NFP and the HHS mandate reconsidered.
This past week, my wife and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary. As is the case every year, I was reminded at just how much has happened since that day, and the years leading up to it. A year before we got hitched, she dropped what probably remains the single most controversial topic of our marriage, best described in three letters: N-F-P. Until then, I just assumed that, like everyone else, we would be using birth control after we got married, although (admittedly) I had given the topic very little thought. But when she first mentioned this issue, I could only think of one thing: show me the evidence that natural family planning works to prevent pregnancy, because I did not want ten kids. As I detailed in my book, “Into the Rising Sun”, I became an ornery, at times obnoxious, consumer. I challenged our NFP instructor. saying that it was no different than contraception. I challenged Amy on the notion that NFP was a sensible option as I was preparing to go back to school (clinical psychology) for a long time, and her teaching job would be our only income. I was perfectly content foregoing this Catholic teaching.
But I knew she was serious, and I knew she was not budging. And I had loved her for so long and so much already that I knew if it was that important to her, there really was no option. So we plunged in head first—fear, uncertainty, and all. Along the way, I slowly, and I mean slowly, began to recognize that something might be right about this antiquated belief. And for the first six years, (thankfully!) no kids came. Then, when graduation loomed on the forefront, we decided that it was time to start using NFP to achieve, not prevent. Month after month, no kids came, and to this day, I have never seen my wife so distraught, so upset, at the emerging reality that she may not bear her own brood.
But a move back to St. Louis changed everything, and suddenly we had two. Yes, twins, Zach and Emma. 21 months later, we had one more—Matthew. 21 months later—Noah. 23 months later—William. And just six days shy of two years later, Louis showed up a few weeks before Christmas. Once the first two had come, her monthly cycles became very difficult to discern no matter what we tried. A couple of the pregnancies seemed to defy reproductive science. We joked that a divine conception must have occurred with the last one. I still did not want ten kids, by the way.
As I reflected on all this the past week, I found my musings intermingled with the published reactions from the Hobby Lobby ruling, and the ongoing battles regarding the Health & Human Services (HHS) mandate. Beneath all of the political rhetoric and trench digging, three seemingly very important, and yet often lost, realities pushed at me.
The first regards the reaction from much of the medical community that women are being deprived of adequate medical care. Besides the fact that birth control has long been available—like many other optional prescriptions, and that agencies exist to provide it at little or no cost, a stranger omission is the simple fact that sterilizations and contraception seemed to have little to do with adequate medical care. Given that pregnancy remains as natural, and as important to sustaining our species as calorie consumption and regular hydration, the idea that birth control was equated with necessary medical care (please don’t send me letters about my imperfect analogy) is like saying that gastric bypass (if it could become minimally invasive, with few obvious side effects, and financial viable) should be available and provided for all. It would be nice to eat freely without regard for what might come. But as Thomas Merton once said, eating is a moral act. So is sex. It seems we must be particularly cautious about divorcing the act from the morality and the natural consequences that may ensue. Both could save us a lot of money and be a whole lot more convenient in this current world. Both might be missing a hugely transcendent point, and have unforeseen consequences that we are only beginning to understand.