The Linacre Quarterly
National surveys to determine trends in contraceptive use in the United States have occurred every 6 to 10 years since 1955.1,2,3 Since that time, there has been a rapid decline in the use of natural methods of family planning; a sharp rise and slow decline in the use of oral contraceptives and, in the past ten years, a major reliance on surgical sterilization for contraception. Information from these national surveys has provided useful information for contraceptive providers, policy makers, and religious groups. The method of avoiding and achieving pregnancy that is promoted and encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church is natural family planning. Since natural methods are the only methods sanctioned by the Catholic Church, an assumption could be made that contraceptive practices among Roman Catholics in the United States would substantially differ from contraceptive use by the general population. The purpose of this article is to describe the use of contraceptives by Roman Catholic women between 1988 and 1995 and to compare contraceptive use by Catholics with national trends. Information on trends in contraceptive use among Catholic women is of interest to Catholic health care providers and policy makers, natural family planning service providers, Catholic Church officials and leaders in church policy and teaching. Of note is that the authors of this article do not view methods of natural family planning as being contraceptives. Contraceptive methods, such as the pill, condoms, IUD, etc., work by either suppressing, blocking, or destroying a person's fertility, or in some cases aborting the early human embryo. Methods of natural family planning, on the other hand, do not interfere with fertility, but rather utilize natural biological indicators that tell a woman when she is fertile or not. Methods of natural family planning can be used to both achieve or to avoid pregnancy.