The John J. Billings Memorial Lecture
Ethics of the “Billings” Ovulation Method in the culture of life and African culture
Father Théophile Akoha, Vicar General, Diocese of Cotonou
5th April 2020, Cotonou, Benin
John J Billings Memorial Lecture
As it is formulated, the theme subject to reflection immediately plunges into the heart of conjugal love, a place of the fulfilling communion of people and the foundation of the family (John Paul II, 1981, n°11). But he founded the family only by meeting its goals: union and generation. According to philosopher Fabrice Hadjadj, it is for this purpose that nature has endowed the masculine and the feminine with appropriate organs. In this perspective, the great Theologian Saint Augustine affirms that “marriage is a good among all peoples and in all mankind because it is the home of the generation of children” (Augustine, XXIII, 28, BA, 89). Such a statement is highly justified, as it finds its confirmation both in the Bible and in all cultures. With regard to African culture specifically, it can be said, without risk of being mistaken, that the first expected news of marriage is the donation of children, the gift of God, the psychological development of the couple, the guarantee of posterity, the means of access to community status and the potentiation of participation in social debate. The generation is so envisioned that it exposes itself to desolation and criticism when it is not provided. It is understandable why bigamy and levirate are often used to make it exist. The issue of the gift of life is major in a world universally recognized for its vitalism. What the African thus professes is shared, in various dimensions, by the peoples of the world. However, if one agrees that conjugal love really flourishes in the generation, one is also aware that children should not be mended. Responsible paternity and motherhood are needed, not only for regulating the arrival of children in the world, but also for their subsistence, support and education. This marital concern was brought by biomedical sciences, which came to propose contraceptives and contragestives for the cause. What is now called “artificial methods of contraception”. They are available in several tools: mechanical methods, chemical methods (especially pills) and surgical methods, namely tube cutting in women and canal deferents in men. Although they respond to a concern, they do not ensure respect for nature, the dignity of women, the truth of love and the integral vision of man. In his time, Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae vitae (1968, n°7), pointed out this while calling on scientists to further investigate and invent other, more natural and appropriate methods for the regulation of births. It is now done, since, in addition to artificial methods of contraception, we have natural methods of regulation. The Billings Method (BOM), so called because of its founders, John and Evelyn Billings, is one of them. It consists in observing the female cycle and identifying the fertility period from the viscous or fluid state of the cervical mucus. The goal is twofold: to bring in a child or to delay the birth of a child.
The subject under consideration reflects above all the prospect of delay and therefore of regulation. His problem is whether, for the cause, the use of the Billings Method guarantees the ethics of fertility, ensures the culture of life and respects African culture. As the questions are asked, they self-open a three-stage development framework. But we will try it.
- The Billings Method and Ensuring the Ethics of Fertility
From the Greek term “ethikos” which means “morality” and the word “ethos” which means morality, ethics is the adoption of behavior that responds to morality and therefore to the natural order or orientation of people and things. From this perspective, it can be said that the man (gay) has his ethics as the masculine and the feminine have specifically theirs. You can’t be a man (gay) and act like an animal. You can’t be male and act like a feminine or a feminine and act like a masculine. As Joseph De Finances says, acting follows being (agere sequitur esse) (1999, p. 67). The same applies to all other natural provisions. They have their schedule that must be followed. In this context, can we say that the Billings Method follows the natural logic of fertility planning? The answer can only be positive when we know that it is a way of doing things (modus facendo) that questions nature in order to perceive the signals they give in order to determine a fulfilling choice for oneself and for the future of children. By a natural disposition, the female body is marked by a fertile period and an inferior period. This is called the “ovarian cycle”. It turned out, even if it is not free of surprises by oscillating between normal cycle, long cycle and short cycle. But surprise can be overcome when one takes the time to learn more about one’s person to better determine one’s fertile or inferior period. This is to say that, regardless of the irregularity, the fertile period is always determined to prevent fertilization and thus regulate the birth of the child. Here, ethics, and therefore the norm or morality, is to follow nature to make the behavioral choice of abstention when you are not ready to receive a child. It is by doing this that we really are in the ethics of fertility. The Billings Method is the guarantee of this because it illuminates the horizon, not only for self-knowledge, but also for a conscious and responsible choice. It guarantees ethics by taking into account the global vision of men, making a personalized approach to the issue, promoting the dignity of women and facilitating an inter-personality made up of dialogue and decision-making. It also guarantees ethics by ensuring the intentionality and freedom of fertilization. Finally, it guarantees ethics by avoiding the temptation of abortion in cases where misinterpretation of the fertility period exposes to unwanted pregnancy. This is a surprise linked to the impotence of human beings and the weakness of nature. It is inherent in all earthly reality. To have ethical behavior also means integrating this surprise into the dynamics of choice so as not to be led to take actions that nature disapproves. In other words, even if, by undesirable, an unwanted pregnancy occurred, the ethics would consist in welcoming the child since nature wanted him as such, and if the child himself was asked whether he wanted to live, he would answer in the affirmative. Pope Paul VI insists on this openness to life in these words:“In fact, as experience shows, every marital encounter does not breed a new life. God wisely established laws and natural rhythms of fertility, which already spaced by themselves the succession of births. But the Church, reminding men to the observance of natural law, interpreted by her constant doctrine, teaches that every marital act must remain open to the transmission of life” (1968, n°11). It is by doing this that one enters the culture of life, dear to nature and to the Billings Method.
