National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Natural Family Planning Advocate Knows No Borders

Government policies are no obstacle for Mercedes Arzu Wilson

BY Ellen Rossini

November 22-28, 1998 Issue | Posted 11/22/98 at 2:00 PM

 

DALLAS—The population control cartel pressuring Latin America was disrupted last month in Argentina, when natural family planning (NFP) promoter Mercedes Arzu Wilson addressed television and radio audiences, as well as the national legislature in Buenos Aires. She warned against contraceptive imperialism, abortifacient chemicals being sold as contraceptives, and a non-replacement population growth of 1.4 children per family that threatens to leave the country “empty.”

Wilson followed her South American visit with a trip to Dallas to lecture against “the culture of death” and to train Spanish-speaking couples in the ovulation method of NFP. She said she was invited to address a one-day conference of the Argentine legislature by Rita Drisaldei, a representative from Santa Cruz who had heard Wilson speak in Brazil last year.

Like other Latin American nations, Argentina is facing pressure for “sustainable development” (that is, population control) as a result of U.N. conventions in recent years, even though its population growth is below replacement levels, Wilson said. The country's leaders also raised concerns regarding the absence of governmental regulation of “test tube” babies and the specter of fetal experimentation, she added.

“(Wilson) came with some views which hadn't been broadcast here previously,” said Father Pedro Richards, a fellow NFP promoter and founder of the 50-year-old Movimiento Familiar Cristiana (Christian Family Movement) in Latin America and Spain. “She was quite a novelty, since she placed NFP and sex education on the table.”

And Wilson, whose enthusiasm for NFP has not dampened in her 30 years of international promotion and education, is looking forward to future visits to train NFP teachers through Argentina's Ministry of Health, and also to address priests and religious at the request of Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio. During her five-day trip, she also updated teachers from Uruguay, Peru, and Argentina in the ovulation method, which she learned from John and Evelyn Billings in 1968 and for which she developed the popular color stamps for women to use in charting their fertility.

“It's always the same: The lower the income, the poorer the people, the better the response,” declared Wilson, founder and president of the 21-year-old Family of the Americas Foundation, based in Dunkirk, Maryland. In Argentina and Guatemala “we had to turn people away because we didn't have enough space or materials for everyone,” she added.

Father Richards is not overly optimistic about the immediate impact of Wilson's visit to his native country of Argentina, where the Catholic president speaks broadly in defense of life but where his supporters throughout the country promote “reproductive health,” a euphemism for government-sponsored contraception and abortion.

Nevertheless, at least the representatives and senators have been “alerted to new things,” Father Richards said.

Ultimately, he added, “what else can we be but hopeful, because (Wilson) is a heavyweight, she knows how to do things, and she is engaging.”

To further spur her work in Latin America, Wilson's book Love and Family (Ignatius Press, 1996), a comprehensive sex education resource for parents, has just been published in Spanish.

She is also focusing on her native Guatemala where her brother, Alvaro Arzu, is president. She is working on a large-scale campaign to promote NFP there while the government is friendly toward it.

“If the same party is not re-elected, we're in trouble,” she said. “This is our chance to try to expose the harmful programs of Planned Parenthood and its affiliates around the world.”

Shortly before her trip to Argentina, Wilson was among the more than 2,000 people attending an international NFP conference in Peru. The Andean nation's president, Alberto Fujimori, has pushed birth control as the answer to his country's poverty and has vocally attacked the Pope for the Church's teachings against contraception and sterilization. Earlier this year The New York Times and the Register chronicled the Peruvian govern-ment's “ambitious” family planning program that has resulted in hundreds of poor women being coerced into, or injured by, sterilization.

Wilson also spent time in Mexico in February to protest massive vacci-nation programs against tetanus in women of child-bearing age. Lab tests have shown the shots to contain the component HCG, which would, in effect, “vaccinate them against their own pregnancy,” she said.

Wilson might get discouraged but for her noted ability to gain access to further her work and for her unflagging belief in the wisdom of the poor, who continue to be more receptive to natural methods of family planning than developed peoples are.

“It's like in the times of Christ,” Wilson explained. “Who were the ones who listened? It wasn't the learned, those of high cultural levels, the priests, the lawyers—no. It was the poor who followed him.

“God seems to put some kind of inborn wisdom into the poor to defend them. They have natural childbirth, they breastfeed, and then they have everything natural. They are the last ones to accept artificial methods, because they are so dependent on nature, for their crops, for everything, that a natural method just seems logical, just makes sense to them.”

Other developing nations responding to the message of NFP include, perhaps surprisingly, China. Behind the scenes of the country's extreme population control policies, where city-dwelling women are limited to one legally recognized child, NFP continues to win converts among government officials, doctors, and couples hoping to avoid the alternatives of sterilization and abortion. Wilson has been to China nine times for lectures and training, and to date has distributed 20,000 copies of her instruction book Love and Fertility there.

“Even in China, we can't go back enough; I have an open invitation to go back,” said Wilson. “We get standing ovations from the students, the doctors, even the government officials who attend our lectures. My lecture is against contraception, against abortion; I even talk about the moral aspects, spiritual and moral benefits, and I get standing ovations. I tell them that the government has no right to tell a husband and a wife how many children they can have.”

The leading advocates of the ovulation method—arguably the simplest and most popular modern natural method used around the world—include Dr. Zhang De-wei, an adviser to the State Family Planning Commission of Shanghai and the vice president of an advisory committee of a Ministry of Public Health.

Her study of 688 couples reported a rate of 98.82% effectiveness in postponing pregnancy and a continuation rate (the percentage of couples who used the method through 12 months) of 93.04%.

“These clinical results were very satisfactory and encouraging,” Dr. De-wei wrote in her award-winning report, updated in 1994. “Because it has no contraindications, side-effects, and requires no government investment for manufacturing contraceptives and devices, etc.; it is a very good method which benefits the nation and the people.”

Wilson and De-wei say the Chinese are delighted with the ovulation method because they see it will decrease induced abortions. And the fact that the people “all say they hate abortion” puts China in a better moral position than the United States, Wilson believes. “(China is) a country (where) a small group in government, dictatorial government, is forcing mothers to abort their babies, and some courageous women choose to keep their babies or hide their babies so they are not killed... whereas in the West, the United States being at the top of the line, people get in their cars, and go kill them.

“Who is worse off morally—the one who's forced to abort her baby, or the one who freely goes to kill her own child? I am sick and tired of hearing the Chinese people get criticized, because they are being forced to kill their babies. In the West, not only are mothers willingly killing their babies, but [pro-abortion forces] are forcing legalization of abortion on the rest of the world.”

Ellen Rossini writes from Dallas.