Responsible parenthood sometimes demands the renunciation of procreation

Yesterday there was a discussion at Danielle Bean’s blog regarding family planning, or lack thereof. Danielle chimed in today, and she took a rather providential approach to the topic. (For an explanation of providentialism, see Janet Smith’s article, The Moral Use of NFP). I generally really like Danielle’s writing, and I hate to disagree with her, but I was a bit disturbed by her approach to family planning.

She states:

It is not selfish for a poor mother of many to remain open to life. It’s heroic.
A woman who places her trust in God and accepts new life under less than ideal circumstances is being as generous to God, to her family, and to her community as she possibly can be.
Someone else, who has never had to decide between paying for a baby’s prescription and buying food for her family, might not understand this kind of humble heroism.

I’m curious as to how she, and others who might tend towards providentialism, explain John Paul II’s thoughts on responsible parenthood:

There are, however, circumstances in which this disposition [to be a responsible parent] itself demands renunciation of procreation, and any further increase in the size of the family would be incompatible with parental duty. A man and a woman moved by true concern for the good of their family and a mutual sense of responsibility for the birth, maintenance, and upbringing of their children, will then limit intercourse and abstain from it in periods in which this might result in another pregnancy undesirable in the particular conditions of their married life and family. (JP2, Love and Responsibility at 243 (emphasis added).)

John Paul is saying that there are circumstances where a couple is morally obligated to avoid a pregnancy. Discerning family size is something God calls each couple to do–the couple should not simply let nature take it course without any thinking or planning. If circumstances are such that bringing another child into the world would be imprudent (i.e. like Danielle described, a family is so poor that they must choose between paying for a babies prescription and buying food for their family), the couple, for the good of their children, should use NFP and attempt to avoid a pregnancy. It is selfish to do otherwise.

Humanae Vitae 10 states, “If we look further to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who, guided by prudent consideration and generosity, elect to accept many children.” Gaudium et Spes also states: “Among the married couples who thus fulfill their God-given mission special mention should be made of those who after prudent reflection and common decisions courageously undertake the proper upbringing of a large number of children.”

Having many children is thus to be the result of “prudent consideration” not a default plan for every family. The point here is that there should be discernment.

Please know that I have the utmost respect for those families blessed with unexpected pregnancies. I obviously think we should help families in need. That being said, I find it hard to call a woman (or family) heroic, who, in the midst of poverty and difficulty providing for her already born children, fails to practice the virtue of periodic abstinence.

Please also understand that I’m not one of those use-NFP-whenever-you-want people. I most certainly believe that it can be abused.

All that being said, bring on the fury :-)

**Update–After receiving an e-mail from Danielle, I just want to clarify that John Paul II wrote Love and Responsibility before he was Pope. I was not attempting to claim that JPII’s teaching on responsible parenthood was made in an infallible context. Both sides of this debate lack the support of infallible church teaching. But I have JPII on my side–and that’s authoritative enough to require a pretty strong counterargument.


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