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OBITUARIES John Billings, 89; pioneered natural contraception method

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times

April 4, 2007

John Billings, who developed a natural contraception method that won support among Catholics, has died in Melbourne, Australia, a colleague said Tuesday. He was 89.

Billings died late Sunday at a Melbourne retirement home, said Marian Corkill, director of the World Organization of the Ovulation Method Billings International, better known as WOOMB. A cause of death was not given.

Billings and his wife, Evelyn, pioneered the Billings Ovulation Method in the 1950s — a technique that helps women identify their fertile and nonfertile states based on their menstrual cycle.

In the Billings method, a woman can determine when she is fertile based on an examination of her cervical mucus, as opposed to the rhythm method, which is based on past menstrual cycles.

Billings, a staunch Catholic and father of nine, always had the support of his church, which opposes contraceptive devices such as condoms and the pill that revolutionized birth control a decade later.

Mukesh Haikerwal, president of the Australian Medical Assn., said the method's failure rate was three in 100, compared with one in 100 for condoms, one in 1,000 for the pill and one in 10,000 for implanted devices.

"It made a contribution to reducing some pregnancies, but obviously in terms of the wider availability of contraception today, it's not as successful," Haikerwal told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Corkill said the Billings method was taught in more than 100 countries, including China, where it was welcomed by the government in the mid-1990s as a safe and cheap alternative to abortion and popular intrauterine devices.

"His work in China was a highlight of his career in that the Billings Method is now available in all the provinces in China and has been taken up by the Chinese government as the method of choice as part of their family planning," Corkill said.

Billings served as a doctor for the Australian Imperial Force in New Guinea during World War II before returning to Melbourne.

A neurologist, Billings conducted his research while working part time for a Catholic marriage counseling agency in Melbourne in the 1950s. His wife, a pediatrician and endocrinologist, helped him refine the method and write about it.

He received an Australian national award and a papal knighthood for his work.

In addition to his wife, Billings is survived by eight children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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