Like It Is

We have the right of choice

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I, quite simply, fail to understand the Philippine Catholic Church. It vehemently opposes the Reproductive Health Law. Fine, it has every right to. But what it doesn’t have a right to is to dictate its belief to others. The law will give Filipinos of all faiths, or none, the option to request family planning assistance, or not.

What’s wrong with that? If a devout Catholic agrees with the bishops—and, as I understand it, 70 percent, according to surveys, feel they do not have to if their conscience and pact with God differ—he or she can just not go to a family planning clinic, can just not use contraceptives, and can even have their children not learn about their own bodies. It’s all optional, all at your own discretion. Mind you, I’m told that the government coerces women to accept ligation or use an IUD. If that is true, that also must be stopped.

I am not against God, or a belief in him. I think everyone has a right to believe whatever they want to. What I object to is coercion, or denial of people’s right to be informed. As the heartwarming story of Malala graphically shows, religious bigotry is just totally unacceptable. Everyone, boy or girl, has the right to be educated. (Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot and almost killed by a Taliban gunman last October in the Swat Valley for advocating education for all children. Now based in the United Kingdom with her family, she is still under threat by the Taliban.-ED.) Corollary to that, everyone has the right to be informed about sexuality and family planning—and to make an informed decision according to their own conscience.

It’s this fundamental point that I’m up in arms about, not the other details of family planning clinics, where I support their role in helping women know their options and helping them should they choose an option. Also the right of children to know about their bodies. I can never accept ignorance. To say that parents can teach sex is laughable in the extreme: 1) They are not knowledgeable, and 2) they’d be too embarrassed.

What I object to is the Church trying to deny people information, knowledge upon which to decide. It can dictate from the pulpit if it wishes, but not dictate to the populace at large. And, yes, that is what it is trying to do using its massive influence. Read the article of Cherry Lee published in Young Blood (“The word of God,” 11/10/2012). Here are excerpts from what Ms. Lee wrote:

“Not too long ago, I went to church, and I immediately regretted going. Not because I didn’t want to hear Mass and not because I think I have better things to do. No, I regretted going because of what message the priests are conveying nowadays in their homilies.

“The homilies always start out with the Scripture, and suddenly, out of nowhere, become all about the reproductive health (RH) bill. As much as I want to tune this part out, it’s like watching a car crash; I can’t help not looking away and I can’t help not listening to every word being uttered.

“One priest would talk about the RH bill being the ploy of other countries to prevent our country from being as progressive as it could be without it. Another would equate the RH bill with murder. Another would say it’s against the word of the Lord.

“How could this possibly be? How could they know that for sure? Did God appear to them and specifically tell them that?

“Why then are the priests allowed to do this? Who gave them the right to dictate what we should or should not believe in? Even God Himself provided us the right to choose.

“People go to church to hear the word of the Lord, not the priests’ word. The more that the priests mention the RH bill in their homilies, the more that they drive people away from God. Is that really what they want?”

Admittedly, that’s within the confines of a church, so I can’t object, but I must wonder at the methods of the priests. Hardly, I think, how Christ would have done it.

I think that the Church and other religions do some wonderful things to help and instill strong moral values in people, and be a comfort to so many. Religions survive because of this, and so they should. But when they try and force their beliefs on others—try the Crusaders as a start, or the Taliban today—then I object.

I would like to believe that Christ encouraged people to seek their own guidance. That was the kind of life I was taught he followed. I trust that the Supreme Court justices will decide on what’s best for society, not what’s best for just one element (large though it may be) of it.  As a non-Catholic, I believe I have a right to family planning if I want it. What right does the Church have to deny me?

Bishops, convince your flock through (I would hope) sound argument not to seek family planning guidance, not to use contraceptives, if that is your belief. If your arguments are strong enough, they will obey. To deny the option suggests you don’t have the confidence that your beliefs will be accepted, and so must resort to medieval practices. Sad.

I’ll repeat it: Access to family planning is an option you can choose, or not. It is not mandatory, so the Church has no justification in opposing it. Only insecure dictators do that. Where is their tolerance of others? This Holy Week is a good time for them to reflect on that. Impose your dictates on your believers if you feel you must, but leave us free to make our own choices. As Christians, you can do no less.

I feel enough has been said. Each side has made its arguments (for 14 long years now), and a decision has been reached.

All should live with that.

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