On April 1, Dr. John Billings passed away at the age of 89. The Billings Ovulation Method (BOM), pioneered by the late Dr. John Billings, has had a revolutionary international impact as an effective, safe, simple, cost-free and scientifically validated method of achieving or avoiding pregnancy.

A neurologist by specialty, Dr. John Billings began his first clinical studies of fertility in 1953, at the invitation of Australia’s Catholic Marriage Guidance Bureau. He found that a woman can discover her fertility status by observing the characteristics of the cervical mucus at the vulva. His initial work was validated by the ovarian hormone research of Australian professor James Brown and by the anatomical and physiological investigations of Swedish professor Erik Odeblad. Dr. Evelyn Billings, his wife, joined the research team in 1965 and together, the couple continued to refine and spread knowledge of the BOM for the rest of his life.

The BOM offered for the first time to the married couple accurate information about an individual woman’s timing of fertility for each specific cycle. This made obsolete the older “rhythm method,” which – though a breakthrough in its time – did not account for the normal variations within cycles and between women and was therefore often unreliable as a guide for delaying pregnancy. True methods of natural family planning, in contrast, provide the couple with information to help them either achieve or avoid pregnancy, depending on their discernment at any particular time. Critics have continued to mislabel the BOM as “Vatican roulette,” notwithstanding its verification in international laboratories and through the lived experience of millions around the world.

John and Evelyn Billings spent much of every year travelling around the world to train and teach others in the BOM. It has been used successfully by couples of every socioeconomic status – even in cases of blindness, illiteracy or homelessness. The Billings’ outreach has helped to limit the spread of contraception and indeed, the contraceptive mentality, which is the gateway to abortion.

The World Health Organization (WHO) added the name “Billings” to the “Ovulation Method” to distinguish it from other types of so-called “periodic abstinence.” The WHO published early studies showing the BOM’s effectiveness. For those couples who had “perfect use” of the Billings method when trying to avoid pregnancy, the WHO found a pregnancy rate of just two per cent. The BOM has now been positively evaluated on six continents.

Especially remarkable are the results in China. The BOM is the only natural method of family planning approved by the Chinese government. After a successful preliminary trial in 1990, the Chinese Ministry of Health officially introduced the method in 1995.

A 2000 trial of the BOM conducted in China showed a “method pregnancy rate” of 0.0 per cent for 1,654 pregnancy-avoiding couples over 12 months. In other words, no couples in this group had pregnancies who had consistently adhered to the Billings methodology. In the group as a whole, the “use pregnancy rate” was 0.5 per cent, meaning that a tiny minority of couples did have a pregnancy, but only because they did not follow the Billings methodology.

Thus, Chinese family planning officials consider the BOM to compare favourably with contraceptive methods, which have high failure rates attributable both to the methods and to their usage. Additionally, Chinese couples practising the BOM for one year continued into a second year at a rate of 96.4 per cent – indicating enormous satisfaction with the method.

The co-operation of the life-affirming Billings with the totalitarian Chinese government presents an irony. Nevertheless, in a country where the mandatory one-child policy is brutally enforced, the induced abortion rate has dropped sevenfold in areas were the BOM is taught, to 0.61 percent. Surprisingly, the anti-life government has also offered the BOM to infertile couples, cumulatively enabling one-third of them to become parents without any further interventions.

BOM teachers have formed the Caucus for the Advancement of the Billings Ovulation Method (CABOM) worldwide. In 2006, Canadians Justin and Sue Fryer presented a paper to the new Human Rights Council of the United Nations on behalf of CABOM, some concepts of which were accepted into NGO statements. CABOM “call(ed) upon the United Nations to recognize knowledge of the Billings Ovulation Method of natural fertility regulation (BOM) as a basic human right for all women of reproductive age.”

The Billings’ innovative work inspired the research and practice of five other current methods of natural family planning developed subsequent to their own. For instance, American gynecologist Dr. Thomas Hilgers modified the Billings system to create his Creighton Method System, which is also mucus-based. This led to the development of Natural Procreative Technology for the treatment of reproductive disorders. While the Billings continued to teach their own Ovulation Method as originally introduced, they recognized that the various methods share an adherence to natural law.

In the words of Marian Corkill, director of WOOMB (World Organization of the Ovulation Method Billings International), “It has been proved beyond doubt by the worldwide scientific community that his discovery is accurate and he will go down in history as having made a valuable contribution to our understanding of the complexities of reproduction and fertility.”

The Billings Ovulation Method fosters respect for the woman and the strengthening of conjugal love through enhanced communication. It is estimated that about 50 million couples have now made use of it in their marriages. Pope Benedict XVI expressed his “deep appreciation” for “the creative witness borne by Dr. Billings to the relationship between faith and scientific knowledge and his outstanding contribution to family life by helping countless couples throughout the world live fully their vocation as faithful spouses and parents.”

See Donald DeMarco’s column next month for an appreciation of the life of John Billings.