Analyzing facts and fiction about hormonal birth control and NFP

Presenting a convincing argument involves a good mix of information, which should include solid facts and data. What someone needs to tell VOXXI and its author, Hope Gillette, is that the facts and data actually have to be true in order to sustain that argument.

A story by Gillette attempts to pass itself off as a piece examining Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM), more commonly known as Natural Family Planning (NFP), a method of birth control that eschews hormonal pills and involves planning around a woman’s natural cycle to prevent pregnancy. Instead, the author presents what appear to be facts but reveals fiction, as well. The story is not only inaccurate, but biased and manipulative in its presentation.

Instead of even showing the benefits of FAM, Gillette discounts it from the start:

If you’re not sure what FAM stands for, it’s probably because–in the realm of pregnancy prevention–hormonal methods are at the top of list for usage and reliability….

There is a growing movement of women, however, who have opted to prevent pregnancy through FAM…. These women either can’t be on hormonal options or don’t like the potential side-effects hormonal prevention can cause, and because of this they take matters into their own hands, trusting their body to warn them when pregnancy is a possibility.

Her loaded language “take matters into their own hands” connotes that these women must be somehow ignorant and making poor decisions if they try this method. Instead of trusting their own convictions and education, they should listen to the doctors offering hormonal birth control, because everyone’s doing it. So her argument goes.

What she neglects is to present the other side, which includes the dangers of hormonal birth control. Randy Alcorn, who has written extensively on the birth control issue (and provides verifiable research and sources for all his assertions), points out some of the problems with hormonal birth control:

Some forms of contraception, specifically the intrauterine device (IUD), Norplant, and certain low-dose oral contraceptives, often do not prevent conception but prevent implantation of an already fertilized ovum. The result is an early abortion, the killing of an already conceived individual. Tragically, many women are not told this by their physicians, and therefore do not make an informed choice about which contraceptive to use.

Pharmacists for Life, which advocates for pro-life options even in the pharmaceutical realm, has detailed information on hormonal birth control and also notes that it’s an abortifacient.

Additionally, hormonal birth control has some troubling side-effects that must be considered. The Pill, for example, has side-effects such as risk of blood clotting, inhibition of breast milk production, moodiness, breakthrough bleeding, and a host of other problems.

But Gillette wants only to tear down natural methods with any criticisms she can find — even if she has to make them up. She writes:

For FAM to be successful, a woman must become well-versed in her monthly cycle. This means not only knowing when ovulation is about to occur, but understanding how the egg and sperm interact within the body. For example, an egg lives for approximately 6 days after ovulation, and sperm can survive in the female for approximately 6 days as well. This means, generally speaking, there is a 7-day window of optimal fertility for a woman. Unfortunately, ovulation patterns can be unpredictable and not every woman is the same when it comes to her cycle. Some eggs may live longer than others, which is why FAM isn’t a fool-proof method.”

Gillette shows a lack of understanding about basic conception facts here. As the American Pregnancy Association points out, “[a]n egg lives 12-24 hours after leaving the ovary.” She Knows Pregnancy & Baby notes, “The average egg lives only 24 hours, so it needs to be [fertilized] quickly after its release from the ovary. If an ova [sic] is to be fertilized, it is usually within 12 hours of ovulation, so the sperm must be ready.” The University of California San Francisco says, “Following ovulation, the egg is capable of fertilization for only 12 to 24 hours.”

Besides not understanding the medical process, she also attempts to use scare tactics by twisting facts that are so easily available that it comes off as if she just made it up as she went along.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists indicate FAM is the least effective method of birth control available.

Actually, that’s not true, either. The CDC does show it to be one of the methods that can be less reliable if it’s used on its own, but the CDC also says when used with condoms or other non-hormonal methods, it can be a quite effective tool in family planning. The CDC actually categorizes NFP in the same scale of reliability as condoms, spermicide, sponges, and withdrawal. All of these methods are more reliable when used in conjunction with another. The least effective of all of them, according to the CDC, is spermicide, with a rate of failure 4% higher than NFP. And the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concurs:

Of 100 couples who use natural family planning methods each year, up to 25 may become pregnant. Couples using more than one method correctly will increase the ability to accurately identify the fertile period.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reports a much higher effectiveness rate when used correctly and constantly, saying:

When wishing to avoid pregnancy, studies show that couples who follow their NFP method’s guidelines correctly, and all the time, achieve effectiveness rates of 97-99%.

Gillette also twists words to make FAM/NFP sound scary to try:

Other experts feel FAM is more successful, but caution that even one miscalculated day can result in an unintended pregnancy. This is the primary reason FAM is not more widespread or recommended by medical professionals. The individual using FAM must be 100 percent committed to doing it everyday without fail or it will not be a reliable birth control method.

That’s true — as it is with any other regularly administered birth control method. Miss the pill, skip a condom, ignore NFP — you could get pregnant. And the fact is, the only 100% accurate method of birth control is abstinence anyway. But among methods, NFP is not the evil stepsister who isn’t worthy of consideration.

Gillette is entitled to have an opinion on anything she likes, but she is not entitled to report inaccuracies and use hyperbole to assert her opinion or misinformation as fact. Unfortunately, she does just that, and unsuspecting readers may be misled by her article.

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