All In The Timing

Dr John Billings, creator of the Billings Method of contraception, has died in Melbourne at the age of 89. The Billings Method involves calculating the times at which a woman is most likely to become pregnant (I won’t go into the details, but I daresay it involves a hand mirror), and abstaining during those times.

Billings remains the only form of contraception with the official (if wary) endorsement of the Catholic Church. This does mean that a free and accessible method of birth control is able to be taught in developing countries where other forms may be hard to come by. It also means citizens of those same countries may choose natural birth control over methods that are more reliable, or provide more protection against sexually transmitted disease. At worst, governments of strongly Catholic countries such as the Philippines take the absurd position of officially opposing any other form of contraception – in that case, in an already impoverished country whose population is expected to double by 2050.

There is, of course, a time and place for all forms of birth control, and `natural’ methods such as Billings are often neglected in the wider debate. This may be because they seem such a product of an earlier way of thinking – the era of the Second Vatican Council, and the neighbourhood chemist who required written permission from a woman’s husband before dispensing The Pill (and dispensing it not at all if she had none).

However, this could be said of so many elements of the birth control debate. This of course became evident in the deliberations over the introduction, with the multipartisan support of the late Jeannie Ferris and others, of RU486, a drug already freely available in other industrialised countries since the late 1980s. Nearly a century after the beginning of the organised birth control movement, nearly half a century after the Pill became widely available, the first question asked of potential members of the US Supreme Court still remains whether they would consider overturning the famous Roe vs Wade ruling, which was made nearly forty years ago (I would link to a facinating and illuminating article about this often misunderstood case, but the New Yorker has churlishly taken it offline).

Less than a month ago, the governor of South Dakota signed a bill essentially banning abortion in his state, in a move hailed by some as the beginning of the end for the Roe vs Wade ruling. In NSW, this could never occur, for one simple reason: here, abortion is still criminalised. Doctors must establish a pretext – much as was the situation in marriage before the introduction of the no-fault divorce – of physical or mental hardship before going ahead.

Is this a good thing? Some argue that this is just – that an abortion should or must only take place if physical or mental duress prevents the woman from carrying the baby to term.

Those who have undergone one would argue that despite improved access, and despite wide community acceptance, it’s a decision that is never, ever made lightly, regardless of whether a pretext exists or not.

Setting aside the ethics of abortion, NSW law remains inconsistent with that of other states and, I would suggest, most community expectation. When will it be changed? What government would wish to shake this particular hornet’s nest to make what is in the end simply a correction of current legislation?

Just like Billings, it may all be in the timing.


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20 comments on “All In The Timing
  1. audrey says:

    A few points:

    Billings’ wife had nine children. Whether or not this was intentional I don’t know, but it makes for an interesting fact…

    The rhythm method (which is essentially what he is advocating, judging on the consistency of the vaginal mucous) is a load of boots. Trust me, I know.

    I’m kind of torn between this idea that abortion is a decision not taken lightly. I think it’s probably the kind of term that’s thrown around to excuse the decision – you know, I did it, but it was a difficult decision, one I thought long and hard about.

    The reality is that most women reflecting upon their abortions feel relief, and probably didn’t find it that difficult a decision to make at all. The difficulty is really in the fear of what might happen, the expectation of guilt we’re supposed to feel and the waiting period (abortions won’t be performed before 7 weeks usually, which can mean a few weeks waiting period).

    I’ve said this here before, but I’ll say it again – I think that to move forward in the area of abortion legalisation and acceptance, there needs to be more discussion of these things. I know quite a few women who’ve had abortions and not one of them regrets it, or indeed feels any kind of long term mental anguish as a result. That’s the thing we need to be saying, over and over – that we don’t feel guilty for exercising a choice that we conversely say is our absolute right.

    I saw a woman yesterday who was one day overdue for giving birth. As any woman here who’s had a baby can tell you, there’s a giant piece of difference between a full term baby and a splodge the size of a grain of rice.

    I can’t be bothered going into America. It’s too depressing. I will say this though – in America, you have to pay for abortions and that’s just for the basic procedure. For this, you’ll pay between $200- $500. If you want an anaesthetic on top of this, you’ll have to pay more. FOR ANAESTHETIC!!!

  2. wbb says:

    Hey, anaesthetists need holiday houses too.

  3. observa says:

    The Billings method works well and has similar failure rates to the other more widely touted forms of contraception. Of course it takes a caring, settled relationship and partnership in contraception to do that, which is why it is pooh poohed by liberal progressive ‘experts’. Essentially it’s not a suitable method for the one night stand, but then the abortion rate shows not much is.

  4. steve says:

    Obby, Please come out and tell us that crossing your fingers works well too. It would slot in perfectly with the Billings method as it has the same results.

  5. observa says:

    Fancy not having someone else help pay for an abortion eh Audrey? Those evil Yanks probably don’t even help pay for a girl’s pill or a bloke’s condoms err, umm, hang on a bit…

    Abortion is just like going to the toilet really. Funny how some women get all constipated over the odd stillborn, or want to get in touch years later with the odd live one they give away. Neurotic types I suppose.

  6. GoAwayBrownie says:

    well this thread will finish with 300 comments once the papist males have Googled for todays ‘a-word’ posts.

    re “Some argue … – that an abortion must only take place if physical or mental duress prevents the woman from carrying the baby to term

    so it SHOULD follow then,
    that sexual congress should ONLY take place where both parties contract first,
    to form
    (as observa says above) a

    “caring, settled relationship and partnership in contraception” … oh wait, we’ve already got that, it’s called Marriage … and 50% of them fail
    We will just have to stop people having sex.

