Contraception not the answer to maternal mortality


Depo-ProveraMore than 350,000 women die every year from difficulties related to pregnancy or childbirth. Some of the highest maternal mortality rates are on our own doorstep in East Timor and Papua New Guinea. It is imperative that we do more to provide basic health services in developing countries to save women's and children's lives.

But Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr's announcement of a doubling in AusAID funding for family planning and the article he wrote with Melinda Gates last week in The Lancet target pregnancy itself as the problem, rather than the lack of good basic health services.

This debate comes out of the London Summit on Family Planning which is looking to sign up governments to a huge boost in funding for contraceptives like the long acting injectable Depo-Provera, sterilisation and IUDs. These are methods that once administered are difficult for women in developing countries to reverse.

When basic health in developing countries is so limited, when a population has no access to basic, life-saving antibiotics, especially in the most remote regions where maternal mortality is most severe, it is unrealistic to think these methods can be administered responsibly.

The Catholic Church is one of the world's biggest service providers in maternal health and early childhood development. It approaches aid work recognising that the family is at the heart of human development. This is an approach which promotes the sanctity of life and the dignity of all human beings.

Parents must be allowed the judgement as to how many children they have and how much time they wish to leave between births. Any work by population bureaucrats must respect that freedom. Any effective and responsible program must have comprehensive, balanced education at its core, respecting parents' dignity.

The solution to poverty is not the sterilisation of women and men in developing countries, but more economic justice so they can share in the world's wealth.

Families in developing countries have more children when they are poor because that makes sense to them culturally and economically. Reducing people's poverty may allow parents to decide to reduce the number of children they have because they have a more secure future.

Natural family planning for regulating the number of children in a family promotes human dignity and respect between spouses, helping to bring about a better human order in the wider community. Methods like Billings, Sympto-Thermal, Napro-tech or Creighton have similar reliability to oral contraceptives. The Church does not support artificial birth control or abortion as methods of family planning.

The problem with the Summit is that it is calling for billions of dollars for programs that will divert money from basic health care and will clash with the values of so many women and men in the developing world.

The Summit organisers claim more than 200 million women in the developing world lack access to contraceptives, information and services. This claim is based on a calculation of 'unmet need' where not one woman was asked if she wanted to use contraception. 'Unmet need' refers instead to the total number of women in the developing world who might possibly want to use contraception and are not already using it.

Even more disturbingly, one sexual health charity told The Guardian last week 'demand had to be created as well as supply'. So where women in developing countries do not wish to use contraception, they have to be persuaded otherwise.

The World Bank has published a paper that makes it clear the overwhelming majority of married women in developing countries not using contraception don't want to use it, either because they disagree with its use or have concerns about side effects. Some said they had a lack of knowledge, but very few said that cost or access was an important reason.

Respecting women's dignity means better maternal health care services, not a cheaper substitute. Women are dying because they are poor and don't have basic maternal health care, not because they are having children.

Eugene HurleyBishop Eugene Hurley is Chairman of the Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life and Deputy Chair of Caritas Australia, the Catholic agency for international aid and development. 

Topic tags: Eugene Hurley, family planning, contraception, Bob Carr, AusAID



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Existing comments

Contraception is not the only answer to the appalling rate of maternal morbidity and mortality in the developing world. However it is one of the answers and an important one for those who wish to access it. The good Bishop has chosen to ignore the fact that choice is something the average Third World woman does not enjoy. The size of families is largely dictated by the choice of the husband; children being both an asset ( in the event of old age and infirmity) and a display of husbandly virility. I also take issue with his assertion that so-called "natural" methods of family planning are similar in efficacy to so-called "artificial" methods. They aren't. The efficacy level is in fact not all that great for birth control. The Billings method is in fact more helpful for those who wish to conceive and are trying to work out when to time intercourse for when conception is most likely. These methods also require a high level of husbandly compliance. Finally, the Bishop might like to relect that in the developing world illegal abortion is stillthe commonest form of birth control, with a high level of morbidity and mortality.
Jane Roberts | 18 July 2012

I agree with Bishop Eugene Hurley - the most pressing need is for ante-natal and post-natal care of mothers and babies. I met an African doctor once who lamented that the UN sent millions of condoms to Africa but it was difficult to get basic antibiotics and other medications. The 'message' in this aid is - 'don't have children -which is a very paternalistic colonial attitude to the developing world - ie telling them they should have less children.
Skye | 18 July 2012

"Natural family planning for regulating the number of children in a family promotes human dignity and respect between spouses" - that rather depends on one's concept of dignity and respect. Granting the above claim, does it follow that other methods aren't also consonant with dignity and respect for human life? Like the Bishop, I also believe abortion is morally wrong. (A practice - currently condoned by our society - not unlike the morality of torture and burning alive of heretics: once legally sanctioned in a Church-led Europe of past memory.) However, there is an utter difference between terminating a living child's life and not starting a hypothetical one. What about some logic here?
Fred Green | 18 July 2012

