The conscience of the spouses does have a role to play in decisions regarding use of birth control, the moral form of birth control, known as Natural Family Planning. Other methods attempt to render infertile an act of marital intercourse that otherwise might be an act that God chooses to gift with new life, whereas NFP couples do not interfere with the fertility of a marital act. Spouses, through prayerful discernment, through consulting their consciences, are to discern when it is moral for them to attempt to limit their family size, when it is moral to use some form of abstinence to limit their family size. Only they can truly know their motives and their circumstances.
I am hoping the final report of the synod will speak of the need for priests, professors, teachers, DRE’s and parents to teach the truth of Humanae Vitae; to teach that the use of contraception is incompatible with the great gift of sexuality that enables spouses to make a complete gift of themselves to others and to be cooperators with God in the creation of a new human person. I believe Saint John Paul’s Theology of the Body provides a superb explanation of the truths of Humanae Vitae and am grateful that so many organizations have produced excellent materials for many age groups, for married people, for the single and for those in consecrated life.
Janet E. Smith, Ph.D. holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair in Life Ethics and is a Professor of Moral Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. She is the author of Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later and of the Right to Privacy, and the editor of Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader. She has coauthored Life Issues, Medical Choices, Questions and Answers for Catholics, with Chris Kaczor. She has published in The Thomist, The Irish Theological Quarterly, Nova et Vetera, The American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, The National Catholic Bioethics Journal, among other publications. Professor Smith is serving a third term as a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family.
* Readers interested in learning more about “conscious parenthood” are referred to Professor Smith’s essay, “Conscious Parenthood,” Nova et Vetera, 6:4 (92008) 927-950.