Why the Church RH position is tenuous

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This article was originally published on ProPinoy.net, Mulat Pinoy’s newest partner.
By Cocoy Dayao, published on 1 October 2010

Religion and Science are often seen at odds. The Roman Catholic Church’s inquisition banned Galileo Galilei’s works. Galileo is considered as the Father of modern science. Recently, Pope Benedict said that condoms are not the solution to Aids, but in fact make it worst. Yet, Science and religion are hardly at odds when many discoveries have been because of the Church— the Manila Observatory was funded by the Spanish crown, and the Jesuit priests who ran it have added to science.

The perception of being at odds does exist.


Image from ProPinoy.net

Some see for example the debate on going in the Philippines on reproductive health as one between Relgion and Science. Many of the bill’s critics say is a pro-abortion bill; that condoms are instruments of abortion. The vehemence is great that those against the bill. It has been labeled as Stalinist for example. In the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church in fact this is a huge issue that it has threatened President Aquino with excommunication.

The Catholic Church— rather, the leaders of the Catholic Church in the Philippines— have been adamant that their position against the Reproductive Health bill is a moral one.

There is a belief amongst those against the Reproductive Health Bill that it is a license to abortion. The bill does not make abortion into law. There is not one line in the bill that legalizes abortion, not is it implied in the bill that abortion was being made legal.

The leaders of the Catholic Church assert that the use of contraceptives, particularly the condom is an agent of abortion. The Church position is that upon fertilization of the egg, by the sperm— life is born and to destroy that is equal to abortion. It is a good boundary as any. Following that line of thinking, the fact of the matter is that the condom doesn’t ever allow the sperm and the egg to meet. Hence, there is no fertilization that takes place, so no life is created in the first place. There is no life to abort.

It is a tenuous argument at best.

The Church actually is making a mistake by simplifying the argument on reproductive health by focusing on the technology, and less where it is actually suppose to be an expert— morality.

If you look at the argument of the pro-Reproductive Health, what they want is for couples to have a greater understanding of reproductive health. If you listen to and read the arguments of the President— he is saying that he is for responsible parenthood. That it is in the interest of the state to teach the population all the option it needs so that the couple can take care their family. The couple should be able to decide for their own, how many children they should have. What’s the optimum distance between children. Show them the full option— natural family planning, contraceptives, etc. Oddly enough, that’s what the Church is suppose to do in the first place— guide families into proper parenthood, but does frequently less of.

The argument of the Church against contraceptives roots itself in the encyclical of Pope Paul VI called, Humanae Vitae. That’s Latin for “Of Human Life.” It is a genius piece of moral guidance, if one reads it. Here’s a snippet of what it says about Responsible Parenthood:

“Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood. Thus, we do well to consider responsible parenthood in the light of its varied legitimate and interrelated aspects.

With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person. (9)

With regard to man’s innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man’s reason and will must exert control over them.

With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.

Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.

From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out.”

You don’t hear Humanae Vitae being preached to the flock, do you?

Is that because the Church doesn’t understand it, or is it because they Filipinos as unable to understand?

It is from Humanae Vitae that the Church also describes sex as an act that ought to happen between a married man and woman, and that sex ought to be between them and that it is a sacred act.

It is from this encyclical that Pope John Paul II draws his line from his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, “when love it is truly responsible, it is truly free.”

You can see here why the Church is so adamant why Artificial Contraception is evil not because it is an abortive tool, as some of the anti-RH bill personalities are attributing the debate to, and ergo confusing the debate as Religion versus Science. It is at the end of the day, a teaching of the Church that considers sex as something between husband and wife and a totality of that relationship. On that question— clearly that is a matter between the Church leaders and their flock to discuss over because that is at the end of the day, a personal belief driven by their religion.

What of abortion?

As Felicity quoted The Guttmacher Institute in her Pro Pinoy piece, “The woman, the law, and the unborn baby: the Abortion ban in the Philippines.” They talked about abortion and said that “restrictions on abortion do not reduce the incidence of abortion. In fact, the incidence of abortions drop in countries where nearly all abortions are safe and legal.”

