Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Physics, Math and the RH bill

/ 12:06 AM September 10, 2012

This is probably an unthinkable framework by which to make a judgment on the Reproductive Health bill. How many of us are in awe of mathematical figures and formulas? But that is exactly what three scientists have done in a study that correlates contraceptive use and abortion rate. The study was published last March 26 only.

The three scientists are physicist Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr. of Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Department of Physics; the Jesuit physicist Fr. Daniel J. McNamara of Manila Observatory; and former Jesuit Philippine provincial superior Fr. Romeo Intengan of ADMU’s Loyola School of Theology.


Note the significance the study makes: RH bill proponents have always trumpeted the proposed legislation as the effective way to reduce half a million abortions due to unwanted pregnancies annually. What can Physics say about it? That immediately is not a palatable prospect to read about. As one can guess, the study itself is heavily laden with mathematical correlations that perhaps only Queena Lee Chua can teach us to love.

There lies the allure of this work of scholarship. For apart from the expertise of the proponents, it proposes an approach in understanding this burning issue and what it particularly purports to solve, thereby creating a powerful tool that can enable people to arrive at a sound judgment based on hard science. May I say that again: using Physics and Mathematics to inform a public on a socially burning issue such as the RH bill. These days it is easy to cry out plagiarism and sidestep the main arguments. This one provides the hard facts.

I would be the least qualified to interpret their study, but the three scientists end with a conclusion stated in the language of the nonexpert that you and I can easily grasp. The study’s title is “Estimating abortion rates from contraceptive failure rates via risk compensation: a mathematical model.” Readers who wish to read it can open this link:

Rep. Neptali Gonzales has said that “the government cannot totally surrender the promotion of contraceptives” for a myriad of reasons—e.g., it will purportedly bring down maternal deaths due to pregnancy, and it will ostensibly reduce the incidence of abortions. Is this the truth or is it all bogey?

Contraceptives are tools designed to prevent pregnancy. Do they work all the time? If there is a contraceptive success rate, there is also a contraceptive failure rate, even under multiple contraceptive use.

Reasoning out that “Women who know that contraceptives offer less risk to pregnancy would tend to take riskier behaviors by engaging in intercourse more frequently,” the scholars introduce what they call the Risk Compensation hypothesis. They analogize that by way of a mundane human device.

Citing De Irala and Alonso’s “Changes in sexual behaviors to prevent HIV” in the highly respected weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal The Lancet, This [risk compensation] hypothesis suggests that the introduction of new technological approaches to prevention could reduce the perception of risk and thus worsen the compliance with other basic preventive behaviors. In the end, higher risk-taking could offset the protective benefits theoretically associated with the new approach.

Sugon, McNamara and Intengan contend that “Risk compensation may explain why the increasing use of seatbelts does not lessen car accidents. According to Adams, protecting car occupants from the consequences of bad driving encourages bad driving.”

After much equation, “We showed that lowering the abortion rate may not necessarily be lowered by the availability of more effective contraceptives, because of the possibility of risk compensation.”


Name-calling, blaming, finger-pointing, all these have become standard fare of RH proponents in venting their anger at those against it, not to mention the misleading theologies and the pro-abortion lobby-funded commentaries. After all the math and physics, what do Sugon et al. have to tell us? Much, for those who barely read the data and who have resorted to a mere word war.

“In the absence of such data, it is better to be cautious and not legislate through the RH bill the use of contraceptives to lower the abortion rate. It is better to advocate other methods such as promoting breastfeeding, chastity before marriage, and late marriages which the government and the Catholic Church are already doing. If the woman becomes pregnant, then the woman should be encouraged to accept the child as a gift and not as a burden to be aborted, and carry the child in her womb until birth; the government can assist here to reduce the maternal mortality rate through excellent hospitals and midwives. In this way, we can manage our population growth and at the same time reduce the number of abortions to zero without the use of contraceptives.”

Who needs Nobel laureates to tell us which way it is to the RH bill?

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