Natural Family Planning Has Missionary Dimensions

Anthony Zimmerman
1978, not published
Reproduced with Permission

A Catholic woman, midwife, mother of four, lingered behind to speak with the priest after a teaching session on natural family planning. The priest had brought a professional midwife to the parish to teach NFP to the group. The woman seemed shaken to her depths, and found it difficult to express her intense feelings.

"Tell me, Father," she began,"What is the reason you came to us?" I said that it was for the sake of organizing the session on NFP which the midwife had just taught. "And the other Fathers who put in their appearances, (pastor, President of the priests' senate) did they come for that too?" ? For no other reason, I assured her. She fell silent for some time then said that all this seemed incredible, too good to believe:

You know, Father, we women live day and night with this problem of family planning. We are anxious, we agonize, we live with this problem constantly; it is our world.

But this is the first time that I ever saw priests come into this world where we live. I had always thought that we must live here alone, that priests will not enter. If we can speak with priests about this, if we can gain peace of conscience, it is just so unbelievable to me, after all these years, that it brings tears to my eyes. I am so grateful to you.

A regular course in natural family planning is in progress now at the parish. The men are not coming yet, and the novelty is not going to take hold without much coaching. There are difficulties with NFP in Japan which may be even greater than in Western countries - such as a male disdain to communicate about sex with his wife; and a super-puritan female aversion against observation of events at her genitals, and against exposing them to view of the husband. Therefore one need not look for instant acceptance and success of NFP in Japan. But we are hopeful that a program of education and of guidance will gradually create an atmosphere of popular acceptance of the practice by a certain percentage of the people. Developments during the past year point strongly in this direction.


Will a Catholic young lady find a husband in Japan? It is a problem which every prospective Catholic bride faces. Only one man in 300 is Catholic in Japan. Two out of three Catholic brides marry a non-Christian husband. There are even fewer infant baptisms per 1,000 Catholic population that there are births per 1,000 of the general population. We do not know how many of the 2,000,000 pre-born infants aborted each year in Japan have Catholic mothers and/or fathers. But I am skeptical that Catholics exercise more expertise in family planning than the general population; and I doubt that the frequency of resorting to abortion after contraceptive failures is greatly different between Catholics and the general population.

All this leads one to suspect that a prospective bride who advertises opposition to abortions loudly will probably not become a bride. The outlook is that the extended family, which is drawn into the consultations before marriages are approved, would veto the prospective bride who makes this an issue. And that probably helps to explain why the Japanese Bishops do not often come out publicly against abortion. Why Sisters at Catholic colleges do not easily advise girls to receive baptism before they marry. Why some priests say that pastors should not even whisper about the problem of abortion and birth control. Why some priests, when giving marriage courses, skip the pages of the text which deal with abortion, contraception, and natural family planning. The thinking is that it is already hard enough for people to accept Catholics and the Catholic Faith, and that explicitising the Catholic moral teachings on family life will have negative effects. Is it a policy of nonaggressive evangelizing, echoing what was said of Christ:

He will not contend or cry out, nor will his voice be heard in the streets. The bruised reed he will not crush; and the smoldering wick he will not quench until judgment is made victorious. In his name the gentiles will find hope. (Mt. 12, 19-21.)

For thirty years now, Japan has been living with abortion. Two out of three couples will experience at least one abortion before they have reached the middle years; some are caught again, and then a third or fourth time; one survey indicated that 80% of families with four children or more had at least one abortion.

The myth that improved motivation towards effective contraception will control the abortion epidemic lives on because there is just enough plausibility in it to make it credible for many. Intensive contraceptive teaching campaigns in some pilot projects have reduced the failures and subsequent abortions there, at least temporarily. Given the present popular resentment against having more than two or three children, one can surmise that there would be even more abortions if people would stop using condoms and other artificial contraceptive methods.

But the public acceptance of the idea that families should. have no more than two or three children, and that additional births must be avoided through contraceptives, has also prejudiced Japan's public acceptance of abortion on a grand scale during the past 30 years. The Japanese are not so naive as to think that contraceptives have to work all the time; so they permit abortion as a necessary back-up measure for the anti-birth policy in force.

