It was not until Dr. Marguerite Duane was in her first year residency program that she even heard the terms fertility awareness based methods and Natural Family Planning.

“I was on OB call one night with one of my senior residents and I was doing what any good intern would do with my postpartum patients – I was getting them ready for discharge by writing their prescription for birth control,” Dr. Duane said. “Because our medical education system today trains doctors that if a woman is leaving the hospital with a baby, you need to make sure she has birth control on board.”

As she was doing this, one of her senior residents was telling her about some forms of family planning that, unlike the birth control pill, had no medical side effects and could be used by patients who have conscience concerns.

“I was initially stunned and shocked because I had no idea what she was talking about,” Dr. Duane explained. “She proceeded to tell me all about the different types of natural methods of family planning or fertility awareness based methods. That was eye opening for me.”

As she learned more about these methods, Dr. Duane was both angered and upset she had not learned about this science sooner, both as a woman and as a medical student.

“As a woman who was 29 years old, I’d been experiencing my own cycle for almost two decades, and really didn't have an understanding of what this all meant,” Dr. Duane said. “As a physician passionate about women’s health, I thought to myself, ‘How can I provide true, comprehensive women’s health care without understanding this information?’”

Dr. Duane is now co-founder and executive director of FACTS - Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science. The organization seeks to educate the medical community and medical students about fertility awareness based methods of family planning so they can empower and engage patients.  Dr. Duane, a family physician, serves as an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University in Washington, where she directs an introductory course on natural methods of family planning.

“FACTS has been a wonderful opportunity, an outlet, to take the shock and anger I experienced and turn it into a positive force to educate the next generation of health care professionals about the empowering and educational ways fertility awareness based methods can truly transform women's health care,” Dr. Duane said. “My work at FACTS is so rewarding because every day, I have the opportunity to work with students and residents who are hungry for this information.”

FACTS teaches about these family planning methods through the innovative science behind them. And, though her introduction to fertility awareness based methods was from this purely scientific approach, Dr. Duane came to see how science informed and supported the Catholic Church’s position on the truth and beauty of human sexuality and the teaching of the Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae - which celebrates its 50th anniversary on July 25.

“When I read Humanae Vitae almost a decade later, it simply reaffirmed, made sense, and reflected what the science already showed,” Dr. Duane said. “For me as a Catholic, it made it easier for me to then see how what I was learning and teaching and doing as a physician was actually consistent with what the Catholic Church teaches with regards to family planning.”

Rather than viewing the female cycle as a negative, as was thought when feminism was in its early stages in the ’70s, this “basic information” is empowering to both men and women, Dr. Duane said. From identifying and treating the underlying symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), to helping a couple achieve pregnancy after many months of trying, Dr. Duane has seen how these teachings tangibly better the lives of patients.

“I think the most beautiful thing about the teachings of NFP and fertility awareness is it teaches us the way our body is designed to function,” Dr. Duane said. “For women especially, when we understand this, we can embrace our cycle as a sign of health.”

Further, this knowledge is not just for women, she said, adding that fertility awareness based methods engage men also in the conversation of family planning.

“Family planning is no longer a woman’s issue or a woman’s burden, but it is a shared responsibility between the man and the woman,” Dr. Duane said. “Ultimately it takes two people to have a baby, it should take two people to plan whether or not to try and conceive a child. Fertility awareness based methods allow that by inviting men into the conversation.”

Though this knowledge has enforced her own faith, Dr. Duane said the learning of comprehensive women’s health care through fertility methods can greatly benefit all women, regardless of marital status, religious beliefs, or age.

“Whether a woman has strong concerns about the environment or deeply held religious beliefs, these are methods that should be available to every woman,” she said.