Natural family planning helps couples respond to Humanae Vitae directives

By Dr. Jonathan Scrafford
Two common misconceptions about Humanae Vitae’s significance in the church merit clarification during this year in which we celebrate its 50th anniversary.
The first mistaken impression is that it was the first encyclical in defense of the church’s long-held prohibition of contraception. That actually came in 1930 – so fundamental was the teaching that it needed no doctrinal defense until then – with Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii.
The second is that it was uniquely prophetic in its accurate predictions about the social consequences of the breakdown of the family. In fact, Casti Connubii was itself written during the 50th anniversary year celebrating the 1880 encyclical Arcanum Divinae, in which Pope Leo XIII described with the same prophetic zeal the consequences of threats to the family (at that time, divorce and polygamy).
Rather, one of the truly unique features of Humanae Vitae worth celebrating during 2018 is its call to “men of science” and those in health professions to further develop and promote the natural and moral means of regulating childbirth.
At the time Humanae Vitae was written, the directive was a proverbial “Hail Mary” from the pontifical playbook. Pressure mounted tremendously for the church to reverse its teaching on the immorality of contraception. In fact, some on a Vatican commission of pope-appointed theologians and laypersons tasked with answering the question of whether contraception may be morally permissible came to the affirmative conclusion.
Meanwhile, hormonal contraception was becoming established within the medical community as a staple of reproductive healthcare, and increasingly regarded as the only effective means of regulating childbirth in the medical literature. And although we take for granted today the many well-developed systems of natural family planning whose effectiveness has since been validated in peer-reviewed research, at the time that Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae, systems of NFP were in the primitive stages of development.
Today, the response to that directive continues. Perhaps more now than ever, the development and promotion of the natural means of regulating childbirth remain an incredible opportunity amidst the persistent dissatisfaction among women with the risks and side effects of the artificial means which continue to be recommended by physicians.
In fact, the most compelling peer-reviewed research associating even contemporary forms of hormonal contraception with breast cancer, venous thromboembolism, depression, and suicide – among other things – has been published within the last 10 years or so. In addition, natural means of regulating childbirth offer an incredible opportunity to families struggling with the scourge of infertility or recurrent miscarriage. Compared to the artificial reproductive technologies, NFP offers an approach to such conditions which preserves human dignity for child and parents.
As a gynecologist, I remain particularly optimistic that as holy men and women continue to respond generously to the directives of Humanae Vitae, our understanding of and ability to serve women by the natural regulation of childbirth will continue to grow, perhaps faster than ever before.
Especially during this 50 year anniversary celebrating Humanae Vitae, let us recall the unique directives placed upon the medical community to develop and promote natural means of regulating childbirth, and let us renew a commitment to put to use the many fruits – in the forms of the modern systems of NFP – which have already been yielded in response to those directives.
Dr. Scrafford is an OB/GYN at Via Christi Health who recently completed additional training as a Medical Consultant in NaProTechnology.
He and his wife have five children and are members of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Wichita. Their sixth child is due on July 25, the anniversary of Humanae Vitae.

Dr. Hilgers to speak at HV dinner June 24
Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D., as one of the world’s leading proponents of implementing Humanae Vitae through FertilityCare and NaProTechnology, will speak at the St. Gianna Dinner Sunday, June 24, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita.
The dinner, sponsored by the Diocese of Wichita, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The talk and dinner will be after a 3:30 p.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop Carl A. Kemme.
To register, visit