NFP: Nature's Way - God's Way

Anthony Zimmerman
June 7, 1984
Reproduced with Permission

Did you know that the Church is giving up on Humanae Vitae.That's what the learned editorial of The London Tablet says:

There has been an unwritten agreement in the Church that wounds caused by the controversy over Humanae Vitaeshould not be reopened. Priests and bishops do not publicly raise the subject of the profound and hurtful division of the Church between papal teaching and the practice of so many of the faithful. In the United States, one distinguished archbishop has forbidden his priests to preach about Humanae Vitae (Dec. 10, 1983).

So, says he, there is an unwritten agreement! That being the case, our meeting here is dissent from the Tablet. Maybe you had better dash for the door! "Papal teaching" the Tablet calls it. It would defeat the editorial's purpose to call it what it is, namely God's law as taught by the Church.

The editors of the Tablet have many things to do, so perhaps they could not crowd into their schedule a reading of Familiaris Consortio before rushing to print. Or maybe the mail to England is slow. FC, the Apostolic Exhortation sent by Pope John Paul II to the Episcopate, to the Clergy, and to the Faithful of the whole Catholic Church regarding the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World on the Feast of Christ the King in 1981 renews and confirms and re-states all that was said in Humanae Vitae and more, all the editorials of the Tablet notwithstanding.

I wish to speak especially about No. 33 of FC, with its mandate to make knowledge basic to natural family planning accessible to all married couples and especially to the young.

But the necessary conditions also include knowledge of the bodily aspect and the body's rhythms of fertility. Accordingly, every effort must be made to render such knowledge accessible to all married people and also to young adults before marriage, through clear, timely and serious instruction and education given by married couples, doctors, and experts. Knowledge must then lead to education in self- control: hence the absolute necessity for the virtue of chastity and for permanent education in it. (FC No. 33.)

The mandate is to teach all married couples and especially the young about the physiology of the menstrual cycle with its fertile and infertile times. The English version reads in this place: "also to young adults before marriage" whereas the Latin is more comprehensive: "et ante omnes iuvenibus" including the young in general. Please allow me to. report briefly about our situation in Japan., then I wish to say something about the need to teach natural family planning everywhere, and to suggest a plan of action.

Japan Held Tight in a Contraception-Abortion Trap

When Japan passed its liberal abortion law and allowed sale of contraceptives, on July 13, 1948, the nation was reeling under the blows of defeat in World War II, with lack of food, housing, fuel. Undernourished mothers were having babies in quick succession, and everyone spoke about overpopulation. Abortion, instead of being exceptional, quickly became routine, a kind of "back-up birth control." The law permitted designated and qualified gynecologists to perform abortions at their discretion on "A mother whose health may be affected seriously by continuation of pregnancy or by delivery, because of her physical or economic conditions."

Forty three years have seen Japan always hoping for the day when clean contraception will do away with abortion. But still today, abortions outnumber the 1,500,000 births per year. The officially posted statistics are manipulated, and have now become below 600,000 after having reached a peak of 1,170,143 in 1955. But tax officers routinely, every three years, collect heavy sums for unreported income from many designated physicians; about 8000 of them collect perhaps $500 million or more annually for perhaps 2,000,000 abortions per year. In fairness to most gynecologists we can say that it is not they who are motivating people to abort. Nor do the people accept abortions joyfully. Rather, the fashion has been accepted in Japan to stop at two children, or at most three, and to finish with childbearing early. After this cut-off date for child-bearing, usually at age 30 or 35, unintended pregnancies are aborted quite routinely; out of a sense of duty, one might say. In 1948 one of five children was born to mothers aged 35 and above; but more recently it is one of twenty four children. One might say that Japanese fashion imposes a sentence of death on almost all children conceived by mothers over age 35.

Among teen-agers in Japan, there is far less sexual activity than, for example, in the USA, with its 900,000 pregnancies per year by unmarried teen-agers. But the percentage of babies allowed to live when conceived by unmarried teen-agers is certainly far lower in Japan. Few such babies see the light of day. But it is a joy that some few babies of unwed mothers are not killed. The house of the Missionaries of Charity in Tokyo is filled now, and babies are being adopted by foreigners in Tokyo.

