Rhythm method criticised as a killer of embryos

A link from this mailing list I’m sort of on, in one of the few threads I’ve been reading: a scientist criticises the rhythm method as a killer of embryos.

Essentially, he’s saying that the incidence of intercourse at the fringes of the fertile period causes conception of far more embryos that can’t survive, and therefore that many more embryos are conceived and then die by this very calculated means than by other forms of contraception. Interestingly, he reports that Roman Catholics have statistically higher rates of miscarriage, at least according to one study — but of course, this is hard to verify.

Still, it seems clear that the rhythm method is at least comparable to the morning after pill or the birth control pill in that it is a manipulation of biochemistry to prevent pregnancy. While the former create an environment that is hostile to embryonic life, the rhythm method instead relies on periods of time during which the female body is naturally hostile to embryonic life. Issues of the effects of the pill aside, it seems to me that if all life, even to the first union of egg and sperm, is absolutely sacred, then some questions must remain in terms of the superiority of this method compared to other forms of reproductive control.

3 thoughts on “Rhythm method criticised as a killer of embryos

  1. Hello Gord,

    The study raises some serious concerns. Many Catholic traditionalists question Natural Family Planning (NFP). Some go as far to reject it as Vatican II heresy. I disagree with them, but acknowledge that NFP can be overused and abused. Those who use it must have sufficient justification or cause.

    I know very little about moral theology, the branch of theology which analyzes right and wrong, virtue and sin. I do know that intent is an important element. Obviously, with NFP there is no intent to kill an embryo and “openness to life” is still maintained. Thus, the method, even if flawed, is morally superior.

    Still, if what the article says is correct, then better methods of NFP should be used and couples should abstain from the marital act for longer periods.

    The Rhythm Method is but one of the NFP methods, and many NFP practitioners consider it outdated. The newer methods, from what I understand, are more scientific and more effective, and might reduce the loss of embryos.

    You said, “[T]he rhythm method is at least comparable to the morning after pill or the birth control pill in that it is a manipulation of biochemistry to prevent pregnancy.”

    Yes, they can be compared, but they are not equivalent, as the former cooperates with fertility and the latter blocks it. [The “morning after pill” is an abortifacient, not a method of contraception.]


  2. Joshua,

    The line between “abortifacient” and “contraceptive” seems to be blurred if this understanding of the Rhythm Method is actually accurate. In fact, the birth control pill seems to be much less destructive of embryos than, say, the rhythm method.

    As for intent, what I imagine is that if people continue to use the method once they know about this, then their intent could suddenly be called into question. (Unlike in the past, when ignorance was something they could rightfully plead.) In fact, if people know that many more embryos are conceived but cannot survive using this method, and continue to use it, then I suspect that you could argue there is an implicit intent to kill embryos, and that, in fact, there is not an “openness to life”.

    I discovered recently that Rhythm Method is considered outdated and not as reliable as other NFP methods. However, some people don’t know that. A lot of people, actually.

  3. Gord,

    If we read the section of the article entitled “Fertile window,” the crux of the article, we notice words and phrases like “may” and “reasonable to assume.” Furthermore, Luc Bovens is billed as a philosopher, not a scientist. The more I read the article, the more it looks like smoke and mirrors.

    Still, legitimate concerns are raised and I’d like to see more studies. Science could aid the Church in fine tuning her Moral Theology in this case, as she has done with organ donations and other end-of-life issues.

    Speaking of the Rhythm Method, my son, a glorious example of its failure, has just woken up. I have to go…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *