NFP, contraceptives, and middle age

Every woman knows the risks of pregnancy beyond a certain age- usually pegged at around 35, but the risk escalates year by year until eggs are no longer being produced.

Every Catholic knows the Church’s teaching on contraceptives. Don’t use them. If you aren’t open to the possibility of children, abstain or use NFP.

I understand that the same rule applies to everyone. However, some people find themselves in situations where different issues confront them at different times of life. For example, a 40-year-old woman is faced with a situation that is very different from that of a 25-year-old woman.

Again, I know that the same rules apply to everyone. But depending on the situation, sometimes they might be applied differently. In practice, how are these rules (particularly with NFP) applied differently when a 40 or 45-year-old woman is involved as opposed to a 25-year-old woman? Assume that these women are married and Catholic.

In real life, most Catholic women at this age will go ahead and use a contraceptive of some kind. That’s just the reality of the situation. For those who choose NFP, though, they have a lot more at stake than a 25-year-old woman who chooses that route. For obvious reasons, a middle-aged woman needs to do more than a 25-year-old woman in order to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant.

Essentially, a 25-year-old woman can use NFP in order to have a good ratio of sex to babies and truthfully say she’s open to having a few of them, while a 40 or 45-year-old woman will have to respond to the elevated risks of pregnancy and use NFP to try and get through the next 5 or 10 years with no kids. (That’s the most obvious alternative to abstinence while married). On one hand, there’s no doubt that it’s the smart move. On the other hand, maybe it’s not in the spirit of NFP or entirely in line with Church teaching. But you kind of have to do it, you know? So what do you say in that situation- just tell middle-aged women to stop having sex?

To what degree is a middle-aged woman permitted to respond to the elevated risk factors associated with pregnancy during this time of life? If you or someone close to you is a Catholic woman who has navigated this part of life as a Catholic, what’s the inside scoop on how it’s done? Are they permitted to use NFP with intent to finish up ovulation with no more babies, or is that unacceptable? Should they just abstain instead of doing that?

Compendium of the Catechism -Issued by Pope Benedict XVI

  1. When is it moral to regulate births?

2368-2369
2399

The regulation of births, which is an aspect of responsible fatherhood and motherhood, is objectively morally acceptable when it is pursued by the spouses without external pressure; when it is practiced not out of selfishness but for serious reasons; and with methods that conform to the objective criteria of morality, that is, periodic continence and use of the infertile periods.

  1. What are immoral means of birth control?

2370-2372

Every action - for example, direct sterilization or contraception - is intrinsically immoral which (either in anticipation of the conjugal act, in its accomplishment or in the development of its natural consequences) proposes, as an end or as a means, to hinder procreation.

Children are not the unfortunate byproduct of sex. If there are elevated risk factors of health, then don’t have sex. If the “risk” factor is more children, you should reevaluate your perception of the marital act.

If someone wants to engage in sexual relations in marriage, they must take full responsibility for the natural result of their actions.

NFP is for the spacing of children, and for long or short term avoidance of conception in the case of medical, financial, or other serious reasons. When you find yourself seeking means of preventing pregnancy beyond NFP, you are ignoring what NFP is all about, and what the marital act is all about.

Let me rephrase the original questions.

What is a Catholic couple to do when they feel they no longer can actively try to conceive children? Basically, their family is “built out” and they don’t want any more children.

This is a question the Church does not answer. It says you must have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy, but does not specifically address the period of fertility between the last baby and menopause.

The couple needs to examine their resources and their reasons for wanting to avoid having more children, and prayerfully decide whether they can emotionally, financially, and physically support additional children.

Artificial Birth Control is never right, but NFP can be used for serious reasons.

I don’t think your average 45 year old woman has any more “at stake” than women who are at risk of death if they should concieve. Those who have more “at stake” follow the rules of NFP more conservatively, and keep their trust in God, as all Catholics should in any and all situations, not only those concerning pregnancies.