One Catholic mother, who has four children, who is very selfconscious about that, asked whether this had been a sin on her part; she had just read in the newspapers that women who have many children, and overpopulate the country, are selfish. I assured her that the Lord will reward her greatly for her integrity, and her great generosity in educating these children. She was re-assured. But I felt that she will need to be reassured many times in the future, as she will be getting feedback from her children who are questioned by companions in school, etc. But at least this mother is past the child-bearing years, and does not have to face pressure for an abortion in case another were conceived. Other Catholic mothers - and non-Christian mothers - have to live with "this problem" day and night, as the mother mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this article expressed it.

Dr. Tatsuo Kaseki, Director of Kaseki Hospital in Nagoya, mentions frequently in his talks that the condom has about an 14% failure rate per 100 women years of usage; meaning in the usual jargon, that one expects 14 conceptions if the condom is used as a contraceptive by 100 husbands for a year. One might question his figures, since it would be difficult to define when condom usage failed. Perhaps the couple decided that the condom was not necessary, using Ogino calculations; so the failure should be attributed to faulty mathematics rather than to faulty condoms or condom usage. Perhaps he put the sheathe on too late; or withdrew too late, leaving the condom in the vagina and so spilling seed into the river of life. Or the couple is so tired of the condom that they want to chance intercourse without it. So many women feel sorry for their man if he always has to come harnessed in that unnatural device, that they want to give him the pleasure of doing without it; and if a pregnancy results, she will abort it, maybe without even telling him about it lest he be disturbed. Many women, on the other hand, are extremely dissatisfied with husband's condomistic approach; if he comes to her like that, does he also go to others? And she feels that she is missing something. Many come to the gynecologist complaining about lower abdominal pains connected with condomistic intercourse. But 80% of Japanese who use contraception, use the condom.

And maybe there are genuine method failures of the condom; semen escaping from the lip of the condom after reaching there quickly, much as perspiration quickly passes from the fingers to the wrist when one works with rubber gloves. At any rate, if 80% of Japanese contraceptors use condoms; and if there are 2,000,000 abortions per year, as opposed to 1,800,000 live births; then one can surmise that the estimate of 14 failures per 100 years of condom use is not an exaggeration.

Pills and IUD's are less popular in Japan than the condom, and by far. About 3% of contraceptors use the Pill, and 10% the IUD.

And then we have about 30% using the Ogino system, or calendar rhythm method, often in combination with others. Dr. Nobuo Ojima, gynecologist of Seibo Hospital, Tokyo, believes that about half the abortions in Japan could be forestalled if couples would use advanced natural family planning techniques instead of the failure prone Ogino system. Our aim should be higher, however. By popularizing natural family planning in Japan, we should hope to release a dynamism, a new way of life, which not only adds new dimensions of depth and richness to the spirit of married couples, but brings about a change of heart which welcomes life and rejects the human underdeveloped way of life which is instant abortion.


Young women, full of health, energy, and good cheer, may not think that an abortion experience affects them deeply. Perhaps. If so, that is not necessarily a good sign of human sensitivity. For many, however, the experience of abortion is soul-searing and defeminizing.

A woman from Yokohama was getting along nicely on the alcoholics anonymous schedule, coming to meetings regularly, staying off the stuff. Suddenly she stopped coming. The companion found her in a bad state, drinking heavily. What had happened? She told this story.

One morning a mother cat had kittens under her house. As cats do sometimes, the mother killed the kittens one by one, biting them behind the skull, and then laying them at the doorstep of this lady. The lady was about to step out of the door, when the mother cat brought the fifth kitten struggling in its death spasms. The lady turned completely sick and out of control. She had not realized that her earlier abortion had meant anything to her. She thought it was forgotten, out of her mind. But there she saw herself, reflected by the behavior of the mother cat. She took alcohol to blur this image of herself.

Some mothers in Japan become obsessed with phantasies about their aborted babies, when they go through the years of the pre-menopause. They conjure up the child's image: boy or girl? Like father, like mother? Bright student, poor student? Which university? What do the neighbors think about him or her? Etc. They call it the Menopause Syndrome of Aborting mothers. And many mothers now tell their daughters when they marry: "Don't ever have an abortion."

