By Ashley McGuire

I first read “Humanae Vitae”—which Pope Paul VI published 50 years ago July 29—when I was 21. As a senior at Tufts University, hardly a bastion of Christian belief, sheer curiosity brought me to the controversial papal encyclical. I knew only that it banned contraception. How could a billion people around the world embrace such a backward religion?

Two years later, I was baptized and received into the Catholic Church. “Humanae Vitae” was my gateway. Disillusioned with a culture that habitually objectifies women, I found the document stirring—as did countless other converts—with its call to safeguard “the reverence due to a woman.” Today you can call me a Catholic two-percenter: One of those few American Catholic women who have never used contraception.

The teachings on contraception found in “Humanae Vitae” are often described as arcane and antiscience. To the contrary, the science on female fertility is slowly catching up with the document. As Paul VI argues, there are natural ways to preserve a woman’s fertility while still respecting her and her family’s needs in limiting and spacing births. The church calls it “natural family planning,” though thanks to its increasing popularity with the organics crowd, “fertility awareness method” has become more widely used.

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