Well, I’ve been that middle-aged woman. :smiley: First of all, the “elevated risk factors” you seem to be aluding to are the risks of birth defects. Those are the only ones closely related to age in general. Though women with certain issues can have more problems with age, you mentioned the eggs. The risks start rising long before middle age but are less than negligible after about age 40. They are still really small, at age 40, it’s a little over 1%; a little over 5% at age 45. Not exactly a certainty of problems but any means.

For some women, even that small percentage is formidable. There are “rules” involved in using NFP. There are variations of the rules that women can use as they approach menopause in order to be more “safe”. Some women also adopt a more conservative approach to their NFP during this time. The same applies for any woman of any age who faces a more serious reason to avoid another pregnancy, such as serious illness or genetic carriers.

Have you spoken to most Catholic women to come to this conclusion? If not what is the source of your revelation, and by this I mean documented evidence instead of the vague generalisation you already gave???

Why do you ask vaguely rhetorical questions that are mildly obnoxious and just a little dismissive?

If not what is the source of your revelation, and by this I mean documented evidence instead of the vague generalisation you already gave???

If by “revelation” you mean “general revelation” in the broadest possible sense that includes scientific data as a whole, a really brief search turned up numbers from a CDC study in 2002 showing that among Americans, 89.7% of Catholic women aged 15-44 have used a condom. 82.3% have been on the pill. 96% of all Catholic women have used some form of contraception that’s covered by the ban. One poll showed that 88% of Catholics (both genders) believe they can use contraception and still be a good Catholic. Another poll showed 90%. And a survey of abortion clinics shows that Catholic women are represented in disproportionate numbers. While representing only 24% of the population, about 40% of traffic in abortion clinics is Catholic women.

At risk of stating the obvious, Catholics on CAF are not like most Catholics in America. And by most Catholics, I mean 90% of them.

If you want to look outside the US, look no further than Italy and Spain. They have some of the lowest birth rates in Europe. Worldwide, Italy’s third from last, just ahead of Japan and Hong Kong with 8.18 live births per 1000 persons in their population annually. (Compare to the US with 13.82, which is still not quite enough to replace the existing population). This probably has very little to do with Italians practicing abstinence in their marriages, but I will let you find those numbers if you want them. More likely, it has to do with cultural expectations fairly unique to Italy. Italian fathers aren’t expected to…be fathers. They aren’t expected to do any of the parenting, and Italian culture does not put Italian women in a position to change this. As the last few decades have given Italian women more and more responsibilities outside of the home (which is not really a bad thing), Italian men have not been brought into it at all (which kind of is a bad thing). As a result, Italian women can usually handle no more than one child unless the husband helps out a little. Since the Italian husband usually does nothing, Italian parents go ahead and figure out how to have just one kid at most and keep doing what they do. (In more ways than one).

Lots of hard data is available on this topic. Maybe you could start a thread that has something to do with it? I’d contribute to it. :smiley: I do numbers. It’s a good thing you asked me to do this.

Oh, and if you want to make an attempt at answering one or two of the questions that I posed in the OP, be sure to make that the first thing you do if you choose to post on this thread again. That’d be great.

Ciao!

An older married couple, who have children and who judge that it is not prudent to have more children at their age, may use NFP with the intent to avoid having further children. The moral use of NFP requires a good intention, a good moral object, and that the good consequences proprotionately outweigh the bad consequences. The bad consequence is that the marriage will produce no more children. The good consequence is that the spouses can concentrate their resources and efforts on raising their existing children.

To avoid all children in a marriage by NFP is a very grave bad consequence, since children are the primary good of marriage. And so this can only be chosen for a very grave reason, such as if a pregnancy will endanger the life of the mother.

But to use NFP to avoid having more children, later in life, has lesser bad consequences, since the marriage has already produced some children. And so a lesser good reason is needed.

The fertility of both men and women decreases with age. The woman’s cycle of fertility indicates that God does not intend every marital act to result in children, and that NFP is moral. Similarly, the natural decrease in fertility of the spouses indicates that God intends them to have children earlier in their marriage, and to use their resources later in life to raise those children. God does not intend a marriage to produce one child every year, or every two years, or every three years (i.e. at a consistent rate).