She concluded,

“How far can the state go in “teaching values” to its constituents, if at all? At the same time, the state cannot ignore such a significant health problem that is tied to its laws.

Our lawmakers should go back to the Constitution: “[the State] shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.” We have the laws that protect the children. We also need laws that protect the women.”

In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, the late Pope John Paul II wrote that one of the many reasons why women go through abortion is that they’ve been abandoned by the man at a crucial juncture. He wrote (page 206 to 207):

Therefore, in firmly rejecting “pro choice” it is necessary to become courageously “pro-woman,” promoting a choice that is truly in favor of women. It is precisely the woman, in fact, who pays the highest price, not only for her motherhood, but even more for its destruction, for the suppression of the life of the child who has been conceived. The only honest stance, in these cases, is that of radical solidarity with the woman. It is not right to leave her alone.

The experiences of many counseling centers show that the woman does not want to suppress the life of the child she carries within her. If she is supported in this attitude, and if at the same time she is freed from the intimidation of those around her, then she is even capable of heroism. As I have said, numerous counseling centers are witness to this, as are, in a special way, houses for teenage mothers. It seems, therefore, that society is beginning to develop a more mature attitude in this regard, even if there are still many self-styled “benefactors” who claim to “help” women by liberating them from the prospect of motherhood.

If the Church has concluded for many years that this is the solution to prevent less abortions, where then are the local counseling centers?

Population and development
Now, the state’s position is that for one, we have a population explosion. That there is a need to slow that rate. We have too many poor families for instance that can’t afford to be fed. We’ve too many young people that the state can not afford to pay their education.

It doesn’t really take all that much to reasonably conclude this. Just drive around the nearest shanty town or cruise around Metro Manila. How many of those kids out there will grow up with less education because simply they can’t afford it?

Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest to educate them that having kids is a responsibility of the parent? How will the parents feed them? How will the parents send them to school? How will the parents guarantee their future?

This is instead of the practice, the firm belief that children are made to life the parent out of poverty— that the kids are the hope out of poverty.

Mechai Viravaidya in this TedTalk was about “how Mr. Condom made Thailand a better place:”

On one hand there is reasonable evidence that there is a correlation between population and development. Population and Development has been argued quite rationally by the Cusp:

The Philippine population growth rate was also declining, but at a slower rate. Only in 2000 was it able to drop to 2% which Thailand had already breached back in 1985.

One might argue that the direction of causality is not fully established. Higher income countries by and large tend to have lower birth rates not vice versa (although recently, that argument has itself collapsed, as I highlighted in this previous blog entry). At least in this instance, one can clearly see that the slowing of the population boom in Thailand preceded its economic expansion.

Other variables might also have intervened such as industrial policies for instance, or different financial and political conditions; but, by and large, one can argue the case that had the Philippines followed the same population policy as its neighbor, it might have grown just as rapidly and reduced the incidence of poverty as a consequence. Taken in this light, one might frame the debate over sex education and family planning more meaningfully.

The economics aside, there really is a matter of the state to push for reproductive health or even a practice of responsible parenthood. We can no longer afford another generation where our children have little opportunity simply because their parents can not properly arm them for the challenges of tomorrow. Worst still, is a generation given birth to, simply to life the family out of poverty.

It is not the children’s job to life a family out of poverty. It is the parent’s job to ensure that the kids become more than who they ever could.

It is therefore the State’s job to present Filipinos all the choices possible. To arm them with knowledge of the pros and the cons of each contraceptive. To teach them family planning— to encourage them not to have children until they could afford to have children. New parents must be made to realize the gravity of the job they have— how will they send their kids to college, eventually for example?

Religion versus Science
To frame this debate on Reproductive Health as a matter of Religion versus Science is a mistake. While there are many scientists who do not belief in a deity, some who do belief see the universe as an expression of God’s.