What Dr. Theodore Lidz, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University, once said about abortions in the USA, is probably also applicable to women in Japan and in other parts of the world. But I would like to add something to his list. He mentions that abortion is "by and large, an extremely deleterious experience in the continuity of the life of a woman." In other words, she leaves part of herself behind, and for good. It is gone, that part of self which had been saying that she is motherhood, the living model of warm protection around the human life in her.)

Dr. Lidz continues that when the mother aborts and loses the baby, she is apt to feel, if she is a person of feminine sensitivity, that she is losing a part of herself with the loss of the baby. And with this there is a loss of a degree of self esteem: she has traded off something of self for something outside, such as a job, holding a position with her husband, or other. There may be fear about what she had done to herself, and how this will affect her future. If her man urged the abortion, her feelings towards him may be deeply changed. (See Calderone, ABORTION IN THE UNITED STATES, Hoeber-Harper, New York, 1958, pp. 125-6.)


A Japanese woman told me a few days ago that she had to give up any idea of becoming a Christian, because she had been bad in the past. My answer was that I would then also have to quit being a Christian and a priest. I suppose that people everywhere in the world, especially women, want to project a good image of themselves to God before they relate to him. But I have the distinct impression that such a feeling is specially strong among sensitive Japanese women. They want to be bedecked and flawless in dress and make-up at public appearances, to project outwardly an image of transcendent womanhood within. And even before they come to God, they want to have everything ready for the encounter beforehand, to be worthy of His inspection and searching eyes. Instead of submitting themselves to the cleansing and sanctifying actions of the Savior, they prefer to already present themselves as glorious women, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort (cf. Eph. 5, 27). And how is a woman to do that after the traumatic experience of an abortion? In Japan, that is. By abortion she has compromised her integrity, she has sold part of self away, she is no longer immaculate, whole, proud to come into the light, to parade herself before God. When she prays, she feels more like turning her face away from God, so that He can hear her, but cannot look into her eyes. Without having to read St. John's Gospel, she knows that people love the darkness rather than the light when their deeds are wicked:

But men loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were wicked. Everyone who practices evil hates the light; he does not come near it for fear his deeds will be exposed. But he who acts in truth comes into the light, to make clear that his deeds are done in God (Jn 3, 19-21).

A sensitive Japanese woman, with an abortion on her mind, or aware of the fact that she is prepared to do an abortion if husband or the social pressures demand this of her, may find it very difficult to engage in trusting conversation with God.

And abortion has become an all pervasive event for women in Japan. Only a minority is spared from this de-feminizing trauma. Non-Christian women, especially the spiritually sensitized and idealistic type, do not want to show a crippled and mangled self in God's presence. Sadly, they are usually deprived of sweet converse with God, and of Baptism, because they live in a society which has made abortion the usual way of life for its women.


St. Paul wrote very truly that God is known by man through the things which He has made; man can easily learn about God through the works of creation:

In fact, whatever can be known about God is clear to them; he himself made it so. Since the creation of the world, invisible realities, God's eternal power and divinity, have become visible, recognized through the things that he has made (Rom 1, 19-20).

A Japanese woman can also see the eternal power and divinity of God through the beautiful things she sees in Japan. And Japan is so very beautiful as to scenery, so lovely in its society. But if there is a good and beautiful God, a Japanese woman may reflect, without being able to articulate this in words or even depict the ideas clearly in mind, then why does He force me to do an abortion? If society is any good, then why does it not protect and esteem my womanhood? If there is a God, then why doesn't He seem to care about this contradiction to my womanly integrity? And even if God is there, why should I bother to speak with One who does not permit me to live out my womanly ideals? Better then to eat, drink, and die, caught in the ancient and ever turning wheel of life.

If the prevalence of abortion is an almost insuperable hindrance against Baptism for many women in Japan, as I believe it is, then it is also a great hindrance to them for a happy relationship with God outside of he Church. And it perhaps makes them feel a bit skeptical about the basic good of their husband, of their doctor, of their fellow men and of Japanese government and society.

And the abortion among Catholics must sap very much spiritual strength from the Japanese Christian community. The Alleluia's sung by the Christian community today are wheezy, timid and flat. To hear good Alleluia's, one must used canned materials, e.g. Handel's Alleluia chorus so well liked here, on records. I know of no studies, however, about the prevalence of abortion among Catholics in Japan, and I do not wish to make a statement about whether it is prevalent or not, for lack of evidence.