However, the spouses must be open to the possibility of new life in their marriage, if it is the will of God.

There isn’t any difference in the Church’s teaching no matter age nor circumstance. I don’t understand your question. How are what rules applied differently?

No it isn’t the reality of the situation. And, as a 44 year old woman, I find your statement offensive.

Um, no she doesn’t.

Why do you think it’s “not in line with Church teaching.” It most certainly is if the woman has a serious reason to use NFP, same as a 25 year old or any other age person.

Any age woman may use NFP to space births in accordance with Church teaching.

Your questions don’t make any sense.

Yes indeed, I was referring to birth defects. This is what the progression looks like.

Age//Chance of Down Syndrome//Chance of Chromosomal Abnormality
20=1 in 1923//1 in 526
21=1 in 1695//1 in 526
22=1 in 1538//1 in 500
23=1 in 1408//1 in 500
24=1 in 1299//1 in 476
25=1 in 1205//1 in 476
26=1 in 1124//1 in 476
27=1 in 1053//1 in 455
28=1 in 990//1 in 435
29=1 in 935//1 in 417
30=1 in 885//1 in 384
31=1 in 826//1 in 384
32=1 in 725//1 in 322
33=1 in 592//1 in 285
34=1 in 465//1 in 243
35=1 in 365//1 in 178
36=1 in 287//1 in 149
37=1 in 225//1 in 123
38=1 in 177//1 in 105
39=1 in 139//1 in 80
40=1 in 109//1 in 63
41=1 in 85//1 in 48
42=1 in 67//1 in 39
43=1 in 53//1 in 31
44=1 in 41//1 in 24
45=1 in 32//1 in 18
46=1 in 25//1 in 15
47=1 in 20//1 in 11
48=1 in 16//1 in 8
49=1 in 12//1 in 7

You’re right to say these kinds of things aren’t assured certainties by the time a woman’s in her mid-40’s. But by the time you get to 49, you’ve gone from odds of one in 1000+ and 1 in 500+ (respectively) to 1 in something close to single digits. It’s a dramatic change, and this kind of risk assessment has to affect your behavior and decision making process in some way.

For some women, even that small percentage is formidable. There are “rules” involved in using NFP. There are variations of the rules that women can use as they approach menopause in order to be more “safe”.

Yes, this is the kind of thing I’m looking for. I like your response a lot, by the way. What are the variations of the rules?

Some women also adopt a more conservative approach to their NFP during this time. The same applies for any woman of any age who faces a more serious reason to avoid another pregnancy, such as serious illness or genetic carriers.

How do you take a more conservative approach to NFP? Avoid more days of the month?

Thank you for your response. It’s been very helpful.

This is very helpful and informative. “Good intention” and “good moral object” sounds vaguely familiar, but I didn’t know about the process of weighing good consequences and bad consequences. Thank you for bringing that to my attention.

To avoid all children in a marriage by NFP is a very grave bad consequence, since children are the primary good of marriage. And so this can only be chosen for a very grave reason, such as if a pregnancy will endanger the life of the mother.

But to use NFP to avoid having more children, later in life, has lesser bad consequences, since the marriage has already produced some children. And so a lesser good reason is needed.

You’re making it sound a lot like a couple can use a combination of NFP and abstinence in different ways throughout different parts of their marriage provided that it adds up to an entire marriage that is, on balance, in line with Church teaching and consistently producing good results that proportionately outweigh the bad. This is a little different from what I have previously understood about the practice of NFP, which was a lot more isolated in its focus on each individual round of maritals by demanding that each sexual act must be open to children in some way. Would you agree with the idea that a broader scope is more appropriate in terms of a husband and wife actually carrying this out?

The fertility of both men and women decreases with age. The woman’s cycle of fertility indicates that God does not intend every marital act to result in children, and that NFP is moral.