Not sure why you chose to comment on the minimum statistic of maternal mortality which is 350,000, because WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA all give statistics for maternal mortality as ranging from between 350,000 to over 500,000 annually. Many of those are teenage girls - actually 1 in 5 were teenage girls in Timor Leste in 2009. Despite a lot of aid money having been given to the problem, the mortality rate is extremely slow to change. That says something isn't working and new ways have to be looked at to address the issue. The situation is horrific, isn't it worth giving Bob Carr's plan a go? Cheers.
Felicity Costigan | 18 July 2012

Could someone explain to me, from a very basic moral perspective, what the difference is between natural family planning and artificial birth control (I'm referring to the pill here, not abortion) It seems the intentions of the couple in both cases are the same - to prevent conception but not to destroy life once it has been conceived.
AURELIUS | 18 July 2012

I cannot believe that you argue against the use of effective contraception because it negates the ‘right’ of a woman to say ‘no’. There is a difference between choice and force. Just because abortion is available, does not mean every woman will choose that option. Yet again we have the voice of a man from a developed country espousing what is good for women in the developing world. How on earth access to anything that will improve the sexual health and life choices of women is inherently ‘bad’ is beyond me. Just how effective have the Billings, Sympto-Thermal, Napro-tech or Creighton methods of contraception been in combating Aids/HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases?
Deb | 18 July 2012

This article on contraception could only have been written by a male and a priest.
Bev Smith | 18 July 2012

Well of course Bishop Eugene will say this! It's the doctrine of his paternally-dominated church whose opinions are based on the RC theology and not scientific and empirical evidence. Contraception is but one part of the solution - Jane Roberts, I fully agree with your comments.
Ellie Kay | 18 July 2012

A question I would like answered - where in the accounts we have of the activities of Jesus is there anything which discusses contraception? So whence the Vatican obsession? There are as Bishop points out many aspects of "Matrnal health" beyond contraception. But maybe in their situation it is the one most likely to produce results here and now. Eureka Street is a very intelligent on-line journal but given its basic foundation I realise we have to expect , from time to time, the goofiness of conservative Christianity, which two words by the way are an oxymoron
Brian Poidevin | 18 July 2012

I agree with Jane Roberts - it is one of the answers, and the Billings Method, even with both partners compliant is not perfect for a range of reasons, and requires a degree of education and understanding of the reproductive system that is not yet available in East Tmor, and I would guess, in PNG. In East Timor, the birth rate is between 7 and 8 children. This means a woman goes through seven or eight risky births, often in very basic (to completely unhygienic) conditions. Not to mention the physical toll of rapidly repeated pregnancies, and the ongoing carefor these children, with very basic resources and nutrition. Giving these women options to manage their own fertility (and health) gives them the ability to space out their children, gives their bodies a chance to recover and reduces number of times they are exposed to the risks during and after childbirth. The Catholic Church is active in East Timor and is doing some wonderful work, however the continued high mortality rate in this country indicates that looking at a range of options migh save even more women's lives, and enabling them to raise the children they have.
Liz | 18 July 2012

While I agree with Bishop Hurley that the overall state of basic health services in many countries is in a dire position, I don't agree that providing families with the ability to choose from a broad range of family planning, including chemical methods, is showing a disrespect to women's dignity. I also disagree with an assumption that appears inherrent in Bishop Hurley's text that contraception via the pill, Depo Pravera or IUD's will become a women's only choice of managing their fertility in these countries. We know that the fewer children a woman has and the older she is when she begins to have children, the better educated she will be, the more likely she is to have a stable form of income. We also know, thanks to the work of organisation such as the WHO and the UN that women are more likely to reinvest their incomes into their families then men are. The more children the woman has, the less she is to be in a position to maintain her income, her health and her family. Thus, if people are to address the poverty they find themselves in then perhaps it would be less paternalistic to allow men and women access to the knoweldge and information about how their fertility functions and then let them choose from the full range of options rather than assuming to know their preferences. If 'unmet need' is an assumption based on a question that has not been asked, then the assumption that people would rather not use chemical forms of contraception is as wrong as the assumption that they would.
Catherine Pearce | 18 July 2012

