The End of Conservatism was written to present my cursory view into the debates surrounding the RH Bill. There is no question that there is a need for an enhanced population policy, and its opponents — led by the ultra-conservative Catholic Church — risk becoming irrelevant and increasingly out of touch with their continued opposition to the bill. They continue to argue along moral and ethical lines, and soon their position will be morally indefensible when our current socio-economic realities catch up with them.
With the US elections out of the way, I’ve been able to devote more time reading into the politics of the RH Bill. Here are some of the required readings I came across.
First up is “Filipino Catholics Voice Dissent on Contraception and Abortion” by Carolina Austria, writing in the Reproductive Health blog, RHRealityCheck.org. Therein she details the arguments raging on both sides, and describes the politics of fear that the Church tends to use in blocking these issues. She also touches on the very ambivalence the Church has in its ranks, and posits the view of others that dissension from the Catholic Church is integral to the formation of our national identity. I agree. That last one echoes what sociologist Randy David has been saying all along — that only when we’ve set aside our prayer from our politics can we start to see ourselves as a modern society. I love her conclusion, to wit:
That the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines is now being challenged to be more transparent about the basis of its positions in Catholic teaching, theology and Church history, lends an ironic twist to the entire issue. In seeming inability to even articulate the theory and theology behind its own encyclicals, it has chosen to invoke them as rigid law which it wishes to impose on the secular Philippine state and as a consequence, on every Filipino.
Just like what I often say — it’s good that God cares for us and has laid down all these moral laws. We are a democracy and he is entitled to his own opinion.
Second is the powerful sponsorship speech by AKBAYAN Rep. Risa Hontiveros. Hers is a dramatic plea to a rational and reasoned debate over the RH Bill, yet the substance is prosaic enough to bring home the point that there is really no other way to frame our population policy. Channeling her party’s signature activist style, she champions women and children as the primary beneficiaries of the bill, and in a stunning riposte argues that the bill is anti-abortion. To wit:
We need this bill because of abortion, and not for it. Right now, the Philippines is in the midst of an abortion crisis, according to various media institutions, with World Health Organization putting the number of abortions at 800,000 annually. Walong daang libong abortion, walong daang libong kababaihan, Ginoong Speaker. Binibigyan tayo ng numerong ito ng ideya kung gaano kalala ang problema, pero hindi nito kayang maipakita ang sanhi kung bakit ganito ang nangyayari.
Kahit doblehin o triplehin pa natin ang walong daang libo, hindi nito kayang ipakita kung ilang beses nabibiyak ang puso ng isang teenager na babae na nabuntis nang wala sa kanyang kagustuhan. Forty-five percent of the pregnancies in the country are unwanted, according to the same global organization; if only wanting and not wanting could indeed be truly divided in percentage and decisions parceled into solid numbers, then perhaps it would have been simple to subdivide and process this issue so that choices can easily be made.
Unfortunately, a pregnant teenager without a choice cannot indulge in such calculated decisions. Ang alam lang nya ay dapat syang tumigil sa pag-aaral dahil sa kahihiyan o dahil di pwede at di tinatanggap ang pagiging buntis ng isang babaeng di kasal sa ilang paaralan. She will probably be forced to marry the father of the unborn child, or to marry someone else, anyone, just to avoid the disgrace and humiliation. Her mind would most likely try imagine the hundreds of thousands of pesos that would need to support the child, compute it against the salary and support that she would ever get. While the amount may not exceed figures that we have, it would be the most insurmountable and difficult number that she would ever encounter.
Should she just resort to abortion, just like others before her? Hundreds of thousands of pregnant women have taken this path, and we pass judgment on them as if they made an easy choice. Nothing is easy for a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy. Those who have chosen to abort an unwanted pregnancy would most likely end up undergoing unsafe procedures, would probably swallow hazardous potions and unsafe pills sold right in front of the Quiapo Church, and suffer from abortion-related illnesses. They will forever be scarred as criminals, accused of violating our moral standards, our laws, and even the constitution.
If our pregnant teenager ends up bleeding from an unsafe abortion procedure and encounters a doctor who decided to perform a postabortion dilation and curettage without anesthesia to punish the sinful woman, would statistics be able to tally the number of times that the thought of death had crossed her mind? Could it scope the width of each cry, every whimper, that she has to swallow just so she could retain her sense of dignity and self-worth?
The Church would traditionally chide such a person for getting into that mess in the first place and point out to such a hypothetical situation as substantive evidence for a growing “culture of death” and hence necessitating deeper religiousity and a restoration of society’s catecethic roots. But all that is besides the point. We need the Church to respond to the reality that faces them, and perhaps then their message of a dignified life through a loving God may actually find purchase.
Other speeches you can read would be that of Rep. Edcel Lagman, Rep. Darlene Antonio-Custodio and Rep. Liza Maza. These three speeches contain the same substantive arguments — and in the case of Lagman an even more thorough presentation of data and precedents — but none with the oratorical impact of Hontiveros.