About 82% of contraceptors use condoms, 6.5% the IUD, only 1.9% the Pill, and about 10% are sterilized). But Japan learned early what other nations learned later, namely that abortion follows contraception as surely as thunder follows lightning. Families become less stable, healthy and happy; divorce and violence increases; though the population totals 122 million, there are only 22 million children under age 15. The government seeks to increase births again, and in the meantime turns to Thailand, the Philippines and other nations for needed labor.

Instead of promoting contraception the Japanese government should have provided good information about the more gentle natural methods, to allow parents themselves to regulate their family life. Of late, 21.5% of couples use the Ogino and temperature methods, and still others use the Billings method. Increasing numbers are buying a new electronic device to help them with the natural methods. The Japan which once led the world into contraception and abortion may yet lead the world into widespread use of the safe and loving way of NFP, to by-pass heavy expenses and a tragic break-down of family life.

How do Catholics fare in this situation? They form a tiny minority, about 440 thousand among 122 million. Because we are slow in promoting NFP, Catholics suffer like the general population. A survey conducted in one town indicated that many young Catholic mothers were having abortions. We now see that the number of Infant Baptisms among the Catholic population is on a downward spiral since abortion and contraception were liberalized in 1948 (Note that year 1980, 11.6 is below replacement level):

The Numbers of Infant Baptisms in Japan
Year 1930 1940 1949 1960 1970 1980 1989
Baptisms 34.9 45.6 41.2 23.9 17.8 11.6 10.4

Our Japan Family Life Association worked a great deal in the past with the Japan National Nursing Association, with nurse educators and public health nurses, with midwives, and doctors. In Japan there is no great prejudice against natural family planning, in contrast with some other nations where the media seem to have an allergy against NFP. Limited surveys indicate that up to 60% of married women have actually tried to use thermometers to ascertain their fertile times (5); most gave up because the thermometers were not good enough, and because they did not receive good instructions and encouragement.

So far the feed back from mothers using the new electronic device to ascertain the fertile times is all positive. The highly accurate thermometer memorizes the daily temperature automatically, and the mini-computer does all the rest. From the fourth cycle on the sign of the fertile days is displayed on the liquid crystal window, thus giving confidence to couples. We look to the future with bright hopes.


Japanese people have a tremendous admiration for Mother Teresa, and she has become a major power in the nation through her visits in 1981 and 1982. When she addressed the nation via television on Japan Broadcasting Corporation, the reaction was overwhelming, surprising even to the sponsors. Telephone calls kept lines hot until past midnight. There was a re-run of her hour program, a thing seldom done by the national corporation.

Mother Teresa was also welcomed at a prayer breakfast by about 230 of the nation's lawmakers; she gave them good advice about prayer, and asked that they change the abortion law, that they take care of unwed mothers, and that they make adoption procedures more practical. The message is not lost on them; there has been one major attempt already to revise the abortion law, but politics got in the way. At Nagasaki National University she advised doctors to never allow their hand to do harm, to do an abortion; we have natural family planning, she said, so abortions are outdated (6). Ever practical and swift to carry out plans, she brought her Sisters to Tokyo to care for unwed mothers.

The speeches were translated into Japanese and published, and are now in a second printing. We at the Family Life Association get many reactions. One rather surprising development of all this is a wild escalation of the practice of having memorial services done for aborted babies. These are done at Buddhist temples: prayers, incense, a slat, a message written to the baby, maybe a statue is set up or rented on temple grounds. Memorial services for the unborn has boomed into a national business, worth perhaps $200 million per year. Advertisers advise mothers that unless they do the service, the baby will not come to rest; it may cast an evil spell on the family. Recently Mother sent this message to Japan to help mothers find peace, to make reparation for their act, and to re-assure them that God will forgive, and that the baby will not do them evil. Here is the prayer and the message:

Mothers Pray

Lord, my God have mercy on me for I have sinned by killing my own child through abortion.
Forgive me, I will never do it again.
But God, my Lord, my child is with you for all eternity.
My child will live in peace, joy and love.
For the child is the most beautiful creation of your love.