Every survey indicates that the vast majority of Japanese women do not internally approve of abortion, even when they allow it to be performed on themselves. They claim that they do it only because it is necessary under the circumstances, and there is no other way. For example, the Office of the Prime Minister conducted a survey on the question during November 1969; 3,000 women were questioned, picked by random sampling method. There were 2,597 returns, 86.6%. One of the questions put to them was as follows:

Question: What is your opinion about abortion? Please check the answer which most nearly corresponds to your opinion:

It is remarkable that a mere 2% answered that they do not think that abortion is bad.

Without knowing explicitly her own deeper thoughts, a woman who has experienced abortion and knows that she may be destined to experience it again - and again - and maybe again - may become rather skeptical towards the world which imposes this fate upon her. Her husband first of all; does she really mean that little to him? Also to society, and finally to the God who is supposed to be a God of order, but who made his world in which this disorder is systematized - built into the system; so God too, it seems, has little regard for her womanhood.

So the Japanese women who say "I don't think abortion is good, but it can't be helped"are in a sense contemning not only society, but also God, who apparently cannot bring order into her world. It must be difficult for her to believe. Her husband cannot but be affected by her thinking to some extent. They do not grow together in faith, in wonder of the universe and of its Creator who, in their distorted experience, seems to preside over a disorderly universe.


Into this context comes modern natural family planning, like a light to indicate the exit from the tunnel. The newest and most reliable method can be learned, with some study and work, in a matter of less than six months, in regard to the technique. A number of Japanese doctors and midwives, nurse teachers, public health nurses, are taking interest in learning it well, so that they will be able to give guidance. Guidance is already given in a few places.

Perhaps the technique will be learned on a larger scale in Japan than in other countries. There are probably 5,000,000 couples in Japan who use the old Ogino method, mostly in combination with condoms, so when they hear about the improvement over the Ogino method, they are interested. And the combination of the mucus method, temperature method, self-palpation, with check-back according to Ogino as taught by Dr. Josef Roetzer of Austria, Dr. Edward Keefe of New York, and now picked up in Japan, is learnable, and is reliable. The Japanese have already invented a nice battery thermometer to speed up the waking temperature taking, and are producing a first Video Tape to standardize teaching.


We humans have a living drive to put order, harmony, consistency into our productions. Beethoven's music is not just a mix of harmonious notes cascading through our emotional containers; Beethoven was a master who could perceive keenly how the notes must cascade in order to mesh with our living drives to find harmony there. Even the fading out of the beats in modern music is attuned to our need of coming out of the sensuous experience easily. If an artist paints a tree which leans to one side, he must satisfy our eye by painting in compensating structures which answer our need. If we wear coat and collared shirt, we have a drive to also wear the necktie which belongs there in place. The cross on top of the dome of St. Peter's would disturb if it were too large and massive, or too small and insecure.

And couples who enter the way of life of natural family planning, and do it with full human talent and expression, find that it is like a symphony of life which sounds and feels best when it is done in harmony with their deepest and most beautiful drives arising from their life together. They soon learn that they have to touch and activate a number of almost unused and unknown conjugal potentialities, which is like discovering and developing a new continent. It is adding a number of new registers to the pipe organ of life, and then learning to draw sounds of life's music from them, whether measured notes in calm sequence or agitated flurries seeking resolution; whether sweet melancholy, or the measured power of a grand Alleluia Chorus with all stops open; whether flitting and diverting solo of "do not disturb me" or responsive dialogue of "it is hard but we do it together, with God helping."

NFP means that a woman must learn to become what her man needs, and then she gives it to him full force with love. As one wife expressed it "Well, what if your husband comes home, he's lost his job, it's abstinence time and he says he really needs you! I can only answer that in terms of my own husband but I know what he would need: a good meal, a warm bath with a firm back scrub, early to bed with the children silently out of the way and positive vibrations from me, knowing that I love him not because he has a job or hasn't one, but simply because he is. In other words, I know that he would want me to mother him and his abstinence allows me to express my love for him in a way that enhances my own femininity" (source lost).