But if there is any other document that can bring public policy and human perspective together, it is a position paper authored by professors from the Ateneo de Manila University. Entitled “Catholics can support the RH bill in good conscience”, the paper does not represent the views of the University at large and the Society of Jesus. Yet besides delivering just an excellent policy paper, they present a powerful ethical case for supporting the RH Bill. Let me round out this entry by posting their conclusion here. To wit:
After studying the provisions of House Bill 5043 in the light of the realities of Filipino women, poor families, and our youth, we, individual faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University, speaking for ourselves and not for the University, have come to conclude that the Philippines urgently needs a national policy on reproductive health and population development. We therefore strongly support the RH Bill’s immediate passage in Congress.
We further believe that it is possible for Catholics like ourselves to support HB 5043 in good conscience, even as we recognize, with some anguish, that our view contradicts the position held by some of our fellow Catholics, including our bishops. We are aware that they have denounced it as “pro-abortion,” “anti-life,” “anti-women,” “anti-poor,” and “immoral.” However, our reason, informed by our faith, has led us to believe and say otherwise.
We assert that RH Bill is pro-life, pro-women, pro-poor, pro-youth, and pro-informed choice. By giving couples, and especially women, information on and access to “medically-safe, legal, affordable and quality” family planning methods (whether modern natural or modern artificial), the RH Bill seeks to avert unwanted, unplanned, and mistimed pregnancies, which are the root cause of induced abortions. In that sense, the bill is not only pro-life but also pro-women, because it helps them to plan the number and spacing of their children, so as not to experience frequent and closely-spaced pregnancies that take a toll on their health and well-being. Moreover, the RH Bill seeks to improve maternal and infant health by enjoining cities and municipalities to provide an adequate number of skilled birth attendants as well as hospitals rendering comprehensive emergency obstetric care.
HB 5043 is pro-poor because it makes contraceptives (including those requiring hospital services) more accessible and cheaper for Filipinos, especially for the poorest 20 percent, who have the highest unmet need for family planning (26.7%), and 2.5 children more than they desire and are able to feed, clothe, and send to school. The bill is also pro-youth, because it seeks to provide our young people the information and values they would need in taking care of their reproductive health, and in making responsible decisions regarding their sexuality, sexual behavior, and future family life.
Furthermore, the RH Bill is pro-informed choice. In seeking to promote both modern natural and modern artificial methods of family planning (with “no bias for either”), HB 5043 recognizes that couples, especially women, have the right to choose the family planning method that they consider to be the safest and most effective for them, provided that these are legally permissible. Although natural family planning (NFP), which the Catholic Church promotes, offers many benefits, it is important to realize that pursuing an NFP-only population policy will be a disservice, if not a grave injustice, to women and couples for whom NFP simply cannot work. We are thinking of women who find it impossible to predict their infertile periods; or couples who see each other on an irregular basis; or women who are trapped in abusive relationships with men who demand sex anytime they want it. Why is it morally wrong for such women and couples and even others not encompassed by the above situations to use a modern artificial family planning method that has been pronounced safe and non-abortifacient by health authorities, if their discernment of their particular situation has led them to conclude that such a method will enable them to fulfill the demands of marital love and responsible parenthood?
At his trial, Thomas More stressed the sacredness of conscience when he said: “[I]n things touching conscience, every true and good subject is more bound to have respect to his said conscience and to his soul than to any other thing in all the world besides.” Catholic social teachings similarly recognize the primacy of the well-formed conscience over wooden compliance to directives from political and religious authorities. Gaudium et Spes (1965) tells us: “In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged” (no. 16).
We respect the consciences of our bishops when they promote natural family planning as the only moral means of contraception, in adherence to Humanae Vitae (1968), which teaches that married couples who want to control and space births should “take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile” (no. 16). In turn, we ask our bishops to respect the one in three (35.6%) married Filipino women who, in their “most secret core and sancturary” or conscience, have decided that their and their family’s interests would best be served by using a modern artificial means of contraception. Is it not possible that these women and their spouses were obeying their well-informed and well-formed consciences when they opted to use an artificial contraceptive?
We therefore ask our bishops and fellow Catholics not to block the passage of HB 5043, which promotes women’s and couples’ access to the full range of safe, legal, and effective modern natural and modern artificial family planning methods, from which they can choose the one most suitable to their needs and personal and religious convictions. To campaign against the bill is to deny our people, especially our women, many other benefits, such as maternal and child health and nutrition; promotion of breastfeeding; adolescent and youth health; reproductive health education; prevention and management of gynecological conditions; and provision of information and services addressing the reproductive health needs of marginalized sectors, among others. In pursuit of the common good, or the “sum total of social conditions which allow people… to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (Gaudium et Spes 1965, no. 26), we call on the Catholic Church to let the RH Bill pass in Congress, and to consider forging a principled collaboration with the government in the promotion of natural family planning which Humanae Vitae deems morally acceptable, and in the formation of consciences with emphasis on the value of responsible sex and parenthood.
To our fellow Catholics who, in good conscience, have come to conclude, as we have, that we need a reproductive health law: we ask you to declare your support for HB 5043.
Finally, we call on our legislators in Congress and in the Senate to pass the RH Bill. Doing so upholds the constitutional right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions; honors our commitments to international covenants; and promotes the reproductive health and reproductive rights of Filipinos, especially of those who are most marginalized on this issue our women, poor families, and youth.
I rest my case.