Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Anti-contraception != anti-science

I've found in my very brief time here that Notre Dame, despite its identity as a Catholic school, has a student body that is much like that of any other college. The student paper is as much a rag as the paper at my alma mater. Sorry, college newspapers - it isn't that you never have any good writing, it's that looking for it is like finding a diamond in a dung heap. It's generally the same predictable, pseudo-progressive navel-gazing everywhere - although I do have to give the Observer credit for publishing articles with real news in them. That IS a step up from my alma mater.

So, it was quite a pleasant surprise to find this article, An Anniversary Worth Remembering, in Tuesday's Observer. The author is emeritus professor Charles Rice, clearly a man of learning and strong Catholic faith. I read it with pleasure, but also with a sinking sense of dread. No college paper could publish an article like this without a stream of indignant letters to the editor crying, "Up with the Pill, down with the Pope!"

And sure enough, today's paper brought the all-too-predictable response. I'll leave the endless glorifications of the Pill to others to address, but this sarcastic paragraph in particular caught my eye: "But fear not! For those married couples who choose to express their love for one another without the burden of raising a family of 15 or so children, the Professor offers the superb counsel of Paul VI: "take into account the natural rhythms [of a woman's reproductive cycle] to regulate birth without offending the moral principles." That's some top notch advice from someone who obviously is not a medical professional."

Clearly Brendan, for all his lamentation of how Notre Dame's "spiritual traditions [...] corrode science" has a very poor understanding of female reproductive physiology and is totally ignorant of the modern methods of Natural Family Planning, or NFP. NFP is not the rhythm method of old, which was somewhat but not completely effective. NFP is based on observing a woman's signs of fertility - mucus, basal body temperature, and cervical positions. Depending on the method the woman might observe mucus only or all of the signs. His implication that natural fertility awareness is unscientific doesn't hold up to scrutiny. The method I use, the Billings Ovulation Method, was formulated by Drs. John and Evelyn Billings and tested in multiple scientific trials. They were "medical professionals" (very highly regarded in their field, as a matter of fact) so their credentials ought to be good enough for Brendan, right? A quick search for "billings ovulation method" in PubMed yields numerous peer-reviewed articles on the effectiveness of the method. Here's a study that was done in China, where women are highly motivated to avoid due to the government's repressive one-child policy. This is a similar study done in India among poor urban women - the use effectiveness rate of 97% is impressive to say the least, and runs counter to the popular belief that natural methods "don't work."

And this also should not be left unaddressed: "The closing paragraphs of Rice's argument are a dishonest discussion of abortion, in a manner which is framed to cause the reader to interpret contraception and abortion to be one in the same. They are not. Contraception prevents pregnancy; abortion terminates it. Each of the two topics deserve their own discussion."

On the contrary, abortion and contraception are two halves of the same coin. Arguments for their legitimacy are based on the fundamental assumption that man is free to control and manipulate new life into or out of being in any way he chooses. Leaving that aside, the reader is also clearly unaware that the Pill has multiple modes of action. The first, and most familiar, is to prevent ovulation. The Pill essentially tricks the woman's body into a state of pseudo-pregnancy, stopping the release of an egg from the ovaries. The second mode of action is to thin the lining of the uterus, making it hostile to the fertilized egg. Should a lucky little egg manage to slip through and somehow be fertilized, the small new human would be unable to attach to the uterine lining and would not survive. Effectively, this is a very early abortion.

Lastly, I find it quite appropriate that the letter has been written by a man, since men are the primary beneficiaries of the sexual revolution. Of course, he extols the benefits to women, but the reader is left wondering if his vehement defense of the Pill is due to the way it allows him to enjoy strings-free sex.

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