The women of the developing world live in a different universe to that inhabited by Bishop Hurley who has indulged in breath-taking special pleading. As noted by Jane and Felicity respectively, he has ignored the powerlessness of women in many societies, and chosen not to quote the full range of maternal deaths cited by world health authorities. He cited correctly the high rate of maternal mortality in East Timor. What he failed to mention however is that Timorese women have an average of 6 children – each pregnancy exposing women to the considerable risks of childbirth in less-than-ideal circumstances. The bishop also does not mention the corollary to high birth rates in the developing world – high infant mortality rates: the longer the spacing between pregnancies/birth, the lower the rate of death in the under-fives. Aurelius is right to question the sophistry of drawing a distinction between “artificial” and “natural” contraception when both have the same purpose. The prohibition against contraception does not always leave the act of intercourse “open to life”... In the developing world, it often leads to the deaths of mothers and babies in obscene numbers.
Patricia | 18 July 2012

It seems strange that some commentators are more outraged that someone would question contraception (and the profits of multinational drug companies) than the fact that money is being diverted away from basic lifesaving maternal health care, which all women deserve.
Jeremy | 18 July 2012

What the bishop is saying is sound. The moment a Catholic priest speaks on any issue around Family Planning arouses over-reaction. The fact they are ordained does not mean they know nothing about the topic at all. Bishop Hurley is promoting better health and knowledge for women. He is certainly not promoting a world where women just give birth continually and die. There are so many health issues in these countries - and giving money simply to Family Planning is not a way of solving a very complex issue. To suggest that the Church has nothing worthwhile to say on the subject is to demean all those within the Church who work for the common good. And for Aurelius - artificial contraception does not actually prevent conception - it prevents a fertilised egg from developing. Natural methods do not.
Jane | 18 July 2012

Bishop Hurley, access to modern and safe contraception IS good basic healthcare for women. So is education, self-determination and sovereignty over one's own body and fertility.
Michelle Goldsmith | 18 July 2012

Jane, FYI, the modern contraceptive pill prevents OVULATION and has nothing to do with implantation. There is no egg to fertilise! Similarly, if couples hoping to avoid a pregnancy have intercourse outside the time of ovulation, they will not conceive. If the latter is "acceptable" then rationally so should the former, especially when successful contraception vastly reduces the number of abortions.
Patricia | 18 July 2012

The Bishop is spot on. It might seem easier to just provide more contraception rather than address the real issues affecting women in places like East Timor- poverty and a lack of basic health care. However it is not the answer and all too often just allows men to use, then abandon women.
Marcia | 18 July 2012

Sorry Jane but you're not quite right about artifical contraception preventing "a fertilised egg developing". In the case of barrier contraception (condom, diaphragm or cervical cap), the barrier prevents sperm form meeting egg. The time-honoured method of coitus interruptus does likelwise ( with variable reliability) The modern IUCD ( progesterone-impregnated) and the depot progesterones both inhibit ovulation and cause endometrial atrophy so that should an egg be fertilised ( in the Fallopian tube) the blastocyst is prevented fom implantin in the endometrium. The contraceptive pills inhibit ovulation. I have to disagree that the Bishop is promoting better health for women. He is in fact promoting the view that contraception is not the solution. He is further suggesting ( without clear evidence) that no woman in the developing world actually wants contraception. Finally "natural methods" ( i.e abstinence or non-penetrative sex)only betray the "contraceptive mentality" which is so decried by those opponents of any kind of birth control.
Jane Roberts | 18 July 2012

Marcia, The use and abandonment of women has little or nothing to do with whether contraception is available. How about standards of health care are improved INCLUDING access to effective contraception if the women is question so desire it? The Bishop appears to have sidestepped this question. Do you agree that this is a reasonable proposition? Remember we are not talking about our own cosseted little world where middle-class grand multiparae and their many children can and do receive excellent care. Not too many maternal deaths from blood loss or sepsis here!
Jane Roberts | 18 July 2012

Australia is big and rich. East Timor is small and poor. The East Timorese suffered during the Second World War when they helped defend Australia from the Japanese, and later when Australia supported the Indonesian takeover, with its awful results, and even tried to cheat the Timorese out of some of their oil reserves. We could and should make amends by providing East Timor with health cre as good as we provide for ourselves. I don't know why Jane Roberts uses the quotes and the "so-called" in referring to the words 'natural' and 'artificial'. Of course artificial methods of family planning are unnatural; they prevent the natural functioning of the human body. And the 'natural' methods are comparable to other aspects of life where we have to restrain our appetites. You have to learn it, just like you have to learn to use alcohol without harming yourself.
Gavan Breen | 18 July 2012