NFP means learning together some very simple and common sense ways of making this way of life not only bearable but also rewarding, and even helpful to the work schedule. Dr. Josef Roetzer of Austria, who has 27 years of real life experience in counseling couples using NFP, has this advice, which is as genuine and simple as home-baked biscuits and strawberry jam.

Husband and wife, says Dr. Roetzer, while monitoring the cycle together, and following the cyclic progress of the chart, learn to listen to the body and to watch the signals which point out the road to a more harmonious life together. But they have to listen, and to teach each other. New discoveries about each other come to light constantly. They learn how to ease each other over the bumps, to make room when the other needs it, to give support when there is greater need, to refrain from things which excite at the wrong time, to reward effort with greater appreciation and love. It is like love between the Father and the Son; the Father communicates totally with the Son, and shows Him all He does. The Father does nothing without the Son. The Father gives, the Son receives; receiving is obeying, is loving, is Unity of Being with the Father. The mutual YES is the Holy Spirit. NFP becomes a dynamism, a living communication, between husband and wife, which greatly enlarges the territory over which love ranges, and which adds strength, depth, rich humanity to their life together. The sum of their two loves added together and bonded into Unity is far greater than the quantity which is held by two separate containers. But this comes about by the mutual sharing and communications, which are so much--facilitated by the way of life of NFP.

In the summer of 1964 1 had the privilege of meeting with Fr. Stanislaus De Lestapis, S.J. in Paris. I will never forget how earnestly he advocated that newly-weds should practice NFP during the first six months of marriage, just as Dr. Roetzer advocates today. Dr. Roetzer has in mind the learning of the technique of NFP, and testing the time boundaries of the infertile parts of the cycle, so that the couple can, for the rest of their married lives, be confident about these times; but Fr. De Lestapis had a different reason: they should practice periodic abstinence, he said, in order to consciously practice ways of loving each other during the abstinence days, without intercourse. They should bring the arts of courtship into the marriage, he said, so that love can be expressed without coitus, and so that coitus can be enriched by the interpersonal love which they communicate to each other.

To love without intercourse means work, means effort, attention, art. One must use personal effort, as when pumping a bicycle; whereas loving through intercourse is more like starting a motor and getting a free ride via the fuel-burning engine. For this, some couples prefer partial use of genital contact, but such may actually interfere with communications on a more frugal personal level:

What must be avoided in the present focus on bodily contact is a goal of drawing as much genital pleasure as possible without engaging in coital relations. For such an attitude is similar to the contraceptive mentality where genital pleasure is a good to be sought regardless of fertility. The emphasis on non-coital ways of loving is meant to enhance an interpersonal relationship in general and also to enrich coital relations. This general enrichment during coital silence occurs best without genital pleasure whereas the coital act naturally requires it for the greatest satisfaction and generativity (reference lost).

Which reminds me about a pattern of life which our ancestors probably knew well, but we have forgotten in the age of productivity and action. Food gatherers may sometimes be so fortunate as to have a great deal of leisure time, because it is very easy to gather the necessary food. Since they have no radio, TV, newspaper, telephone, what do they do? Sometimes they just stay in their shelters together, with each other, without speaking, but just being in each other's accepting presence. This too, is a delicious human experience. Nobody is trying to sell herself or himself, nor to buy another by various performances. They already possess each other, and so quietly enjoy the presence of the other in a communion of calm, which is relaxing, which is a taste of communications in eternity where we can drop the symbols and communicate more directly.


NFP works best when there is good cooperation between husband and wife; which cooperation, in turn, is usually dependent upon good communications between husband and wife in general, and concerning sex and the cycle in particular. Will the man in Japan - by nature disdainful of niceties and petty talk with wife - take to this new life style? Will he take interest in reading and interpreting the temperature curve of the chart? Will he, together with the wife, evaluate the concurring signs of the temperature, the mucus, the cervix, and decide with her about whether to have relations or whether to abstain? Those who have no experience in the matter say that this will be very difficult for the men in Japan, since it is not in, accordance with the self image of the male in this land. The doctors who are beginning to teach it say that it will be more easy for the young couples than for the older and more tradition bound couples; but that we should surely not take it for granted that no male in Japan will do this.

