By Patrick B. Craine

EDMONTON, Alberta, January 14, 2010 ( – Contrary to the popular understanding, Catholics are not the only ones interested in or promoting the techniques of natural family planning (NFP). One secular organization in Edmonton, despite being avowedly in favor of “reproductive freedom,” has responded to the increasing body of evidence highlighting the dangers of hormonal contraceptives (i.e. the pill) and is now working to convince women that NFP is a far better method of controlling fertility.

Geraldine Matus, founder of Justisse Healthworks for Women (JHW), has been teaching natural family planning techniques since 1977.  She uses the Justisse method, which tracks mucus secretions, temperature, and cervical position.

Matus’ approach to NFP deviates from the Catholic Church’s approach in crucial ways, such as her approval of the use of condoms during fertile times (the Church teaches that NFP can only be used to avoid pregnancy for truly “grave” reasons, and condemns even the whiff of a “contraceptive mentality”).  In fact, proponents of the NFP methods associated with the Catholic Church would even argue that Matus' allowance of condoms mean that the method cannot truly be considered NFP.

Nevertheless, JHW's efforts are significant in that they are part of a small but growing movement outside the Church that is rebelling against the dominance of the pill and searching for more “natural” alternatives. The scope of the trend was recently highlighted by remarks made by the director of a former Planned Parenthood clinic who bemoaned the lack of information about NFP, and criticized those who view the pill as the “be-all and end-all.”

Matus, who received part of her education at a Catholic institute for human reproduction (from which she was expelled due to her promotion of condoms and her practice of abortion counseling), says she believes that all women should learn NFP techniques, both because of the pill's dangers and because it promotes self-awareness.  NFP is “really about empowering women through knowledge of their body, and giving them a safe choice,” she told LifeSiteNews (LSN).

“My concerns about the pill from the get-go, so that's a long time, have been its association with clotting disorders, heart disease, bone loss, muscle loss, the disruption of the reproductive health of women in terms of disrupting how their fertility unfolds, and the recovery of fertility when they come off of the pill,” she said.

About NFP she said, “I felt that every woman should have that particular knowledge about her body, that it was critical for her sense of self and well-being.”

For Matus, NFP is “pro-choice.”  The pill has served for several decades as an icon of “women's liberation,” but Matus told LSN that she believes it is NFP that actually promotes women's freedom.

“If I'm taking a pill that requires no knowledge of how my reproductive system works, and actually suppresses the true nature of how my reproductive system works, that takes me away from knowing my body,” she said.  “If I experience my menstrual cycle month after month after month over many years, I start to learn about myself.”

“A lot of women have these experiences but don't know how to translate them, make sense of them,” she continued, “so fertility awareness and natural family planning helps women make sense of these experiences, by making sense of them they become less frightening, and then we can begin to honour and respect them.”

Not only does a woman gain crucial knowledge about her own body through NFP, said Matus, but “there's usually a much more respectful attitude that's taken with respect to sexual choices. I like that. It's a very interesting thing.”

JHW promotes their method as a way of both avoiding pregnancy as well as achieving pregnancy, just as the various NFP methods have done.  Because of the “holistic health practices” that JHW advocates, explained Matus, they have helped numerous couples conceive who had been unsuccessful with the aid of infertility treatments.

Because the Justisse method allows for barriers during the fertile periods when avoiding pregnancy, they point out that if the couple does not abstain from intercourse during those periods, the effectiveness of the method is equivalent to the effectiveness of the barrier.

Despite the documented effectiveness of NFP methods – which involve abstinence during fertile periods if avoiding pregnancy -, both for preventing and achieving pregnancy, as well as the growing evidence documenting the health dangers of contraceptive drugs, NFP continues to be largely scorned by the medical community.

Matus said that, “for the most part, [the medical community] is suspicious.”  “There's a fear that women wouldn't know how to do this, or that their partner wouldn't cooperate,” she explained, “which are very real fears. But also there's a lack of knowledge and education in the medical community about this.”

While Catholics have led the field in developing and promoting the techniques of natural family planning, recognition of their many benefits is becoming increasingly more mainstream, as Canada's major media have pointed out in recent months.

“[NFP] should appeal to all women,” said Fr. Joe Hattie, O.M.I., spiritual director for WOOMB Canada, in response to questions about the movement of NFP into the mainstream, “because they all have the right to a better understanding of their own reproductive gifts, grounded in the very fact of their femininity.”

“If they're going to use good stewardship of the gifts of their fertility, then they have the right to a good education and a good management of that fertility, in harmony with natural law and God's plan for them,” he said.

“The Catholic Church doesn't have a monopoly, we might say, on the science,” continued Fr. Hattie, who is also the director of marriage and family for the Archdiocese of Halifax.  “With [NFP], the Church has put science at the service of women's health and marriage.  So, if others are using that to help couples, to help women better understand themselves and to take better stewardship of their fertility, in harmony with natural law, then that's good.”

See related coverage:

Planned Parenthood Director Bemoans Lack of Info about Natural Family Planning

Fertility Treatment is Hugely Successful but Largely Ignored by Medicine

Study Finds Common Infertility Treatments Are Unlikely To Improve Fertility