Pope John Paul II spoke of religion and science and framed it this way, “The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer.”

Recently, astronomers have discovered a planet that could have life. If that would be the case, it would answer a fundamental question of humanity: “Are we alone in the universe.”

How would religion react to that?

Reproductive health bill

The Roman Catholic Church position that condoms are abortive agents is of course, best described by the word, “truthiness.” The hardline position of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is reflective of the Vatican position of no contraception.

It is their constitutional right to express their belief, but they are wrong.

The state has a right to be equally present all views irregardless of religious belief because not every Filipino is Catholic. Such law does not diminish in any measure the Church’s right, obligation and duty to its flock. It is their role to educate their flock in the beliefs and tenants of the Church. It is a belief of the Catholic Church that artificial contraceptives goes against Humane Vitae— it isn’t the Filipino nation that it needs to convince of that, but Filipino Catholics.

What the Reproductive Health bill does contain?

Local governments are required to employ mid-wives to attend to children being born.

It talks about emergency obstetric care.

Filipinos will be given access to Family Planning as well as supplies and essential medicines. The law also mandates that the local family planning office give instructions and information on family planning, responsible parenthood, breastfeeding and infant nutrition for everyone applying for a marriage license. Meaning they’re going to be given a seminar right before they get married.

The state shall also assist Filipinos in getting their desired family size, and encourage a two children policy as ideal— and this is strictly a suggestion.

There will be a mandatory maternal death review for all government hospitals.

The government is tasked to give maximum benefits for life-threatening reproductive health conditions such as HIV and AIDS, as well as breast and reproductive tract cancers and obstetric complications.

Every congressional district is being given a Mobile Health Care Service that will deliver goods and services to the poor and needy as well as distribute knowledge and information on reproductive health.

The law mandates age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education. In simple terms, teach kids the “birds and the bees.”

The law also protects women who are pregnant— that their pregnancy not be grounds for non-hiring or termination of employment.

In short, this is a bill that addresses real issues that affect the poorest of the poor.

Breaking the impasse
The local church has taken a hardline position. Yet, it does not offer options for its flock. While it goes against the technology, there is little to none of the counseling centers the Church itself has determined to be the most effective way to deal with abortions and conforms nice with Church teachings— if only it choses to follow it.

The Church’s arrogance on the issue of Reproductive health is off-putting, even to many of its flock.

The Philippines is a deeply Catholic nation. The state has a responsibility to ensure that every Filipino’s right is guaranteed. The reproductive health bill is not an abortion law. While some of its provisions maybe distasteful to the Church— the law does not prevent the Church from advocating to its flock that they shouldn’t use contraceptives. That is a matter for Filipino Catholics to take up with their Church after all.

Filipino Catholics are not forced to used condoms should the bill become law. At the end of the day, it is their decision to follow whatever procedure they decide on. What is important here is that they make an informed decision.

The proposed legislation does not take the moral choice out of the equation. More than ever, the Church needs to preach where it is coming from. Sadly, it rarely does, except through fear and arrogance. It uses fear instead of love as weapons of choice. Instead of threats of excommunication, it ought to be establishing more counseling stations not just for unwed mothers, but for all women in need. The Church must embrace being pro woman.

The debate on Reproductive Health isn’t exactly a debate. There is no question of a tipping point because more than half of Filipinos even before the election have been in favor for RH. So there is no debate to convince the population whether this is good or bad. All this drama exist only in Congress— why aren’t they voting for this bill? Are they scared of the Church?

The reproductive health bill is one of those bills that need to become Law.

The case of the reproductive health bill is not one of religion versus science. It is simply a startling reminder that the local Church needs to enrich the Filipino’s soul with the best of Catholicism, and not its worst. It should fill it with faith and not truthiness. It is a startling too that for once, the State is actually trying to do its job, and the Church is at odds with it. The State is not wrong in the matter of reproductive health. It is ironic though that it is the State and not the Church that is leading in defense of every life.

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