Using a condom is both necessary and life affirming in the context of a wife protecting herself from contracting HIV Aids from her husband. Access to and money for condoms is not a given in developing countries. The church could be assisting women with this instead of turning a blind eye. Hungry, exhausted and distressed women with mouths to feed,struggling to survive, need to know that the church will not condem them if they use a condom. We are not talking sterilisation, irreversable birth control, nor abortion here. Bishop Hurley is well meaning I'm sure but I wonder if he knows that the Billings method relies on precise observations and carefully planned intercourse. Try saying 'no' to a husband who, after working away for long months, is in need of comfort and release, is physially stronger and is not in the mood for negotiating. How likely is it that women with no electricity, nor running water, sanitary facilities, nor education are going to be able to check mucus levels, take temperature correctly and regulate sexual conduct according to a family planning instruction list. I have lived in the highlands of East Timor - I could barely see in the dark trying to go through morning abolutions with a bucket and scoop - as for having time and energy to check my menstual cycle precisely - impossible. Killing newborn unwanted babies is much more of tragedy than using contraception - perhaps the bishop should read some of the news articles from Dili to get a better grip on the reality for women (97% of whom Catholic).
marianne | 18 July 2012

It is little wonder the Catholic church is increasingly irrelevant in the world, if Bishop Hurley is an example of its leadership. The most encouraging things about this article are the politely dissenting responses. Thank you for those comments; they give reason for hope.
Frank | 18 July 2012

It's refreshing to read so many great comments on a post about women's reproductive health written by a white western male in a position of power. I've met many, many women in developing countries who are desperate to use contraception but don't have access for a range of reasons. It's about giving women the choice to decide what happens to their bodies. Contraception is not a controversy.
Lyrian | 18 July 2012

Me thinks that Bishop is cherry-picking his evidence to provide support for the conclusion that he has already made on religious grounds. The evidence is a lot more nuanced than the Bishop would admit. See for example the 500 page document at
Ginger Meggs | 18 July 2012

As a young woman who has studied international health, I say hats off to Bishop Hurley for clearly articulating the disturbing attitudes and policies coming out of the London Summit and elsewhere. High maternal mortality rates are best targeted by improved and greater access to health services, hygiene and care. On the other hand, pushing contraceptives on poor women is nothing more than a paternalistic attitude that should be long forgotten.
Penny | 18 July 2012

The comments made by Jane Roberts about the efficacy of NFP are factually incorrect. The Billings Ovulation Method™ (an NFP method!) has been independently trialled by the World Health Organisation and been found to be as successful for avoiding pregnancy as any method of family planning available today. Studies have shown that it is as effective as the oral contraceptive pill, and more effective than IUDs, condoms and diaphragms (see John Murtagh, (2011), General Practice 5th Ed, McGraw-Hill). There was a great video clip posted by the other day in response to the 'Melinda Plan'. For those interested in debating this issue with facts rather than myths, it is a great place to start: I would also recommend the Billings LIFE Facebook page at (daily health update for women) or their website at
Maree McMenamin | 18 July 2012

Jeremy, I must have missed the comments that expressed outrage. I have only read reasonable comments asking intelligent questions, and no-one seems to have provided an answer. Why are natural family planning methods not also regarded as a form of contraception? Neither results in the extermination of human life and both are commonly used by Christians in good conscience.
AURELIUS | 18 July 2012

I think this article is naive. The only way to restrict the number of women deaths in poor countries is the provision of better education and health services. Women should be also be treated equally. These services to women should include safe sex education and medical services plus the provision of artificial contraception. I think the statement that natural family planning promotes human dignity and respect between spouses is unreasonable. I would strongly urge Caritas Australia to support the efforts of Melinda Gates to provide women in poor countries with artificial contraception.
Mark Doyle | 18 July 2012

my comment is made with diffidence in the light of the many thoughtful and heartfelt responses coming mostly from women, who are in a better position to judge the situation of women in the societies mentioned. I know that in East Timor the birth rate is the highest in the world so little wonder that the rate of maternal fatality is very high. I am embarrassed by the attitude of the Catholic doctrine makers that there is still an aversion to methods of family planning which will actually work in the context being discussed. Unemployment of youth in East Timor is 60% - young people destined to anger and frustration through the policy of the Catholic Church of preaching that birth control is sinful. This desperate outcome must be addressed by serious attention to reducing the birth rate to avoid terrible future misery.
Mike Foale | 18 July 2012

Bishop Hurley, the contraception debate has, thank goodness, moved well beyond the bad old days, when the uninformed populace relied on the patriarchal views of celibate men to inform their views. The church leadership cannot expect the broader community to have any respect for an institution that has been shown to be morally corrupt. Your own priests and nuns who are working in the field with the people actually affected by these decisions, at least tacitly support the use of contraception, and more often actively do so. The reality is that the views of the church hierachy are irrelevant. It's time for these women to have reproductive choice: a right that has been taken for granted in the first world for decades.
Kathleen | 18 July 2012

Aurelius, good question. In all forms of artificial contraception, couples are deliberately suppressing the procreative dimension of the sexual act they are engaged in. In NFP couples wishing to avoid having children have sex when nature itself has rendered the act infertile. The end is the same - sex without children. But the means differ - abstaining and choosing infertile times for sex (NFP), versus taking a fertile act of intercourse and suppressing its fertility.

