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Question 89: May NFP programs inform clients of alternatives so as to obtain funding?

I am head of an international organization that promotes and supports the teaching of natural family planning (NFP)—that is, birth regulation by means of periodic abstinence from intercourse and the breast feeding of infants. We cooperate with programs for teaching NFP in many third-world nations. Virtually all are directed by people who believe contraceptive birth control and sterilization are immoral, and some are under the direct auspices of the Catholic Church.

The United States Agency for International Development (AID) financially assists a wide variety of birth control programs in third-world nations. However, no funding is granted to any program whose directors do not agree to provide clients with “information about access to a broad range of family planning methods and services.” In this context, “family planning methods and services” does not include abortion. In practice, the requirement means that all clients of an NFP program would have to be given a leaflet listing all nearby providers of contraception and sterilization.

Funding is hard to come by. Can directors of programs seeking funding from AID agree to and fulfill this condition without violating their own conscientious convictions that exclude contraception and sterilization?


This question concerns cooperation in sterilization and contraception. In agreeing to provide information about immoral alternatives and providing it, directors of NFP programs and those who work in them need not intend that the information be used, much less that any client choose contraception or sterilization. So, the cooperation involved is not formal, and the usual criteria for evaluating material cooperation are to be applied. If the program is not an activity of the Church herself or any of her agencies, it is morally acceptable, in my judgment, to provide the information. But Church agencies should not, in my judgment, provide information about the availability of immoral methods of birth regulation, because that would compromise the Church’s primary mission—bearing witness to God’s truth—and might well give scandal.

The reply could be along the following lines:

Applicants for funding who reluctantly agree to provide clients with “information about access to a broad range of family planning methods and services” need only intend to fulfill the agreement insofar as necessary to obtain the funding: to give each client a leaflet listing nearby providers of contraception and sterilization. For applicants to achieve their end it is not necessary that anyone use that information. So, they need not intend to do anything to encourage anyone to contact providers, much less try to get anyone to practice contraception or be sterilized. Thus, the directors of NFP programs who apply for AID funding, intending to persuade everyone to use NFP rather than any immoral method, could meet the requirement to obtain AID funding without intending the use of immoral methods of birth regulation. In what follows, then, I assume that cooperation involving a wrongful intention is not in question.

Because doing anything that might contribute to abortion is likely to be unfair to the person who is unjustly killed, such an action is much more likely to be wrong than doing something that might contribute to contraception or sterilization. It also is crucial that, in the context you describe, abortion is not among the things referred to by “family planning methods and services.” Still, IUDs and the various forms of anovulant drugs sometimes act as abortifacients in preventing births, and this fact must be taken into account.

Administrators and workers in NFP programs who provide clients with information about where to obtain contraceptives or be sterilized do call attention to the immoral alternatives. Even if it is unlikely that clients will use the information, the choice to provide it necessarily includes accepting as a side effect the risk of its being used. Thus, providing the information could contribute to the wrongdoing of those offering the immoral methods.

Still, I think meeting this requirement for funding can be justified for public or private programs that are activities neither of the Church herself nor of any of her official agencies. Several considerations support this judgment.

Providing the information is not likely to tempt administrators and workers in NFP programs to share in the immorality of contraception and sterilization by promoting the immoral alternatives. Moreover, the workers are likely to do their best to prevent scandal, that is, leading people into sin. I assume that in distributing the leaflet they will try to forestall misunderstanding by pointing out that it is required by law to obtain funding, will carefully avoid explaining the leaflet in ways likely to encourage its use, and also will take the occasion to instruct clients about the many disadvantages of contraception and sterilization in comparison with NFP.

But can they fairly accept the risk that some clients will use the list of nearby providers to obtain contraceptives that sometimes act as abortifacients, use them, and thus bring about the death of incipient persons? In my judgment, that risk is acceptable. Very often, people seeking help from those providing NFP already have excluded immoral methods. If not, however, the help with NFP that they receive is likely to enlighten and motivate them to commit themselves firmly to family planning consistent with all the relevant goods and moral norms, and to reject the immoral methods that they otherwise might have come to accept. Moreover, even if those directing and working in NFP programs did not provide information about where to obtain immoral methods of birth regulation, people prepared to adopt such methods probably usually would gain access to them. Finally, obtaining AID funding has two sorts of good effects. First, those sponsoring NFP programs are providing an important service to their clients, and the sponsors need funding to carry on their work. Second, if they do not obtain funding from AID, the money, having already been assigned to promote birth regulation, is likely to be used to promote immoral methods.

Someone might object that in the circumstances described administrators and workers in NFP programs are cooperating with the morally excluded services, much as physicians do who refer patients to other physicians to obtain such services (see q. 66, above). The two kinds of cases are similar in some ways, but they also differ in several morally significant respects. First, when physicians refer patients for morally unacceptable services, the physicians no longer can try to persuade the patients to choose a morally acceptable way of dealing with their problems. By contrast, when administrators and workers in NFP programs give a client information about the availability of morally unacceptable services, they obtain an opportunity to try to persuade the client to use NFP. Second, physicians who refer patients for morally unacceptable services do more than provide information; they recommend someone else who will provide a specific service a patient wants and they do not wish to provide themselves. By contrast, administrators and workers in NFP programs do not recommend anyone else to meet the client’s need for help in regulating births, but offer to meet that need themselves. Third, because physicians normally intend that the patient obtain the service for which they give a referral, a physician’s referral for a morally excluded service is likely to be understood as approval and support for the patient’s obtaining it. By contrast, for administrators and workers in NFP programs to provide the required information is an action of a distinct kind, and under the circumstances it will not connote approval and support for using the immoral alternatives.

What about cases in which NFP programs are conducted by a Church agency? May it provide information about access to immoral methods of birth regulation, or may bishops authorize Church agencies to do so? In my judgment, no.

The Church’s primary responsibility is to bear witness to God’s truth and make the sacraments available. Her mission does include action for social justice and work to promote other human goods, but this responsibility is secondary. If a Church agency were to provide information about where to obtain contraceptives and sterilization, that would tend to obscure and render ambiguous the Church’s teaching on birth regulation. In some situations, the agency’s providing such information could lead someone into sin and be scandalous in the strict sense. But scandal apart, in my judgment a Church agency should never compromise the Church’s primary responsibility, even if it seems necessary to do so in fulfilling her secondary responsibility.

If in certain regions, therefore, Church agencies are providing information about access to immoral methods of birth regulation in order to obtain AID funding for NFP programs, I think one of two things should be done so that the Church will no longer be involved. Either an entity with no institutional or juridical ties to the Church should be established to conduct those programs, or no information should be given regarding immoral methods of birth regulation and the necessary funding should be sought elsewhere.