Dear Kristina Keneally,
I am writing in response to your article titled “I’m a Catholic feminist, and my church needs me more than ever”, published online in The Guardian on 29 January 2015, in response to recent comments made by Pope Francis. Well I am also Catholic, I teach fertility awareness to women, and I must strongly disagree with the comments you made about women and contraception.
You infer that the only way in which women can stop “breeding like rabbits” and have control over their bodies is with the use of artificial contraception. I feel that this shows a lack of knowledge regarding modern advances into understanding reproductive biology and women’s fertility, as well as an outdated attitude. Perhaps you haven’t heard of natural family planning (NFP), and the fact that it is as effective as birth control? Straight after his comment that some Catholics think they must be like rabbits, Pope Francis said “No. Responsible parenthood.” How can this responsible parenthood be achieved without artificial contraception? With the use of natural family planning. It is promoted by the Church because it is morally acceptable for Catholics, and allows women that control over their bodies that you so lament.
It is a shame, that as a Catholic, you seem to have never discovered NFP and that in this ignorance you feel the need to ‘agitate’ within your own Church and write damaging and misleading articles. They are damaging to the very women you claim to be fighting for. The Church is all for responsible family planning and always has been. This, of course, must be balanced with a generosity and openness to God’s gift of children. Let’s be clear: this does not mean every woman must have 15 children. Every couple is called to exercise good judgement about how many children they have and for some, this may mean one or two children, for others more.
The key point is this: family planning can be done just as (if not more) effectively with a method that is in line with the Catholic faith, as it can be done with methods that are not. The Creighton Model FertilityCare System, Billings Ovulation Method and SymptoThermal Method (to name a few) are all more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. To suggest that there is no option for Catholic women other than artificial contraception is outrageously untrue and entirely un-feminist. But I will give you the benefit of the doubt here, assuming that you were not aware of NFP, and that if you were, you wouldn’t have written what you did.
Increasingly, there is a turn away from hormonal contraception among young educated women (and not just Catholics either). These women do not want to suppress their fertility any longer, they recognise the risks of ingesting artificial hormones, and are not satisfied with how the medical profession deals with female reproductive issues. It now seems old-fashioned that our mothers took a pill to ‘free themselves’ to be more like men and achieve their goals in life. What about the freedom to be the women we are, while still achieving those goals? Why did fertility become a woman’s disease that needs to be medicated?
Every woman deserves to be empowered with the knowledge of how her body works. Women who chart their cycles to know their times of fertility and infertility are the only ones who are truly free to choose when they want to become pregnant. Not someone who has put their faith in a prescription from a (most likely male) doctor and hopes that it does what they’ve been told it will do – namely, prevent pregnancy. Let’s not kid ourselves that every woman is fully informed about how the pill actually achieves this. Without full knowledge and consent, there can be no freedom. The pill is so last century: there are even smartphone apps these days to help you track the biological signs of your fertility. No drugs, no side effects and compatible with faith.
So, Kristina, I realise that you think you’re doing Catholic women a favour by proudly ‘agitating’ for them but don’t be fooled: you do not speak for the majority of Catholic women. I know I am not alone in being embarrassed that you have a mouthpiece in the public arena that claims to speak for me. I am terribly sorry that you feel oppressed by your faith but I’m confused, because it’s not my Catholic faith. Are we talking about the same one?
St. Mary MacKillop would be rolling in her grave after being compared to a ‘feminist agitator’ like yourself. St. Mary MacKillop struggled with a bishop who wanted to control her order — hardly the same as trying to undermine a beautiful part of our Catholic faith which says that women should not deny and suppress the part of themselves that gives life. In fact I’m sure that as a teacher, St Mary MacKillop would have been a strong advocate for women to make responsible choices about family size, and probably would have taught naturally family planning herself.
Caitlin Byrne is a FertilityCare Practitioner in Sydney, Australia. She has a Master’s Degree in Reproductive Health Science and Human Genetics from the University of Sydney, and is passionate about women’s health and natural fertility. She teaches the Creighton Model System of natural family planning and can be contacted at email@example.com.