(Here I'm only referring to acts of authentic natural intercourse rendered deliberately infertile via use of the pill. Other types of contraception such as coitus interruptus, use of the condom, etc, are seriously wrong on additional levels - namely they aren't even acts of natural intercourse - the "marriage act" .)

Note that NFP can be morally wrong too - if couples overuse it, excluding children from their lives for selfish or trivial reasons. But even then it's not the serious sin of contraception, but another type of anti-life serious sin. Here's a good discussion of the issues your question goes to, by Prof Janet Smith:

HH | 18 July 2012

Lyrian, I cannot disagree with you more strongly. As a feminist, I applaud Bishop Hurley for his strong feminist and social justice critique of the global capitalist imposition of contraceptives on women in the developing world - a movement fuelled by the desire of the pharmaceutical companies to make themselves rich on the bodies of poor women, sanitised under the euphemism of 'women's health' and exploiting anti- (poor people) population hysteria. God forbid that we should actually invest in midwives and maternal health services and give women and their partners the knowledge and empowerment to control their fertility through knowing how their bodies actually work. No, there is no money in teaching natural fertility and equal relationships; women must be told our bodies are fundamentally bad, and that we cannot ask men to control themselves for our sake, because we are not equal human beings, we are simply vessels for their sexual needs. Please, read the tragic history of contraceptives being trialled on "needy" women who were coerced into participating because they were desperate for money to feed their families, and the horrific price they paid when their bodies were sacrificed on the altars of capitalism and population control.
MARY | 18 July 2012

Speaking about the dignity of the human person, there is nothing dignified about the intrusive thermometer and temperature charts of the Billings Method and so called Natural Family Planning, and to drain spontaneity from sexual intimacy is itself unnatural. If intention is all, as it is, let us at least admit that these procedures are as intent on closing off sexual intercourse to new life as any oral contraceptive.
Greg Bunbury | 18 July 2012

Despite the view of Bishop Hurley and some commentators, I do not believe the natural family planning methods approved by the Church are as effective as some artificial contraception methods. Even if I believed this might one day change, how could I in the interim oppose more effective methods of contraception while so many mothers and children die because of their unavailability (along with the unavailability of adequate health care services)? As I see it, the Church is hampering the efforts of others like Melinda Gates in its concern to impose the dictates of Humanae Vitae on all people in developing countries regardless of their religious affiliation or beliefs and regardless of the cost in human lives.
JOHN REGAN | 18 July 2012

I should say first that I am not a catholic. I remember well when studying social work in the early 1970s, when Pope Paul brought down his encyclical on birth control, a nun who had worked in Latin America for several years saying with tremendous sorrow "The Holy Father is so terribly wrong". I never for one moment doubted her genuine faith, devotion and commitment to the catholic faith. From my observation the Catholic Church was and remains antiwomen.
Malcolm Campbell | 18 July 2012

Once again, HH, the whole issue of morality in human relationships and the dignity of life is actually lost in the forensic detail. A bit like the debate on homosexuality, natural family planning/contraception very quickly becomes a voyeuristic probe of animalistic physiology and bodily secretions.
AURELIUS | 19 July 2012

Aurelius - since you reject the Church's "forensic" analysis of human acts, why did you ask a question inviting that analysis in the first place? Did you expect us to say "Well the Church thinks NFP is basically good and artificial contraception is bad, but doesn't have an underlying rationale for the distinction - that's too forensic."?
HH | 19 July 2012

HH, I don't reject anything that the church says. I am merely trying to understand the thinking process behind the moral guidelines, so that I may better live as a Christian and avoid doing any harm to others. If you think my questions and any discussion is unnecessary, let's just refer people to the Vatican website with links to complete Catholic doctrines.
AURELIUS | 19 July 2012

Aurelius, let me get this straight. You accept the Church's condemnation of all genital sexual acts other than the marital act between spouses, heterosexual or homosexual? And you accept the Church's teaching that artificial contraception is intrinsically evil, but that NFP is a legitimate form of limiting family size for good reasons? If so, you need to find a clearer way of saying this. Because many people reading your posts might come to another conclusion.
HH | 19 July 2012

I read the Bishop's article with interest. His assumption is that all that need to make a birth spacing choice have to take a method that he as a Catholic Bishop prescribes. Unfortunately life is not as simple as that and that is why we have vast choices of contraceptive methods to allow couples a choice and access to the method of their choice. I do not believe in what they as a Church believe in, I was and I am still hurt that one of their missionaries convinced our Ndebele King that the Rudd concession was good and our country was taken, hiding behind the Bible of course.I do not believe in some of the immorality and corruption found in the Church, but duly respect friends and relatives who subscribe to the faith.Maternal mortality is not and will not result from one cause like he says but this remains contributroy to a great extent. These interventions are coming from well researched publications and are not an instinct of any individual. There is never going to be one panacia to curb mortality as causes are relative to country, social, demographic and health status of communities.
Zenzo Mketiwa | 19 July 2012

