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Pioneer of natural family planning 
in China mourned

MELBOURNE (SE): A doctor and former member of the Pontifical Council for Life, Evelyn Billings, better known for her work in developing what became known as the Billings Method with her husband John, died in Melbourne, Australia, at 6.00am on February 16. She was 95-years-old.

While she saw her greatest achievement as becoming the mother of nine children, grandmother to 39 and great grandmother to 31, the name Billings became synonymous with natural family planning.

The couple travelled the world promoting their studies as a natural way of planning the birth of children in a responsible manner without recourse to drugs, which often had harmful side effects, or artificial devices.

The method relies on women learning to know and understand the symptoms of fertility within their own bodies and the Billings couple promoted it in the contexts of both family planning and relationship building between husband and wife.

When asked about the seeming contradiction between her personal life as the mother of nine children, and her work promoting family planning, she would simply smile and say, “We happen to like lots of children and can afford them. They are all planned.”

The couple travelled to over 100 countries and wrote prolifically, in what they themselves termed fidelity to the call of Pope Paul VI to men and women of science and physicians to be obedient to the Lord’s call and to act as faithful interpreters of his plan.

Better known as Lyn, she was the author of the best selling non-fiction book, The Billings Method, first published in 1980, which a press release from the World Organisation of the Ovulation Method (Billings) says was reprinted 16 times with seven revised versions and translated into 22 languages.

Together with her husband, she was awarded honorary doctorates by universities in Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Australia for services to medicine and the welfare of women.

In addition she was honoured with an Honoris Causa Degree from the Tor Vergata University in Rome in 2005.

In 2002, she and her husband were declared International Catholic Physicians of the Year by the International Catholic Federation of Medical Associations and the following year, the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Billings Method, she was proclaimed Dame Commander of the Knights of St. Gregory by Pope John Paul II.

In 2004, she made a presentation to the Tenth Annual Conference of the Pontifical Academy for Life at the Vatican on February 21 on the successful work she, in conjunction with personnel from Caritas-Hong Kong, had done in introducing the Billings Method into China.

A report carried in the Bulletin of the Ovulation Method Research and Reference Centre of Australia tells how in 1985, her husband John wrote to the Chinese government offering to visit with the intention of promoting this method of family planning as a means of addressing the country’s enormous problems in the field of fertility regulation.

She said, “Paramount in the concern of the government was the rapid expansion of the population, despite the drastic contraceptive sterilisation and abortion programmes.”

Prior to this, the Chinese government had chosen the Billings Method as a preferred method after consultations with the World Health Organisation, despite much opposition from some quarters.

In 1986, the Catholic couple made their first trip to China and met with representatives of the State Family Planning Commission, who gave approval for the Billings couple to lecture in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing, where they met Qian Shao-Zhen, an andrologist of high standing.

Qian told them, “This method would be good for China.” He offered to help. Billings reported that his approbation sprang from his appreciation that the present programme was not serving what he called his beloved country people well.

They later established Billings Centres in Hong Kong and Macau.

Billings told the 2004 Vatican meeting that the Australian government gave funding in 1995 for a three-year project in Anhui, which was the springboard for spreading knowledge of the method around the country, especially among minority groups.

She told the Vatican commission in her report that this work still continues. “We have trained 1,871 core-teachers who have been responsible for training 48,449 Chinese teachers; these statistics are current at 31 December 2003,” she said.

“The Billings Ovulation Method is now one of the principle choices of fertility regulation in China,” she explained.

Billings added that in areas where her method has been taught, abortion rates have dropped around seven-fold.

She stressed that her teachers believe that abortion has no part of their programme.

She received the Distinctive Contribution Award from the Consultation Committee of the Ministry of Health of China and was appointed an honorary advisor to the Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing Family Planning Commissions.

During the late 1960s, the couple also received funding from the government of the United States of America, as she said that artificial birth control programmes relying on pills and other devices among poorly educated and illiterate people had been a total failure, as most people did not understand how to use them.

Lyn Billings also stressed that her method had good results in helping to raise the dignity of women in many communities, as it involved teaching people as a couple and strengthening the understanding of men of the role and responsibility they have in planning and sustaining their families within the context of relationship.

A loving and dedicated wife, mother, grand and great grandmother, dedicated Catholic and highly skillful doctor, who made enormous contributions to the field of women’s and reproductive health, Lyn Billings is being mourned worldwide, and her touch will be missed by all those who knew her or benefited from her work.

She is survived by eight of her nine children.

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