Messages to Mothers

This brings you my blessing, love, and prayer for each one of you, that you - each one of you in your home - be a cause of joy to your family; that peace, joy, and unity may always be in your home.

Remember, the family that prays together, stays together; and if you stay together you will love each other as God loves each one of you.

It is true, some of you have done the wrong thing in killing the unborn child in your womb, through abortion. But turn to God and say: My God, I am very sorry for killing my unborn child; please forgive me. I will never do it again. And God, being your loving Father, will forgive you. Never do it again. And believe me, God has forgiven you.

Also remember, your action does not harm the child. Your little one is with God for all eternity. There is no such a thing that the child can punish you or your family. The child is with God.

Your child loves you, has forgiven you, and is praying for you. He is with God, so he cannot do any harm, and can only love you. I am praying for you and I hope to come again to Japan. We will meet together. I love you all because God loves you. March 19, 1984.

Mothers in Japan will read the prayer and message with immense joy, we anticipate. Where ever Mother Teresa spoke, the faces of mothers in Japan looked up with new hope and joy. But there were also tears; and hopes, no doubt, that they will not ".have" to do another abortion. It is essential, now, that mothers in Japan get a new way out of the abortion trap through natural family planning.


And the entire human family can benefit greatly from knowledge about natural family planning, not only to spring out of the contraception-abortion-sterilization trap, but for valid reasons of family health and welfare. The human race has finally outlived the many centuries when disease and malnutrition claimed the lives of half the children ever born before they reached the age of ten. Today most children ever born survive to adulthood, although there are still places where infant mortality is high for causes which can now be prevented. Furthermore, mothers nurse less today than previously. Without some method of limiting births, the babies arrive too fast one after the other, draining the health and good spirits of the mother, endangering the health and even lives of the children.

I do not believe that is wise or even authentic to advise couples to practice natural family planning in order to avoid world overpopulation, or national demographic problems. These motives are too far removed from the intimate circle of family life to have much effect there. Couples can abstain with love for good family reasons. Whereas questionable theories about demographic trends, far removed from the bed room, are probably not sufficient to sustain the motivation of couples to practice periodic abstinence.

Motivation for the practice of NFP has its own internal laws, I think. Sr. Paulette M.C. explained one aspect of it very well, I think, when she said how overjoyed mothers are when menstruation returns after they had intercourse without use of contraceptives. When NFP works, it generates its own motivation provided only that reasons within the family are perceived as genuine.

Studies show that children born in developing countries have a higher survival rate if the spacing between births is longer. Babies born within two years of the previous birth have a higher mortality rate. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. The mothers of children who are born in rapid succession in developing countries are not able to cope as well as those who space better; the poorer the health of mothers is one reason for the higher mortality of the babies. Hundreds of millions of families in developing countries could break out of the trap of ill health and high infant mortality if NFP were adopted together with other factors conducive to development. Mother Teresa announces everywhere that families in the slums of Calcutta are happy and healthy and at peace, and boast that they can have their babies when they want them.

Mothers in Japan too, need NFP for spacing. Unfortunately the fashion of limiting family size excessively has taken hold. NFP will probably be used extensively to "keep up with the fashion" but in the long run, if we judge from experience of NFP users everywhere, once parents are confident that they are in control, they tend to welcome more children.


When I was in the major seminary forty years ago we had a fairly good course in natural family planning, Ogino Knaus rhythm, and the two phase temperature. A neighboring pastor even provided thermometers for young couples. Some of the great teachers of natural family planning began their work in the 1940's and 1950's. Even in Japan they were studying the temperature and mucus combination method at the time. Had we been wise, we should have taught NFP throughout the Church and the world at the time; it might have saved us much grief.

But NFP is not a viable commercial business, at least not in comparison with the business of Pills, IUD's, condoms, abortion, and sterilization. When the Pill age came, around 1960, the world went on a contraception, abortion, and sterilization binge. It is time we help it emerge from this dark age.