Doctor Tatsuo Kaseki, to get at this problem, thinks of devising a way to lure the men first; they should learn all about NFP from the gynecologist; and about her anatomy, cycle, etc. Then HE should teach HER.

Popularization by mass media, a slow and gradual process, is one means. Newspapers and magazines are now carrying articles on NFP in a responsible manner; usually it is in the health column read more by women than men, and in women's magazines. But at least it is a start. All the major newspapers have carried at least one article on NFP since August of 1977, and the magazines are taking it up one after the other.

Much will also depend upon the attitude of the gynecologists. They are not opposed so far, and more and more show a positive interest. If they recommend it as wholesome, and also as manly, this will help very much.

For women there are also special problems in Japan. Will her man go somewhere else if she says that this is not the time? One woman relates that she had an IUD inserted after an abortion, but too soon; it slipped out again. Rather than to tell her husband, she did without, especially since the farm work was in full swing and she did not have time to go to the doctor. She became pregnant again; without telling her husband she had another abortion (he wouldn't understand about such things, she said) and got an appointment for another IUD insertion after a sufficient lapse of time. Will women have sufficient courage to ask their husbands to abstain, and will they love them especially during this time of abstinence?

Another difficulty is that women in Japan are not all that willing to communicate about sex with their husbands either. Sex is accepted in the bed room, in the dark. But will she show him the cycle chart? Will she allow him to verify the mucus findings? Or even tell him about cervical mucus? Books relate about women divorcing husbands who always wanted to see their sexual organs. Doctors say it is not usual for women to allow men to see the sexual organs, and think that this is very unwomanly and indecent. Men complain that women show themselves to the gynecologist, but not to their husbands.

A family court judge, who is also a marriage counselor, attests that one of the frequent complaints in divorce proceedings is by women who think it is improper for their husbands to see them in the nude, to see the sex organs. Men who do that are certainly asking too much, and are indecent; sex, yes, but not seeing the organs. And, the judge attests, it often turns out that when asked about religion, the woman is a Catholic. The judge, however tells the women in such cases: "You say that your husband is indecent and dirty because he wants to see your genitals; but it is only right and proper that you, as wife show yourself to him, and give yourself to him. You are the one who is doing what is not correct."

The way of life of NFP is quite a new way in this context. Both the men as well as the women will have to break through some tough barriers in order to get to the other side, the new world, where they will be comfortable with the communications about sex which are quite essential for a relaxed and enriching practice of NFP. Certainly not all will make such a transition. One can be confident, however, that education by gynecologists, and responsible work by the mass media will be effective agents for such a social transition. (But see postscript.)


A husband and wife who cooperate to plan their conceptions by watching closely the changes of the cycle and timing intercourse in order to achieve or to avoid pregnancy suffer a kind of defeat and frustration, of course, if the results are contrary to their aims and efforts. But they know that they are the ones who lost this round; it is not some kind of fate or an unfeeling society, or God, who entrusted them with a child if there is an unscheduled pregnancy. It was they themselves who did not follow the rules; or who did not understand the rules well enough; or who together broke the rules. They have been watching intensely and closely the marvelous and delicate sequences of the woman's bio-rhythm. To work with nature has become a kind of game, a fascination, a mutual joy. To now invade this delicate structure with the curette, to wrest out the fruit of their mutual action, is a contradiction to their whole way of life.

There is an in-built dynamism in the way of life which helps couples to respect and admire life. Man has a drive to be consistent in his actions. It is the experience of NFP promoters throughout the world that relatively few couples resort to abortion when an unscheduled conception is ushered into their lives. Instead, couples learn to make room for the new comer, much as in nature, biological adjustment is always made for new life and for the needs of its living growth.


To learn how many married couples in Japan use NFP only, without any artificial methods, I requested Mainichi Newspapers to reprocess the date of their 1990 national survey made in 1990. Among the 1546 respondents who use some kind of family planning, 5% responded that they use periodic continence without use of other methods. This would indicate that about 1,000,000 couples in Japan were using pure NFP. The 1992 survey indicates that among young couples age 20-29, one in six use the temperature method, but the survey did not indicate whether they used additional means. The figures indicate that NFP is for all couples in the world. Blessed are they who engage in the natural family planning apostolate!