HH, there is a different between accepting something, and being critical of it. Yes, I accept all the church's teachings on sexuality - but not your version of them. The teachings I accept don't mention "genital sexual acts", but go a lot broader and deeper than that. Also, you seem to think this forum is a confessional - it's not.
AURELIUS | 20 July 2012

Aurelius - I asked your opinion, just as you asked me mine a week or so back. When I go to confession, I don't tell the priest my ruminations on moral and theological issues. I tell him my sins. "My version" of Church teaching is that of my Catechism of the Catholic Church. Tell me that n. 2352 to n.2358, a listing of offences against chastity, (teaching you accept) don't explicitly mention genital sexual acts.
HH | 20 July 2012

Contraception is certainly not a substitute for basic health services, nor is it THE answer to maternal deaths. It is, however, one very important answer,especially since the women are often NOT equal when it comes to 'negotiating' how many children to have. Australian overseas aid is not and should not be tied to religious belief. Churches are free to endorse whatever forms of contraception they wish. Government policy should not be determined by this.
Dr Juliet Flesch | 20 July 2012

No, HH, the Catholic catechism sections you refer to do not clearly mention "genitals". The overiding theme states: "Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes." This means even NFP methods are immoral.
AURELIUS | 20 July 2012

Aurelius, what translation of the CCC are you reading from? "the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure", "carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman", "homosexual acts" - these aren't explicit references to genital sexual acts? NFP does not isolate the spouses from the procreative purpose of their marital act. The spouses do nothing to suppress any procreative dimension of the marital act they are here and now engaged in. (Sure, when they abstain from sex during fertile periods they are forgoing the procreative and unitive goods of a sexual act. But, ex hypothesi, not by suppressing them in a marital act they are actually performing - that's the whole point) You say that according to the Church's view of chastity, NFP should be immoral. The Church on the other hand teaches that NFP IS consistent with its view of morality (n 2370). I thought you said you agreed with all Church teaching?
HH | 20 July 2012

Really? Is this the best you can do? Yes, good health systems are important, but so is reliable contraception. I can't even go into this in any kind of sensible detail. "Women are dying because they are poor and don't have basic maternal health care, not because they are having children." Often, they're poor because they're having (so many children).
Kate | 20 July 2012

From the day you get your period you learn how to manage your reproductive cycle.
What all girls and women want is education, medical service and the best choices of contraception to decide for herself when she wants to have a baby.(and if she is raped, or has an unwanted pregnancy have a safe abortion).
This is what we have in Australia and Europe and all of us have prospered for it. If you want to have six kids, fine. Two children was the best for me and for them.
I wish this autonomy without any spiritual black-mailing for all women.
Why create more misery instead of a Good Life? where the mother has a better chance of not dying leaving children and husband behind?
What is really damning of the Hierarchy is not encouraging male congregations in 3rd world countries to prevent STDs and pregnancy.
Is this Godly for women? If I were a she-pope I would praise human beings for their scientific achievements in reducing preventable suffering and deaths.

Julie McNeill | 21 July 2012

I'm writing from the U.S. where the bishops are fighting birth control being provided to Catholic institutions (not parishes/dioceses). The only theology today that the hierarchy is concerned about is pelvic theology! I think it is a control thing - it's our most private life issue. I thank God that I had the choice of whether to use the pill. If you get online and watch the London Summit and Melinda's interview by the UK Gaurdian, you will see that the point is offering these women the choice to control their lives and bodies! Bishop, when the Vatican treats women equally, then I'm going to have a glass of wine and really celebrate. God is going to ask you all (bishops & Rome) - Why didn't you use all of the gifts I have given you to further my Kingdom?? A good article:
Carol | 21 July 2012

HH, I do accept all of the church's teachings, but I'm not getting caught up in discussion on body parts. Chastity is just as much a disposition of the mind and soul as it is a physical manner of behaving. That's why my original comment said that it's not all just about your obsession with genitals. Debating these issues with you is like trying to explain the concept of soul and spirituality to a scientist.
AURELIUS | 23 July 2012

Aurelius, you diagnose an articulation of traditional Catholic morality to be an "obsession". Your quarrel, then, is not with me. So yes, further discussion would be fruitless. Cheers.
HH | 23 July 2012