Global statistics indicate close to 40% of the 850-880 married couples of reproductive age have tumbled into the trap of contraception-abortion-sterilization; I prefer to think that it is a prelude to extensive use of NFP which a wiser human family will embrace in the future.


Couples surgically sterilized 155,000,000
IUD 80,000,000
Pill 55,000,000
Condom 38,000,000
Injectable 6,000,000
Total(38% of 880 million couples) 334,000,000

Add 40-60 million induced abortions per year, the tragic outcome of the world's intensive campaign to promote contraception. God's family must work to improve its morals.

The above calculation is spread over the age categories 15-49. If we narrow the calculations to the bottle-neck through which couples eventually pass, when the wife reaches age 35 and above, the percentage is almost certainly higher. Village earth is infected with illicit birth control pandemically.

In China, for example, 30% of those using birth control use sterilization, and another 50% use the IUD; and there are 5,000,000 abortions annually. A survey in Shanghai indicates that rural women above age 35 are sterilized at the high rate of 51-58% .

Sterilization appears to have a Catholic bias (one confession does it!). If 50% of the population using birth control in the USA is sterilized when the wife reaches age 35, the rate among Catholics seems to be even higher in some areas. I have heard of figures as high as.60% - 65% and even an incredible 80% of Catholic couples sterilized in certain areas of the USA when the wife is 35 years old and above.


Even God cannot make contraception into an act of love between spouses. He cannot make a square circle and he cannot make love out of this contradiction. To love each other truly, in God, spouses need the immediate help of God in the form of grace, to elevate the act into the supernatural, to inform their minds and hearts to perform an act of love for each other which is charity. Were God to give grace to the two who are contracepting, his grace would influence them to stop what they are doing. Spouses shut God out of their lives during acts of contraception. He stands outside the bed room door; those within are impotent, making attempts at love perhaps, but impotent to perform.

"Contraception is to be judged, objectively, so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified," said Pope John Paul II. (To Priests, Sept. 17, 1983.)

Not by wishful thinking, not by noble intentions, not even by innocent ignorance can couples make true love with contraceptive acts. The contra cannot become a pro. And God refuses to cooperate formally by being partner to this act. Wholesale contraception around the globe cuts off much of God's sunshine. We all lose, all are affected adversely.

If God must absent himself so much from the bed room, how does married life fare in these families during the rest of the day; how is life together affected, and the education of the children? God knows better than humans can say. But statistics speak already. In the USA divorcees mushroomed by 259% during the first fifteen years of the Pill age; from 393,000 in 1960 to 1,026,000 in 1975; at that time there were 8,000,000 Pill users- or 16,000,000 counting couples. Now there are 8,000,000 divorced Catholics in the USA, and 36% of Catholic marriages are said to end in divorce (13). The new generation is learning fast: 900,000 pre-marital teen-age pregnancies (14). Church pews gather dust, vocations are down, cults thrive instead.

We ask, why all this divorce and bitterness, with children crying. Why this numbness about religious truths, this winter, cold, darkness, depression in religious activities. Need we look any further, if we know that God's grace cannot reach couples in the bed room, cannot heal marriages and make them joyful at the time of the act central to marriage, in millions, even hundreds of millions of homes around the globe? Village earth has cut off a good part of God's sunshine. The village shivers. An ice age is creeping over the globe.


God dealt resolutely with the Israelites in the desert when they departed from his plan and rebelled against Moses. His plan was to lead them from Egypt into the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. Moses dispatched scouts to reconnoiter the Land and bring back a report. Then the trouble started. Ten of the twelve trusted scouts turned against Moses and God's plan: "We cannot attack these people; they are too strong for us"(Num. 13,31). The scouts exaggerated troubles ahead: "The land that we explored is a country that consumes its inhabitants. And all the people we saw there are huge men, veritable giants; ... we felt like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them" (Num. 13, 32-32). The people broke out with loud cries and "even in the night the people wailed" (14,1). The traitorous scouts had done their work well, and the people listened with itching ears. Soon a full-scale rebellion was in the making, and the people said to one another, "Let us appoint a leader and go back to Egypt" (14,4). (Does not all this sound familiar today, when leaders dissent, when difficulties of natural family planning are exaggerated?

