The wagons of confrontation have circled many times between the opposing camps of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the supporters of the Reproductive Health Bill (RHB.) The former supports natural family planning while the latter aims to make artificial contraception available to the poor. Arguments roil between the two sides with little hint of resolution.
The Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) which identifies itself as protector of the unborn (pro-life) and defender of morals is pushing for sex education, restraint in the marital bed, and responsible parenthood. The Church teaches that proper distribution of wealth, not abortion and artificial birth control, is the answer to over-population and poverty.
Opposing the Church’s doctrine seems to diminish RCC’s influence, but proponents of the RHB face moral censure. They run the risk of being refused holy wafer and sacred wine during masses. They are under threat of excommunication by the Church.
For political expediency and fear of retribution in the afterlife, the Catholic majority and its leaders struggle to abide with the Church teachings. In the name of faith and fidelity, many pander on CBCP’s advices which strongly oppose artificial contraception (pills, intraunterine devices (IUDs), bilateral tubal ligation (BTLs), vasectomies, spermicides, morning after pills, barrier methods such as condoms etc.)
On the other hand, defenders of RHB want to give women the right to decide. Backed by population advisers of other countries, the United Nations (UN,) Asian Development Bank (ADB,) and the World Health Organization (WHO,) they believe the bill is a practical solution to reduce the high incidence of maternal and infant mortality, a way of curbing population explosion. They question the correctness and infallibility of RCC’s teachings on birth control, bringing back the old debates on morals and the separation of the church and the state.
RHB supporters assert artificial contraception is a basic human right. They believe lack of access to contraceptives leads to unwanted pregnancies and drives poor women to seek illegal and unsafe abortions which run up to about 500,000 a year, 79,000 of which are hospitalized for complications and about 800 die.
The CBCP counters by saying the pro-choice supporters’ position isn’t morally sound. Catholic bishops reject the legislative measure as anti-family and anti-life. Airing their position, Msgr. Oscar Cruz, Archbishop of Ligayen-Dagupan asserts artificial contraception is a pathway towards “killing the unborn” and are “instruments that favor abortion.” Brian Clowes, research manager for Human Life International agrees, saying that RHB had traces of “influence” from England and the United States, linking the issue with foreign intervention.
Yet Filipinos expect the government to uphold their rights independently from the Church. RHB proponents like Reps. Edcel Lagman (Albay,), Mark Leandro Mendoza (Batangas,) Janette Garin (Iloilo,) and mayors Sherwin Gatchalian (Valenzuela) and Tomas Osmena (Cebu) want the RCC to reconsider its Vatican-backed anti-contraceptive stance. Because the Church is unlikely to change its position, they go ahead working for the bill’s passage which they believe will benefit the country.
Pia Cayetano, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demographics, said she welcomes the views of all sectors on the controversial issue, but she can’t give weight on views solely from one religious doctrine. Social Welfare Secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral who supports artificial contraception debates the issue with Environmental Sec. Lito Atienza, instrumental in foiling birth control from the services offered by the government.
Too many babies, worsening poverty, and pervasive hunger are real problems that can’t be ignored. Sooner or later, Filipinos have to make a choice on an issue whose decision is long overdue. The bill proposes the state to launch a nationwide information campaign on all methods of family planning and then have the people decide which method to use. The Church calls for discipline in marital bed, responsible parenthood, and natural family planning. Many Catholics however dodge the controversy by quietly deciding for themselves. Not all of them however follow the teachings of the Church. =0=