HH, once again you miss the point. Having an intelligent discussion is not "quarreling". It's about time the reality is respected, and that just repeating church teachings is pointless. I am a faithful Catholic thank-very-much and well aware of them already. But I do not think as you do that Catholic couples who use contraception are immoral.And neither do I believe that all premarital sex is immoral if the couple are committed to each other. Call me radical or permissive... but I really just don't see the malice in these human actions as the strict teachings suggest.
AURELIUS | 23 July 2012

Spoken like a true Catholic bishop- out of touch with what women anywhere want. Appalling that Eureka Street would run this stuff. Problems with long term contraception - so the answer is none at all?
Liz | 25 July 2012

I am Australian but live in East Timor and see the reality of what Bishop Hurley is talking about all the time. You all seem to comment of freedom of choice and I think many of you have missed what the Bishop was trying to say. The reality on the ground here is that women do not have the choice! Certain NGO's and organisation treat women as stupid and uneducated couples as animals. Doctors do not propose all the options and ask them what option they want (including Natural methods), they just tell them this is what you should or must do. Here people do not have the opportunity to research themselves online what the options are or shop around and I believe that no matter what belief system you are people have the right to know the options and therefore the freedom to choose what sits well with them. I think it is only fair too that governments are impartial and allow easy access to all the options not just the artificial ones. The problem in East Timor is that funding and support for family planning does not include the natural option. Community development starts with what the people want and in a country where 95% of the population are Catholic do you think access to contraceptives is what they want? It is a waste of money as they wont use it! Aside from this they want basic health care, so why divert the money elsewhere! Most of the people here can't even get to a doctor near by for a check up, which often leads to death. People die all the time from things that in countries like Australia are common and easily treated. I agree that maternal mortality rates would definitely be reduced if health services in developing countries were improved. So let's invest in every humans right to access basic health needs. That is where World Bank funding should be going...
Olivia Soares | 25 July 2012

To AURELIUS 18 Jul 2012 Could someone explain to me, from a very basic moral perspective, what the difference is between natural family planning and artificial birth control (I'm referring to the pill here, not abortion) It seems the intentions of the couple in both cases are the same. ******* Firstly, can you understand there is a difference between eating healthily and avoiding tempting foods at certain times is not the same as bullemia even though the intention is the same - to keep the weight down? Did you also know that the pill is an abortifacient? Google: Did you know the World Health Organization ranks The Pill as a Group I carcinogen? (the same as tobacco and asbestos) Also do women realise that if sex was important then the pill reduces/wipes out their libido. My wife has never been on the Pill and mid cycle (for her) I am the hunted not the hunter. Women on the pill lose big time here.
Free Thinker | 25 July 2012

Aurelius, no debate here, but by way of clarification: I don't label you as "permissive" or "radical", and I have quite a few good friends whose friendship I cherish - many of them of much better character than I - who (I regret) follow similar religious paths as yours. But, you see, my religion doesn't have "permissive" or "radical" variants. Or "conservative", or "strict" ones, either. In other words, the religion I follow doesn't have the optional spectrum of, say, the Anglicans, where there's "Anglo-Catholic", "High", "Broad", and "Low", and maybe some others. No: my religion is just one "Thing", as Chesterton put it. So all I shall ever say to you and my like-minded friends is that, if what they and you espouse on these points of morality is indeed truly Catholic, then that's all well and good. But in that case I'm definitely not a Catholic. Because I follow a different religion altogether - one which accords with the plain man's reading of, well, Humanae Vitae, the Cathechism, all the saints and doctors of the Church, and so forth. If that's not called "Catholicism", I don't really care that much: what's in a name, after all? So perhaps if we debate in future, we should observe the protocols of ecumenical dialogue, not those of contesting co-religionists.
HH | 26 July 2012

HH, we both are members of Catholicism - by it's very nature it is all encompassing. I don't know what "religious path" you think I am on, but all I know it's not a path that condemns people to the fires of hell, just for the sake of a list of rules, and send me to heaven for pretending to follow them to the letter.
AURELIUS | 27 July 2012

Thank you Free Thinker for your rational response. (Very rare to find sometimes. So the contraceptive pill is immoral to take because it could potentially abort an already-conceived foetus, and it's also harmful to the woman's health. But if those two factors were eliminated through medical advances, would there be any moral reason the pill could not be used by a Catholic in the same way as natural family planning?
AURELIUS | 27 July 2012

Further to my comment to HH, you are incorrect in you statement that there are no degrees of morality. Well there are - there is the moral ideal, and there are lesser degrees of morality which spiral into depravity, being the lowest. The church's teachings on this spectrum changes. It wasn't that long ago that the church taught that sexual intercourse between a married couple should not be enjoyed. Pleasure obtained by it was seen as sinful.
AURELIUS | 27 July 2012

