pregnancy.
If only they would have been told how the pill works, that the third action is to change the lining of the uterus so it becomes hostile to a new life. In plain English, the third action is to abort. The birth control pill can cause the cervical crypts to atrophy which can cause low fertility or infertility later on. Norplant, DepoProvera and, of course, the IUD are also known abortifacients. So many women don't know this and when they find out they're often horrified. Besides educating people on what contraceptives do, the whole issue of respect for fertility really needs to be taught.
Tell us about your current project, “NFP: A Preachable Message.”
It will be an audiotape that features bishops, priests and a few deacons and hopefully a cardinal or two giving a brief testimonial on the fact that, first of all, they have personally preached the message of Humanae Vitae and NFP from the pulpit. In some cases they talk about how they said it and others talk about how well received the message was and others tell how people are hungry for the truth. The bottom line is that it will be a tool that for the clergy to give them the courage to preach this important message.
Didn't you produce a similar audiotape for physicians?
Yes, it's called “NFP: The Medical Link.” It has 19 physicians, one after another, giving their name, where they practice, their specialty and their reasons why they are NFP-only. Not all of the physicians on the tape are Catholic but they all address their personal, professional and spiritual reasons for offering only natural family planning to their patients. Already I know of a physician who was given this audio-tape by his pastor and within a short time converted his practice to no longer offering or referring for contraception or sterilization.
We also have videos that we have produced to promote NFP and they are not specific to the Billings Ovulation Method. There are books, slides and other materials that we also have available.
How does the future look for natural family planning?
The future looks great! If we can remain humble servants as the Drs. Billings model so well for us and if scientists like Drs. [Erik] Odeblad [of Sweden] and [James] Brown [of Australia] can keep up with their research in this important area, we will remain on the cutting edge. We're seeing more and more couples coming to us after having tried everything else. And, they are asking why they hadn't heard of it before.
It's really unfortunate that the world didn't heed the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI when he wrote Humanae Vitae. I, for one, am quite sure we wouldn't be in the mess we're in.
Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Billings Ovulation Method Association can be reached at 316 N. 7th Ave.
St. Cloud, Minn. 56303 Phone: (888) 637-6371 E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org