Coincidental and timely is the way Dr. Lester Ruppersberger described the conference he led recently that focused on natural family planning.
“Humanae Vitae as Seen through the Lens of Theology of the Body” focused on the method of natural birth control that adheres to Catholic teaching but, in the long run, is spiritually and physically healthier for women, said Dr. Lester Ruppersberger, a Bucks County OB/GYN specialist and president of the Natural Family Planning Network of Philadelphia.
The conference, held March 24 at the Trinity Center of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Southampton, dovetailed perfectly with the controversial aspect of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that employers provide health care insurance that includes coverage for contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs.
The result was an outpouring of protests by various religious organizations, some of the most strenuous by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“This mandate is about religious freedom, not just about birth control,” Ruppersberger said. “But it does impact negatively on Catholic doctrine. We hadn’t planned the topic for that reason, but it dovetailed perfectly into our message.”
The controversy and the conference also amounted to a “teaching moment,” he said, because they both offered a clearer understanding of the Church’s position.
Other good news was that the annual conference, which usually attracts 60 to 70 people, brought 95 lay people, religious and physicians.
Speakers included Ruppersberger, whose topic was “Why Not Contraception”?; Msgr. Brian Bransfield, who spoke about the Theology of the Body, the late Pope John Paul II’s vision of the integration of the body, soul and spirit; and Dr. Peter Colosi, who spoke on the Pope’s “Humanae Vitae” encyclical.
Along with the Church’s teaching that contraception is wrong, Ruppersberger spoke about the inherent dangers of birth control pills, including increased risk of breast cancer and/or cervical cancer, liver tumors, and hepatitis A.
“All of those risks are documented but never spoken of,” the doctor said. “The risks may be small, but even one death is one too many.”
Ruppersberger dismisses the assertion that birth control pills can be useful in treating physical ailments, saying there are other treatments for those cited ailment, such as acne, endometriosis and ovarian cysts.
Ruppersberger’s practice is smaller than most OB/GYN doctors in his specialty area because, overall, only two percent of the population opt for natural family planning. But that doesn’t impede his mission of promoting natural family planning.
“There are philosophical, pragmatic and medical reasons why contraception should not be used,” he added.
The Philadelphia Catholic Medical Association, the archdiocesan Family Life Office, the Philadelphia Natural Family Planning Network and St. Mary Medical Center co-sponsored the event.
Elizabeth Fisher is a freelance journalist and member of St. Mark Parish in Bristol.
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I think Humane Vitae needs to be revisited. I don’t believe there’s any meaningful moral distinction between NFP and artificial contraception. By encouraging NFP, the Church is saying it is okay to try and prevent pregnancy. So why the big objection to using a condom or taking a pill to accomplish that? I don’t see much difference between NFP and taking the pill except that the latter is much more effective.