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Catholics reframing ban on birth control

Ashley McGuire fell in love with the Catholic Church five years ago, after reading its teaching against artificial birth control.

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, Va., is part of a movement of younger, religiously conservative Catholic women who are trying to rebrand what may be Catholicism's most-ignored 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 eight kids to one with a great, communicative sex life, a chemical-free body and babies only when the parents believe 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 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.

But Jennifer Fulwiler, a Catholic writer with five children based in Austin, Texas, who uses natural family planning, said she thinks younger Catholics, raised in an era when natural, "green" living is hip, are becoming more open to natural family planning.

Church-funded technological advances are changing the debate. Younger women are likely to use not only the classic fertility barometers, but also a new electronic monitor that checks hormones in urine.

To some, this reflects Catholicism's ability to incorporate modern science. To others, it flirts with what conservatives call a "contraceptive mentality" -- shorthand for a sex life that's more about the parents than children.

But McGuire, who is pregnant, isn't daunted.

"I envision marketing where there are simple phrases associated with" natural family planning, she said. "Like: 'Know your body!' or 'Live freely!' "