  7. Anna Winter says:

    It’s true that the Billings method works – but you have to work really hard at it, and be extremely careful and organised. Personally, this liberal progressive has no problem if people wish to use the method. I do, however, “pooh poohâ€? the idea that putting that much effort into preventing pregnancy is qualitatively different to using the Pill or a condom, and is somehow not sinful in a way all other methods are.

  8. dj says:

    but, but…every sperm is sacred!

  9. observa says:

    “I do, however, “pooh poohâ€? the idea that putting that much effort into preventing pregnancy is qualitatively different to using the Pill or a condom,”

    Isn’t that sort of attitude to the technological quickie fix (pardon) exactly what the Green left gaias traditionally bemoan Anna? Isn’t that the curious paradox with them, when it comes to things like abortion and contraception?

  10. dj says:


  11. Anna Winter says:

    It’s only a curious paradox if you think strawmen are capable of logical thought, observa.

    Weird, dude.

  12. derrida derider says:

    “The Billings method works well and has similar failure rates to the other more widely touted forms of contraception” – Observa

    Utter garbage. As Anna points out, it only ever works if you work really hard at it.

    You really must distinguish between propositions that would be nice if true and propositions that are actually true. If you said something like “the Billings method doesn’t work very well in practice but using alternatives that do work in practice causes eternal damnation” we could at least respect your intellectual honesty.

    “.. `natural’ methods such as Billings are often neglected in the wider debate” – Modia
    They’re (rightly) neglected because they don’t work. As a million years of human evolution might lead you to expect.

  13. observa says:

    “Obby, Please come out and tell us that crossing your fingers works well too. It would slot in perfectly with the Billings method as it has the same results.”

    Steve rhymes with naive it seems. Simply google wiki for the Billings method and check the failure rates steve. There are ample studies to back that up. You’ll get a pleasant surprise at how they compare with the pill and condoms mate. However as I said, Billings is used by committed partners in contraception, which is why it’s so successful. Fun too when you both decide to plan having kids and I’d thoroughly recommend it and no I’m not Catholic. More yer snipped lapsed Anglican.

  14. Anna Winter says:

    The table here lists Failure rates (per year) for perfect use 0-2.9% and for typical use 1-25%.

  15. Anthony says:

    Even if the Billings method works (just suppose), I could never understand how the Catholic Church could justify its support for it. Doctrinally, every sex act had to be open to the possibility of conception. (And undertaken in the context of marriage, natch). Surely deliberately choosing to have intercourse in what you know is the non-fertile period offends this principle in exactly the same way as choosing to have intercourse with a franger on your knob.

    Then again I went to the type of Catholic school where Brother Brendan would yell at us that we’d burn in hell if the First 18 didn’t win on Wednesday afternoon, rather than the type where you were given a solid grounding in casuistry. Can someone help me out here?

  16. genevieve says:

    Yes, Anthony, you know you should have won, and you will burn in hell:)

    There’s nothing that works better in marriage than a nappy over the head. All good Catholic obstetricians know that.

  17. Mindy says:

    After giving birth in a Catholic hospital I was given advice on natural contraception methods by a lovely lady involving breastfeeding etc, while my Mum was visiting. Once the lovely lady had left, I turned to my Mum and said ‘so what did you do wrong? (that resulted in me!) Turns out the breastfeeding contraception method isn’t failsafe at all, something for which I am eternally grateful.

  18. Anthony says:

    And obviously I also went to a school where phrases such as ‘franger on your knob’ were common parlance. But it seems to have more or less killed discussion on this thread. You precious gits.

  19. Minotaur says:

    “.. `natural’ methods such as Billings are often neglected in the wider debateâ€? – Modia
    They’re (rightly) neglected because they don’t work. As a million years of human evolution might lead you to expect.

    What I meant was that any discussion of birth control usually centres around condoms, the Pill, and not much else – the fact remains that it’s part of the mix, some people use it, and the reasons they do are worth examining. If it doesn’t work (broadly, everyone’s about right – it’s accurate if you’re good at it, hopeless if you’re not. I wouldn’t dream of it myself), that’s possibly an even better reason to discuss it. There are teenagers I’ve certainly known who relied on a garbled combination of the withdrawal and Billings methods, in the sure confidence – often disproven all too quickly – that it was `99% reliable’.

    What interests me most isn’t the rational decisions people make – it’s the irrational ones. In Africa, for example, traditional forms of natural birth control have been practiced for centuries and it’s very difficult to get a population that tends to be suspicious and superstitious to use them, even despite AIDS. Even in Western society, there’s a belief amongst some men that wearing a condom is some sort of threat to their virility and insist on not wearing them. Neither’s a logical position to take, but plenty of people do take them.

  20. Lisa says:

    I simply don’t understand the reputation fertility awareness gets. I have never seen ANY legitimate study, or ANY birth control comparison chart that rates FAM’s effectiveness lower than 97% (97% for Billings, and 98% as the lowest for Sympto-Thermal).

    Then people say “Oh, well it CAN be effective, but it’s REALLY complicated, and you have to be SO intelligent and SO organized and SO careful for it work. Really? How much intelligence does it take to see if you are dry that day? If you have any cervical fluid, don’t have unprotected sex again until your basal temp has signifcantly raised for three days. Gee whiz, that is SOOOOO complex.
    Honestly, I had A LOT more trouble taking a pill every day at the same time.

    FAM is not the right birth control for every woman, but neither are hormonal methods, and neither are condoms. Some women have horrible side effects from the pill. My mother can’t even get a prescription for the pill because of her medical history. Some people have latex allergies, and some people have moral oppositions to the animal products used in other BC methods, or the effect their production has on the environment. It’s just ridiculous that people who have clearly done no research on an alternative BC method feel it is perfectly acceptable for them to go around spreading misinformation about its effectiveness or its level of difficulty.

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