Yet the images the church uses to promote its own method of birth control freaked her out. Pamphlets for what the church calls natural family planning feature photos of babies galore. A church-sponsored class on the method uses a book with a woman on the cover, smiling as she balances a grocery bag on one hip, a baby on the other.
“My guess is 99 out of 100 21st-century women trying to navigate the decision about contraception would see that cover and run for the hills,” McGuire wrote in a post on her blog, Altcatholicah, which is aimed at Catholic women.
McGuire, 26, of Alexandria is part of a movement of younger, religiously conservative Catholic women who are trying to rebrand an often-ignored church teaching: its ban on birth control methods such as the Pill. Arguing that church theology has been poorly explained and encouraged, they want to shift the image of a traditional Catholic woman from one at home with children to one with a great, communicative sex life, a chemical-free body and babies only when the parents think the time is right.
The movement sees an opportunity: President Obama’s decision this year to require most religious employers, like employers in general, to provide contraception coverage. The move angered Catholics so much that it cracked open a discussion about contraception that has been largely taboo for decades because there’s so much disagreement about it.
“More priests have given sermons on this in the past few weeks than in the last 50 years,” said Janet Smith, a conservative theologian who teaches at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.
The new movement’s goal is to make over the image of natural family planning, now used by a small minority of Catholic women. But natural family planning, which requires women to track their fertile periods through such natural signs such as temperature and cervical mucus, is seen by many fertility experts as unreliable and is viewed by most Catholics as out of step with contemporary women.
“It ends up being this lofty, ‘Isn’t every baby a precious blessing?’ ” said Jennifer Fulwiler, a Catholic writer with five children based in Austin who uses natural family planning. “Meanwhile, you have one kid with colic [and] some 2-year-old pulling on your pants. It just doesn’t resonate. There needs to be a modernizing.”
These women are hardly renegades. McGuire recently moderated a church-run panel about contraception in downtown Washington. And when the diocese of Arlington County, one of the country’s most traditional, hosted a lecture about natural family planninglast month, the featured speaker drove home a key point: The Catholic definition of when it’s okay to not get pregnant is more flexible than you think. The 130 tickets were gone within three days.