- The Billings Method and the Culture of Life
The Billings Method is “pro life”. She’s harmless. It promotes the life of the child and the mother. And, more generally, it defends the dignity of women.
- It promotes the life of the child in the sense that it does not allow the use of tools of destruction as in artificial methods of contradiction. You can dare to confess. In itself, contraception is the insertion of an imbalance in the hormonal inheritance of the woman. Even worse, pure contraception is no longer one. Contraception has gradually become a “contragestion”. Abortive-related products have indeed taken the place. These include the IUD, pill 486 and the morrow pill. The IUD contains a substance that makes the uterine medium acidic and does not allow implantation of the egg for gestation (Cf. Akoha, 2017, 34-35). It produces continuous abortions in the woman wearing it. Pill 486 and the morrow pill provide an induced abortion. The morrow pill has even gained such an audience that, in some countries, it is now available to young girls, regardless of their parents’ consent. In France, for example, it is liberalised. A law regulates its practice: article D.5134-1 of the Public Health Code. It states:“I. (…) Everyone has the right to be informed about all contraceptive methods and to choose one freely. This information is the responsibility of every health professional within the framework of his or her competences and in accordance with the professional rules applicable to him or her. Only emergency or inability to inform can dispense with this.The consent of the holders of parental authority or, where applicable, the legal representative is not required for prescribing, issuing or administering contraceptives to minors. Medicinal products intended for emergency contraception and not subject to compulsory medical prescription shall be dispensed free of charge under the conditions laid down by decree.” This code is claimed in the context of the protection of sexual and reproductive rights. Professor Henry Joyeux, who bitterly refutes them, defines them as “rights to sexual activity, gender identity, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction.” It is in the name of these personal rights that the life of the child is sacrificed. The Billings Method makes it possible not to enter into this perspective of the culture of death.
- In addition to the child’s life, the Billings Method saves the mother’s life. It does not promote contraceptive and contragestive products whose use is awaiting women’s health. On this issue, the investigations are formal. We can report here those of the English doctor Ellen Grant and Professor Henry Joyeux. In his book entitled “contraceptive pill”, the latter pointed out that in 1975 there were 7000 new cases of cancer per year in France due to the use of pills. In 2013, 60,000 cases were increased. He added that, in general, birth control pills cause hypertension, stroke, pulmonary embolism, thrombosis, pressure and depression, hemorrhage, alteration of the uterus, drobs and loss of libido (Cf. Merry, 2013, p. 75). Ellen Grant concludes by saying that “the upheaval of natural balances always involves a price to be paid” (1988, p. 7). All this gives evidence, if it is still needed, that the choice of the Billings Method is a health choice, better an option that leads to respect for the dignity of the woman.
- The Billings Method defends this dignity when it prevents the woman from being manipulated, a being subjected to the libidinal voracity of man, and a pure instrument of pleasure, available and malleable at all times. Pope Paul VI notes this shocking incidence of productive contraceptives when he says:“One may fear (…) that a man, by becoming accustomed to the use of contraceptive practices, will eventually lose respect for a woman and, without worrying about her physical and psychological balance, will come to consider her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, rather than as her respected and beloved companion” (1968, No. 17).Unlike artificial methods, the Billings Method ensures this balance when it refers to the observance of the fertile periods during which women may experience respite and not be subject to male sexual appetite.Given the non-harmfulness of this method, its personalized dimension, its dialogical particularity, its anthropological suitability and its vitalist perspective, it can be said that it partly meets the ideal of African culture.
- The Billings Method in the orbit of African cultureThe Billings Method joins African fertility management in two main points: respect for life and the method of its regulation.
- Like the Billings Method, the African loves and saves life. John Paul II testifies to this when he states: “In African culture and tradition, the role of the family is universally regarded as fundamental. Open to this sense of family, love and respect for life, the African loves children, who are welcomed joyfully as a gift from God. The sons and daughters of Africa love life” (John Paul II, 1994, n°43). There are many prohibitions and obligations that frame this ideal in order to make it operational, especially in the context of protecting the life of the little one. According to this culture, one should not eliminate this life because it is a human being, a representative of the ancestors (djət), a social agent and above all a gift from God whose destiny, on earth, is all traced. However, the woman may not be in the arrangements required to accommodate her. It is delayed by a very specific method.
- As with the Billings, nature is usually used using the calendar method. The Billings Method and the other natural methods, namely collar and symptom-thermal, are only the refinement of this method. Sometimes rings or magic potions are used.
- However, there are conversions necessary for the African to fully enter the ethics of the Billings Method. The subjectivation of women, respect for their dignity, equality of rank with men and the assurance of their social rights should be promoted. These conversions are necessary to make her a partner in dialogue with the male in precisely the management of her fertility. This requires not only male awareness, but also the enactment of binding laws with their disclosure and application on the ground
In conclusion, let us remember that, unlike artificial methods of contraception, the Billings Method has an ethic that obeys the nature of fertility, respect for women and the promotion of life. This is essentially what reveals its anchorage in African culture and demands that it be promoted. There is an important stake here if the African family is not to be flouted on their own land (John Paul II, 1994, No. 84).