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Petition urges CDC to update misleading info on natural family planning

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“What birth control are you using?” her midwife asked. Marguerite Duane, a doctor and adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Washington, was at a check-up after the birth of her third child. Duane explained that she was breastfeeding and knew how to read her body’s signs of fertility. The midwife scoffed and urged her to consider artificial contraception.

There is a large misconception about the efficacy of fertility awareness based methods (FABMs), also known as natural family planning (NFP), among health care professionals, leading to skepticism among the general population as well. This stems in part because medical organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention often cite a misleading statistic — that FABMs have a 24 percent failure rate. Duane is trying to change that.

Natural Womanhood, a woman’s health literacy program, and FACTS, a nonprofit dedicated to educating doctors about FABMs, have teamed up to launch a petition drive that urges the CDC to update their information. Duane, who serves as executive director of FACTS, believes the methodology used to determine the 24 percent failure rate has several problems.

“Based on the most up-to-date and highest quality published medical research, the effectiveness rates with correct use are between 95 and 99.5 percent, depending on the method,” she said. “Even with typical use, the effectiveness rates of FABMs are comparable to most commonly used forms of birth control.”

The CDC used the National Survey of Family Growth, conducted in 1995 and 2002, to compile its information. Participants were asked retrospectively what kind of birth control they used. Of the 18,500 women surveyed, only 1.7 percent, 314 women, used FABMs. “Those numbers are too small to draw any statistical conclusion,” said Duane.

The CDC also lumped all FABMS together, combining “older, low-tech methods, including the calendar rhythm method, in the same basket as modern, standardized and proven fertility awareness based methods such as the sympto-thermal and ovulation methods,” she said. “That’s like lumping together the carrot and lettuce diet with the cotton candy diet.”

Anyone who goes through the survey can see the problems with the information, but most people don’t go looking. “Most people just see that it’s the least effective form of family planning and don’t read beyond that,” said Duane. She hopes that the petition will convince the CDC to update its information and conduct its own studies of FABMs. “We need to be basing our information on studies of the actual individual methods,” she said.

Duane only learned about FABMs after graduating medical school. She was shocked and angered she had never been taught the information before. FABMs are low-cost, hormone-free and can be used to achieve or postpone pregnancy. Yet many women suffer through the adverse side effects of birth control or in vitro fertilization because they don’t know there are other options. Duane believes the CDC, a usually reliable source of medical information, has a role to play in changing the popular perception.

“The bottom line is a women's reproductive health is something she should be fully informed about,” said Duane. “We’re undermining women.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017