Similarly, the natural decrease in fertility of the spouses indicates that God intends them to have children earlier in their marriage, and to use their resources later in life to raise those children. God does not intend a marriage to produce one child every year, or every two years, or every three years (i.e. at a consistent rate).

That sounds very reasonable, and it’s a very good explanation of the rationale behind the process. Thank you for that.

However, the spouses must be open to the possibility of new life in their marriage, if it is the will of God.

Yes, this is exactly the phrase that made me think Catholic women might find themselves in a bit of a bind once they’re into middle age. I was under the impression that Church teaching demanded that a Catholic woman be open to the possibility of new life each and every time she has sex, or at least within a given period of time while using NFP. If and when a couple reaches a certain age and decides (for reasons already stated) that they need to make sure they don’t have any kids for the next 10 years or so (and then no more for the rest of their lives, either), that 10-year stretch of time would not appear to be consistent with how you “must be open to the possibility of new life.”

However, I think you’ve helped me see that the entirety of a marriage must be in view and that extremely cautious use of NFP with specifically and entirely non-procreative intent for a certain period of time can be viewed as a “light” bad consequence that is easily outweighed by the “heavier” good consequences from earlier in the marriage, especially when all the reasons for choosing the slightly bad consequence are taken into account. Consequently, a Catholic couple should not feel that this use of NFP (the kind with absolutely no procreative intent) is at all sinful under these circumstances, and knowing this, they certainly shouldn’t feel like they might as well go ahead and use contraception because the whole idea of avoiding pregnancy is against Church teaching no matter how or when you do it.

Thank you for helping me with this, and please let me know if I butchered the conclusion in some way.

Ron Conte did a great job of explaining it. I’m hoping for just a little more specific information, though.

No it isn’t the reality of the situation. And, as a 44 year old woman, I find your statement offensive.

It actually is the reality of the situation. You get that anywhere you go in the world today. I’m sorry, but even if you are a 44 year old woman, it still helps if you look at the numbers. Your age and gender do nothing to help you if you haven’t done this.

Kudos on being exceptional, though.

Um, no she doesn’t.

Good argument. That was well played.

Why do you think it’s “not in line with Church teaching.” It most certainly is if the woman has a serious reason to use NFP, same as a 25 year old or any other age person.

I’m basically asking about the use of NFP for an intentionally non-procreative stretch of time- say, 10 to 15 years while closing out your childbearing years. I thought this could be construed as a failure to fully commit to being open to the possibility of new life in your marriage. It’s pretty different from when you were a 25 year old woman, you knew that NFP wasn’t going to keep you from having any babies for the next 10 years, and as you began those next 10 years of life, you consistently used NFP with the intention of producing at least a couple of rugrats- just not seven or eight. But now, assuming you’re doing something similar, you’re probably doing it with strictly non-procreative intent until the last egg drops.

Any age woman may use NFP to space births in accordance with Church teaching.

I hope you can see the difference between NFP that’s used to space births over a 10 year period and NFP that’s used to have no births over a 10 year period, followed by the rest of your life.

Your questions don’t make any sense.

When something doesn’t make sense to you, this is not the best response. You could have looked to other people on the thread who made sense of it and responded already. If you look, this is clearly happening. You could have asked for clarification. There’s probably a couple of other things you could have done that would have been better. I’m sorry that it doesn’t make sense to you, and I will try to be more clear in what I ask of you if you’re still interested in trying to give a constructive response.

29=1 in 935//1 in 417

My daughter is the one in the 935; worth every bit of it. :slight_smile:

Any act with an evil moral object is an intrinsically evil act; such acts are always immoral. Contraception is intrinsically evil and therefore always immoral.

No, it is not a process of adding up the acts of the entire marriage. Rather, it is a process of evaluating the intention and the good and bad consequences of any decision to use NFP. NFP is not intrinsically evil, but it is still not moral unless the intention is good (no contraceptive intention) and the reasonably anticipated good consequences outweigh the bad consequences. This evaluation will change over the course of the marriage. At a later time in the marriage, when the family has several children, the possibility of having another child weighs differently than when the couple are first married and have no children.

