RH bill: Don’t burn the house to roast a pigBy Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A little over a year ago, or on May 22, 2011 to be exact, I wrote an article for the Inquirer titled “My stand on the RH bill.” With the vote on the Reproductive Health (RH) bill approaching, people have asked me whether my stand on the bill has changed. Let me restate the salient points I made then.
First, let me start by saying that I adhere to the teaching of the Church on artificial contraception even if I am aware that the teaching on the subject is not considered infallible doctrine by those who know more theology than I do. I know that some people consider me a heretic and that at the very least I should leave the priesthood. But my superiors still stand by me.
Second (very important for me as a student of the Constitution and of church-state relations), I am very much aware of the fact that we live in a pluralist society where various religious groups have differing beliefs about the morality of artificial contraception, which is very much at the center of the controversy. But freedom of religion means more than just the freedom to believe. It also means the freedom to act or not to act according to what one believes. Hence, the state should not prevent people from practicing responsible parenthood according to their religious belief, nor may churchmen pressure President Aquino, by whatever means, to prevent people from acting according to their religious belief. As the Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church says: “Because of its historical and cultural ties to a nation, a religious community (like the Catholic Church) might be given special recognition on the part of the State. Such recognition must in no way create discrimination within the civil or social order for other religious groups”; and “Those responsible for government are required to interpret the common good of their country not only according to the guidelines of the majority but also according to the effective good of all the members of the community, including the minority.”
Third, the obligation to respect freedom of religion is also applicable to the state. Thus, I advocate careful recasting of the provision on mandatory sexual education in public schools without the consent of parents. (I assume that those who send their children to Catholic schools accept the program of Catholic schools on the subject.) My reason for requiring the consent of parents is, in addition to the free exercise of religion, there is the constitutional provision which recognizes the sanctity of the human family and “the natural and primary right of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character.” (Article II, Section 12)
Fourth, the duty to care for sexual and reproductive health of employees should be approached in a balanced way so that both the freedom of religion of employers and the welfare of workers will be attended to. In this regard it may be necessary to reformulate the provisions already found in the Labor Code.
Fifth, I hold that public money may be spent for the promotion of reproductive health in ways that do not violate the Constitution. Thus, for instance, it may be legitimately spent for making available reproductive materials that are not abortifacient. Public money is neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Muslim or what have you and may be appropriated by Congress for the public good without violating the Constitution.
Sixth, we should be careful not to distort what the RH bill says. The RH bill does not favor abortion. The bill clearly prohibits abortion as an assault against the right to life.
Seventh, in addition, I hold that abortifacient pills and devices should be banned by the Food and Drug Administration. However, determining which of the pills in the market are abortifacient is something for the judicial process to determine with the aid of science experts. Our Supreme Court has already upheld the banning of at least one device found to be abortifacient.
Eighth, I am dismayed by preachers telling parishioners that support for the RH bill ipso facto is a serious sin or merits excommunication! I find this to be irresponsible.
Ninth, I claim no competence to debate about demographics.
Tenth, I have never held that the RH bill is perfect. But if we have to have an RH law, I intend to contribute to its improvement as much as I can. I hold that the approval of the RH bill today will not end all debate about it. It will only shift the arena for debate from the raucous and noisy rally fields to the more sober judicial arena where reason has a better chance of prevailing.
Finally, there are many valuable points in the bill’s Declaration of Policy and Guiding Principles which are desperately needed especially by poor women who cannot afford the cost of medical service. There are specific provisions which give substance to these good points. They should be saved even if we must litigate later about those which we disagree on. In other words, let us not burn the house just to roast a pig.
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