Get Real

Inaccuracies and false choices

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The pastoral letter of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) titled “Contraception Is Corruption: Seeking Light and Guidance on the RH Bill,” which was read in churches last Dec. 16, raises more questions than it answers.

The letter heaped praise on the 104 members of the House of Representatives who voted against the reproductive health bill in its second reading: “You have voted courageously, despite all pressures, to stand up for what is right and true. The Church will remember you as the heroes of our nation, those who have said no to corruption and who care for the true welfare of the people, especially the poor. May you continue to be steadfast and not waver in your stand against moral corruption.”

The list of the names of the 104 “heroes” is heavily sprinkled with those whose political and personal reputations are less than savory: cheating, stealing from public coffers (corruption), adultery, and the like. Thus the question: Does that mean that, as far as the bishops are concerned, those transgressions were cancelled out when he/she voted against the RH bill? If so, when did “Thou shalt not vote for the RH bill” become a commandment, and supersede several of the Biblical Ten?

Then there is the statement reiterating the “collective discernment” of the Philippine bishops—that “the RH bill if passed into law can harm our nation. Contraception corrupts the soul. The RH bill is being gift-wrapped to look like a gift for maternal health care. It is not so. It will lead to greater crimes against women.”

Those are very sweeping statements, and should at the very least be explained.

How does contraception corrupt the soul? Apparently because a “contraceptive mentality is the mother of an abortion mentality” (as stated later in the pastoral letter). Well, that may work for some bishops and philosophers, but a review of the evidence (Marston and Cleland, International Family Planning Perspectives, 2003) shows that in general, rising contraceptive use results in reduced incidence of abortion. And as far as the Philippine situation is concerned, with estimated abortions at an annual rate of 500,000 (2008), surely it is reasonable to assume that greater contraceptive use will reduce the need for abortion.

Only consider, dear Reader. In 2008, 500,000 unborn children were killed in the Philippines by abortion, in spite of the fact that it is constitutionally prohibited. Moreover, a little less than half the maternal mortality figures are attributed to the effects of these abortions, which obviously are not performed in hospitals or with any professional medical help.

Now do a little arithmetic. Since 1998, when the original RH bill was proposed following the UN conference on population and development (where one of the agreed program-of-action issues was reproductive health and family planning), 14 years have passed. Even if we assume a very conservative yearly average of 200,000 abortions performed in a year, we are talking about the deaths of 2.8 million unborn children over that period of time, not to mention the deaths of their mothers. The point is that had the original RH bill been passed in 1998 or shortly thereafter, many of those deaths would not have occurred, because obviously the conception of these babies would have been prevented.

Then there comes the categorical statement: The RH bill “WILL lead to greater crimes against women” (emphasis mine). How? The bishops do not provide a clue. But what can possibly be a greater crime against women than to take away from them the decision on the size of their family and the number of children they can afford to provide for? What can possibly be a greater crime against women than to force them into abortion because contraception is not an option?

The pastoral letter unfortunately presents the faithful with what I can only call inaccuracies and false choices. One example: “The poor are being promised a better life through the RH bill. It will not be so.” I don’t see that promise stated anywhere in the RH bill. The false-choices part comes in when it says that money for contraceptives can be better used for education and “authentic” healthcare. It is not an either/or situation. And the implication that maternal and reproductive health is not “authentic” smacks too much of the misogyny that characterized the Church in earlier times. As when St. Ambrose (339-97) wrote: “Adam was deceived by Eve, not Eve by Adam. It is right that he whom that woman induced to sin should assume the role of guide lest he fall again through feminine instability.” Or St. Thomas Aquinas’ (1225-74) view that “[woman] was made only to assist with procreation.”

In any case, as of 2011, an SWS survey showed that 82 percent of Filipinos consider family planning as a “sacred” personal choice that should not be interfered with (21 percentage points higher than what it was in 1990). And that 71 percent of Filipinos are in favor of the RH bill. That constitutes what is called in corporate circles a super majority (more than two-thirds). The same percentage of Filipinos want sex education in public schools.

If the survey is representative, four out of five of those respondents are Catholic. Whatever happened to “vox populi, vox Dei”?

And if the laity are too far removed from the bishops, how about listening to the clergy and the religious who actually work among the poor?

That would indeed be a splendid Christmas gift to themselves and to the rest of us.

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