The spouses are open to new life in the sense that their chosen acts are not contracepted, and their minds and hearts are open to accept a new child if one is conceived. But they may still prudently judge that it would be better not to conceive any more children.

Intention is a separate font from consequences. Any bad intention makes an act a sin. But there is a difference between intending to avoid conception by NFP, and the contraceptive intention. Intending to avoid conception by NFP includes the intention to refrain from any contracepted acts and to accept any child who is conceived. But a contraceptive intention attempts to use NFP as if it were a type of contraception, so as to gain control of procreation; this intention is not open to the will of God for new life.

You looked at a table similar to what I referenced. The table, by the way, is about conceptions. The numbers for live births are much lower since many chromosomal abnormalities (at any age) result in miscarriage. For example at age 45, the risk of giving birth to a Downs Syndrom affected child is 1:25. That’s pretty long odds.

You’re right to say these kinds of things aren’t assured certainties by the time a woman’s in her mid-40’s. But by the time you get to 49, you’ve gone from odds of one in 1000+ and 1 in 500+ (respectively) to 1 in something close to single digits. It’s a dramatic change, and this kind of risk assessment has to affect your behavior and decision making process in some way.

Yes, it goes into the thought process, I am sure. Of course, by the time you are 49, there is much less chance of conceiving anyway so the actual risk level, if you consider this a true risk, is still incredibly small looking at, as you put it “a good ratio of sex to babies”. Many women are post-menopausal by 49 and no longer use any method of NFP.

Yes, this is the kind of thing I’m looking for. I like your response a lot, by the way. What are the variations of the rules?

I am only familiar with one of the many methods of NFP. Without drifting into TMI, the method I used put less emphasis on temperature when a woman was pre-menopausal since temperature fluctions at that stage of life could have nothing to do with ovulation. That’s just one example.

How do you take a more conservative approach to NFP? Avoid more days of the month?

Again, I am not familiar with other NFP methods but in the method I used, a less conservative approach would mean refraining from sex about 5 days a month. A more conservative approach might call for restraint on as many as 10 or 12. But again, since actual fertility is dropping at this time, many people start using fertility monitors in conjunction with NFP to identify months when no ovulation is occuring at all.

The increased possibility of having a child with birth defects weighs into the third font of morality (circumstances), when deciding whether or not to use NFP, and how strictly to use it. But it is only one of many factors in the circumstances.

If a woman who is close to menopause does not wish to have anymore children because this would cause a high risk pregnancy and would be a threat to her life, yes, she can use NFP indefinitely to avoid pregnancy. She is not required to abstain from sex with her husband. But she still has to be open to life: in other words, if, despite using NFP,she gets pregnant, she can’t have an abortion…she has to see that pregnancy to viability (even if that means having a c-section early if required).

You’re right that not every woman past 35 is in optimal healthy anymore to carry pregnancies to term and have children. Nowadays people are contending with high blood pressure, heart problems, vascular problems, diabetes, ect. Pregnancy puts a strain on a woman physiologically, and not everyone can handle that strain as they get older. Not only that, many medications are category X, such as Benicar or Cozaar (to treat high blood pressure). Those are all serious considerations when discerning having children and one is not required to put one’s life at risk to become pregnant. One is also not required by the Church to cease taking life preserving medication once pregnant either. The Church doesn’t require such sacrifices,…but you still have to be “open to life” if you do get pregnant desipite using NFP.

It’s good that you can see the world isn’t black and white. It’s living life as absolutes all the time that is dangerous. There’s a reason 80% of Catholics use birth control or contraception (Not talking about NFP, which isn’t very reliable). Never let any person tell you what to do. Listen to your heart, which is where God lives - not other peoples spinning heads.

Thank you for this…

I was thinking how sad it is that we want to avoid having children if they are going to be “abnormal” in some way.

Sometimes, the best gifts that God gives to us arrive in seemingly unattractive packages…

God bless you…

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