Sorry Aurelius, the more you try to prove that we're not, the more you convince me we are, of different faiths. Your church once taught that spouses can't enjoy sexual pleasure. That's very sad. Well mine never has, in its ex cathedra definitions. Then your church reversed its teaching, thus proving it's not infallible, therefore not of Divine foundation. My church has never reversed its ex cathedra teaching on any point of faith or morals. I think I prefer my church thank you very much.
HH | 27 July 2012

Church history is littered with changes in not only custom and practice but moral teaching (slavery, torture, and usury to name a few). Church teaching is not infallible and does not claim to be. The pope has only invoked his infallibility powers on rare occasions. (ie Assumption of Mary) Salvation, isn't predicated on being right about everything all the time. Thank God that we're still saved even when we're wrong.
AURELIUS | 27 July 2012

More difference between our respective churches, Aurelius. In my church there aren't solemn magisterial definitions contradicting each other on the issues you cite. Also, in my church, ex cathedra teaching is certainly infallible. And, although some ignorant people believe infallibility to be something along the lines you have articulated with respect to your own church, in my church the protection of the church from error in definitions of faith and morals is an abiding gift, not some momentary event. Infallibility is not just manifest when my pope makes an ex cathedra definition. It's manifest every single moment of time that he, or an Ecumenical Council does NOT make an ex cathedra definition which is erroneous. I didn't realize how utterly at variance with each other our respective Churches are on so many fundamental points.
HH | 27 July 2012

HH, you seem to be falling into the medieval practice of excommunication, at least with your intentions. You don't seem to be able to hold a questioning, faithful Catholic's perspective in balance while still accepting them as part of "your church", faithful to "your pope". Exclusion seems a desperate measure, but it's not very mature or healthy and in my view not in the spirit of any charitable Christian discussion.
AURELIUS | 30 July 2012

And the catalogue of differences enlarges. In my church, excommunication for heresy is not just a "medieval" practice, but an integral part of its code of its canon law in force today: "An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication..." (Can. 1364.) Aurelius, to repeat: if you're a faithful questioning CATHOLIC, as you no doubt sincerely aver, then fine, but then I'm certainly not a Catholic! Your church teaches that pre-marital sex might be licit sometimes. My Church has only ever taught, without the slightest ambiguity, that, for example, fornication is intrinsically disordered, and, unrepented, condemns a soul to eternal damnation. So either we belong to two different Churches as I surmise, or as you insist, to one Church which is thereby a babble of utter contradiction. If the latter is indeed the case, I'll very happily excommunicate myself and expose it for the imposter it is.
HH | 30 July 2012

In that case, HH, may I rephrase my supposition more clearly - rather than refer to "premarital sex", I would broaden the definition of who is married, and include a couple who is marooned on a desert island with no priest to officiate at their wedding ceremony. Certainly they would be deemed married in the eyes of the Lord. And I would argue in many cases on our spiritually deserted island of Australia that many faithful couples find themselves in a similar situation, with no church or broader faith community to justify their relationship.
AURELIUS | 31 July 2012

Wow, I think we agree on this, Aurelius: thanks for clarifying that point. A man and a woman committing themselves publicly (or at least as publicly as possible - accounting for the "Blue Lagoon" scenario) and exclusively for life and open to children via the marital act, is basically all that's needed to constitute a genuine, indissoluble natural-law marriage, in the eyes of the Church. And I think the Church understands that there are probably many sincere souls who are indeed validly married in our current rather mixed-up society who may not have ticked the relevant boxes in a formal way. I have in mind one couple I'm very close to in mind (though they've subsequently formalized their relationship).
HH | 31 July 2012

And now, HH, I guess the young married couple you refer to will need to face the choice of whether to follow suite with the large majority of their fellow Catholics committing the "serious sin" of using artificial contraception, or the lesser sin of Natural Family Planning when it's over-used. I'm not claiming that just because everyone's doing it, it must be OK, but I think there needs to be a rethink on this issue within the church - at least to articulate that there's a huge rift between church teaching and what is actually practiced - and the nature of this "serious sin" doesn't seem to ring true in people's consciences. On a personal not, I attribute my very existence on this earth to the fact that my parents did not use contraception - being the youngest of a large family. Their timely purchase of a television after my birth could be considered a form of Natural Family Planning, but where it lies on the scale of sinfulness is a matter I doubt many have pondered.
AURELIUS | 15 August 2012

Eugene, one of the reasons that a younger more ethically aware generation have turned their back in disgust on the Roman Catholic church is that they see that the church places adherence to dogma and control by hierarchy above ethical imperatives. Millions have died because of the churches' condemnation of birth control particularly the use of condoms in the struggle against AIDS.I am a faithful Catholic but I can never be part of what is done in the name of the church in regard to this issue.
graham patison | 05 February 2013


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