UN Population Fund Reinvents 'Rhythm Method'?
By Steven W. Mosher
The problem is, Cyclebeads are not Natural Family Planning. At least it is not the highly developed, scientifically researched NFP that has been developed over the past few decades.
FRONT ROYAL, Va. (Catholic Online) - The UN Population Fund is a population control agency, set up to drive down birth rates worldwide. It prefers to use “hard” methods, like surgical sterilization and the administration of powerful, steroid-based contraceptives. And it has long rejected Natural Family Planning on the grounds that it is not “a modern method of birth control.”
Imagine my surprise then, when the UN agency announced that it would be promoting a newly invented version of the rhythm method. This is sort of like Hyundai announcing that it has invented the internal combustion engine, which would be available in 2009 and later models. What, I asked myself, is the UNFPA up to?
The UNFPA calls its new-old method, “Cyclebeads.” They consist of a string of plastic beads, each color-coded to represent a different day in a woman’s menstrual cycle. “The day a woman starts her period she puts the rubber ring on the red bead,” says the product’s web site. “Each day she moves the ring one bead, always in the direction of the arrow. When the ring is on the red bead or a dark bead, there is very low likelihood of pregnancy, so she can have intercourse on these days without getting pregnant. When the ring is on a white bead - Days 8 through 19 - there is a high likelihood of getting pregnant if a woman has unprotected intercourse.” The UNFPA says that Cyclebeads are more than “95% effective,” and offers them through UNFPA affiliates in some developing world countries.
It is hard for those of us who have been in the pro-life movement for a long time, especially those of us who come from Catholic backgrounds, to know how to react to this news. In the past, the UNFPA has insisted that it will promote only modern methods of contraception that have a failure rate of 2% or less. Cyclebeads, by its own admission, has a much wider margin of error. The UNFPA’s own employees have long mocked the rhythm method for this very reason.
Now, all of a sudden, the UNFPA is adopting a method that sounds a lot like Natural Family Planning. Insofar as it is, we would want to celebrate it as a step away from the forced-pace contraception and sterilization campaigns, with their implicit view of Third World women as so many breeding machines, that have been charcteristic of the UNFPA’s activities in the past.
The problem is, Cyclebeads are not Natural Family Planning. At least it is not the highly developed, scientifically researched NFP that has been developed over the past few decades. Although Cyclebeads are offered by some NFP groups as an alternative form of NFP, to call it, as the UNFPA does, “the very latest in natural birth regulation methods” is misleading. Most of those who practice NFP today, including this author and his wife, would shake their heads at the claim that this method was either “invented” by academics at Georgetown University, or that it represents the very latest in natural birth regulation methods. The first claim is, at best, questionable, while the second is patently false.
Cyclebeads is essentially nothing more than a modest refinement of the old “rhythm method” of the early 20th century. This method works under the assumption that a woman’s cycles are more or less regular and that fertility can be accurately predicted by simple day-counting. The creators of Cyclebeads insist that their method is “very different” from the rhythm method, since the rhythm method “involves having exact information about the last 6 menstrual cycles and every month making complex calculations . . . to figure out which days in the current cycle you’re likely to get pregnant.” Their method, they insist, “is simple – it doesn’t involve any calculations, and it is the same every cycle. It has also been tested in a well-designed effectiveness trial, with excellent results.”
It is true that using the beads to count does away with any calculations, since even the most mathematically challenged individuals can use the beads and the rubber ring to avoid computations. The Standard Days Method, upon which Cyclebeads is based, also differs from the old rhythm method inasmuch as it is the same every cycle. But it clearly operates on the same basic principles, and suffers from the same flaws and uncertainties. Both methods assume that once a woman’s fertility patterns have been established, they will remain more or less the same as her cycles continue.
It is now common knowledge that measuring a woman’s menstrual cycle is not an exact science. Women are not machines, but human beings, whose bodies change and whose cycles fluctuate. Scientific studies show that “symptoms-based” methods of NFP, that is, methods that track day-to-day signs of fertility, are much more accurate. Whereas the rhythm method creates an average model based upon what a woman’s body has a tendency to do, symptoms-based or sympto-thermal fertility models provide a couple with empirical evidence about where a woman’s body is in its monthly cycle at any given time.
While I would normally applaud an effort by the UNFPA or anyone else to promote Natural Family Planning, I wonder why it has chosen to promote “Cyclebeads.” The Cyclebeads’ own web site has a detailed questionnaire designed to test whether or not this method is “right for you.” In this questionnaire, we learn that cyclebeads are not recommended for women whose menstrual cycles are not predictably between 26 and 32 days long, who have ever been on the Pill or any other artificial contraceptive, or who have had an abortion. These restrictions basically rule out the use of Cyclebeads for any woman who has previously participated in UNFPA programs.
If the UNFPA really wants us to believe that it has had a change of heart concerning Natural Family Planning, it should redirect some of its ample resources towards the promotion of modern, tested methods that work. As it is, it seems to me that their limited promotion of Cyclebeads is little more than a publicity stunt. It is designed to provide them with a modicum of cover while they continue to pursue their longstanding agenda to contracept, sterilize, and abort as many women as possible.
Thoughts in Solitude - Thomas Merton
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” † † †"Your way of acting should be different from the world's way"...Rule of St. Benedict.
-Thoughts in Solitude
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