But God would have none of this. His glory appeared and he said to Moses: "How long will this people spurn me? ... I will wipe them out." Moses, in turn, told God this would never do. "Are the Egyptians to hear of this?" People will say that God was not able to bring the people into the land he swore to give them. "Pardon, then, the wickedness of this people in keeping with your great kindness." The Lord answered that he will pardon them, but the rebels will not be the ones whom he will lead into the Promised Land. God will wait until the rebels die in the desert and their bones bleach, then he will lead their children into the Land.

By my life and the Lord's glory that fills the whole earth, of all the men who have seen my glory and the signs I worked in Egypt and in the desert, and who nevertheless have put me to the test ten times already and have failed to heed my voice, not one shall see the land which I promised on oath to their fathers. None of these who have spurned me shall see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me unreservedly, I will bring him into the land where he has just been, and his descendants shall possess it ...

Tell them: By my life, says the Lord, I will do to you just what I have heard you say. Here in the desert shall your dead bodies fall. Of all your men of twenty years or more, registered in the census, who grumbled against me, not one shall enter the land where I solemnly swore to settle you, except Caleb, son of Jephunneh, and Joshua, son of Nun. Your, little ones, however, who you said would be taken as booty, I will bring in, and they shall appreciate the land you spurned (Num. 14).

Similarly today, God is not about to change his laws about human reproduction, though half the earth be in rebellion. Leaders who stir up dissent do the people no service. Why exaggerate difficulties about natural family planning, why foment dissent? The task of believers is to form their consciences according to the truth, not to rebel and become estranged from God and the truth. We priests must help them positively, being true prophets like Caleb and Joshua.


What can we do today to carry out the mandate of the Pope, our Moses, as given in FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO No. 33? How can we best help Village Earth adopt the way of natural family planning, and to reject contraception, abortion, sterilization? How can we bring God's sunshine back to shine brightly over Village Earth, and lead the people once more on the path to the Promised Land?

Gold, or silver we do not have in great supply; not the $819 million spent for population control in 1988 by governments, NGO's and foundations. But we have much more than all these millions of their respective population control budgets. Do we not have our 400,000 priests in the Catholic Church, dedicated to God and to the people, trusted by their flocks? Do they not command many more buildings and halls and space and equipment, and personnel than the millions of the USAID and UNFPA funds can ever buy? Are they not appointed by God to lead their people, to help them do with God's grace what seems impossible to mere human endeavor, and to raise up those who stumble and fall on the way?

Our first priority, and I submit this humbly to your consideration, is to develop a program to mobilize our priests to carry out the mandate of FC 33.

Secondly, does the Catholic Church not have the most extensive school system on earth? We educate hundreds of millions of children. Should the Church not develop a bold initiative to carry out the mandate of PC 33 in all our schools and institutions around the globe, so that in the next years, not a single young man or young woman will emerge from our schools without adequate knowledge about the physiology of the menstrual cycle, as FC 13 directs; and with knowledge, motivation to practice chastity. When all our young people are armed with this knowledge and motivation, this new generation will not need the Pill or IUD, will instead experience true love and reverence for life. The future will be more safe for them, as Mother Teresa says, who described natural family planning as "self control out of love for each other." (To priests, Osaka, April 28, 1982.) My second suggestion, then, is to organize an initiative which will bring all of the Catholic schools around the globe into action to implement FC 33.


Long ago the Israelites rebelled against God's plan in the desert; God waited until the rebellion died away, then led the younger generation in accordance with his plan, into the Promised Land. Today we have another rebellion of God's People, this time against God's laws about human reproduction. The rebellion is not yet 40 years old. God is not about to change his laws about human reproduction because the people rebel. He waits for the people to resume their journey according to his plans. Nothing else is acceptable to him. As he once said:

Forty years I endured that generation. They are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not know my ways. So I swore in my anger, "They shall not enter into my rest."

Our rebellion began not 40 years ago, but about 25 years ago. Must we wander another 15 years, or shall we allow God and Moses to re-start today our journey to the Promised Land? Thank you!