Artificial contraception is used to prevent getting pregnant. Natural Family Planning (NFP) can be used to avoid getting pregnant. So they must be the same thing, right? If they’re the same thing, then the Catholic Church should accept artificial contraception in addition to NFP.
Nice try, but you’re not even close.
The premise of NFP is to; as one might guess from reading the name of it, plan a family naturally. The process of NFP uses no drugs, chemicals, or devices (except a thermometer and a paper chart), which is why we call it “natural”. It allows a husband and wife to understand the wife’s body so they know when she is naturally fertile. Once you know that, you also know when she’s naturally infertile.
With this knowledge, a married couple may plan their family by choosing to abstain during the fertile times. This is called pregnancy avoidance, as opposed to prevention. The flip side of NFP is it allows a couple to increase their odds of having a baby when they want one many times over just randomly trying. Couples seeking a baby, try NFP before any other fertility-enhancing alternative!
This way, NFP is open to life. You are encouraged to consider every cycle if you are called to try to bring new life into this world. Oh, did I mention that it’s 99.9% effective at avoiding unwanted pregnancy? That’s just as good as the pill and beats the condom by over 5%.
Lastly, NFP forces a couple to work together to accomplish their goals. It requires a period of abstaining from sexual intimacy which helps couples build intimacy in other areas. If you just said “What other areas are there?” then you need to start NFP right now! It keeps sex sacred, it honors your spouse as being made in the image of God, and it honors sex as being an expression of total, unrestricted love that God offers to us.
Let’s look at contraception. Contraception uses artificial means to prevent (not avoid) pregnancy. Things like foams, pills, implants, chemicals, barriers, and such are all artificial. The entire purpose of contraception is to prevent a family, not to plan one. There is no flip side to contraception. You don’t stop taking one pill and start taking another when you’re ready to conceive.
Contraception doesn’t build a relationship like NFP does. Contraception encourages two people to use the other for their own physical pleasure. Sex stops being totally open; it’s closed to a critical element. It doesn’t honor the partner; it turns the partner, especially the woman, into a toy. Many forms of contraception also have an element of abortion in them which cannot be overlooked. This is not the core difference between contraception and NFP, it's just one more thing in the 'bad" column for contraception.
Artificial contraception and NFP can both be used to not get pregnant; but they are not the same. The Church recognized NFP because it brings the family together and is just as useful for getting a baby as it is for avoiding one. The Church sees contraceptives simply as a way for two people to take the God-given pleasure of sexual intimacy without the God-given consequences.