Reflecting on her many years as a volunteer, Isabel Graham, a Toronto mother and grandmother, laughingly says, “People used to feel sorry for me because I was a professional social worker without a job, but they didn’t realize I was constantly using my professional skills in the community.”
Isabel has used her professional credentials for over twenty years to strengthen family values. After graduating in languages from the University of Manitoba where she grew up, she obtained a degree in social work from the University of Toronto. For over a decade in the 1970s, while raising her family, she worked for the cause of the unborn child as a speaker for the Toronto Right to Life Association. In 1972, she helped to bring natural family planning to Canada. She established (and still serves as the executive director) Canada’s first Natural Family Planning Association.
Now she’s helping to promote chastity talks in schools. She says, “The biggest change over twenty years is that now we have to defend chastity and marital fidelity. We have to give reasons why they’re the better choice.” She’d like to help parents, “the fist line of defence, “ to teach their children about this timely virtue because “young people have to be convinced of the value and practical reason for chastity. They must be told that it’s a healthy, moral alternative to unplanned pregnancies and sexual diseases.”
Isabel’s plunge into pro-life work, and its logical extension NFP, began in 1970, soon after abortion was legalized. She attended a CBC open forum in Toronto. Popular media types represented the pro-abortionists and members of the Catholic Women’s League represented the pro-lifers. Incensed by “the short shrift” given to pro-lifers during the debate, she rushed up to the pro-lifers after it was over, saying shat she wanted to join them. Delighted, they soon put her to work.
One of her first speaking engagements was at York University to a group of rambunctious students. Undaunted by their pressing abortion “for hard cases,” blonde, five foot one Isabel, calmly and rationally refuted their arguments for abortion, for rape, poverty, abusive relationships or failed contraception, explaining that abortion would not solve any of these problems. After all, she knew what she was talking about. As a young social worker, she had encountered all of these situations while working at Toronto’s Catholic Family Services. She knew that other social solutions would better serve the mother and child.
She realized that people needed a healthy, moral alternative to the prevailing Planned Parenthood hype of “the woman’s right to choose” and its promotion oc contraception and abortion. When she heard about the work of a physician/researcher couple, Drs. Evelyn and John Billing of Australia, she knew she had what she wanted – a technique for managing a couple’s fertility with a pro-life philosophy.
The Billings Method of NFP (Ovulation) defines with remarkable accuracy a woman’s days of fertility and infertility during the menstrual cycle, thereby enabling couples to plan their family and space their children. Simple, harmless and reliable (97.2 per cent according to a 1981 World Health Organization study), it has been taught around the world to over 40 million women in Europe, Africa, North and South America, India and China. Its philosophy is that fertility is a blessing, not a disease, and therefore does not require drugs, mechanical or chemical devices, or surgery. As Dr. John Billing explains, “A man cannot completely love a woman and reject her fertility, and a woman cannot whollylove a man and reject his child.”
Isabel oversees the administration of the Natural Family Planning Association. Its Toronto office serves as a resource, referral, consultation and education center to teach couples and train teachers in the Billings method of NFP. In the Toronto area alone, there are eight clinics, and Billlings teachers are in every province across Canada. There is no fee for their services. For her pioneering efforts in bringing the Billings NFP Method to Canada, Isabel received a papal honour in Toronto on November 19, 1992.
As for teaching, Isabel now leaves it to a new generation of young married women who use the method. In fact, her three daughters help her. Merrilyn and Laurienne are accredited teachers, and Janice, a librarian, transcribes NFP material onto a computer to keep up to date. Merrilyn also goes into schools, giving talks on NFP to students, so that they will know about it when they marry, and she’s been invited back into the schools to give talks on chastity.
Isabel’s daughters seem to share their mother’s deeply ingrained perception “that children are a gift from God and that God is always a third partner in conception.” And like their mother, her daughters are part of the second generation to be lighting candle.