When does religious faith become bigotry? When it assumes the worst about those who don’t share the same religion or religious point of view. When does morality become antithetical to democracy? When it uses the fundamental rights that the Constitution guarantees, such as free speech and freedom of assembly, to deny to those it deems immoral the exercise of those very rights. And when does opposition to the Reproductive Health Law become an act of outrageous desperation? When organizations like the Pro-Life Philippines Foundation seek to stop international forums like the 7th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health Rights, through a last-minute lawsuit.
The petitioners, all Catholic Church-affiliated advocates against the Reproductive Health Law, want the Pasay Regional Trial Court to issue a temporary restraining order on the conference, now on its third and last day at the Philippine International Convention Center. On what ground? On the assumption that the forum, by including sessions on abortion in its program, promotes abortion itself, which is illegal in the Philippines.
The argument is intellectually dishonest.
We can see the intellectual dishonesty reflected in lawyer James Imbong’s statement to GMA News: “Most of the talks are about right to abortion.” But in fact, in the program of the general conference, there are only four sessions related to abortion, out of about five dozen sessions. That’s right. There are about 70 separate items in a packed agenda. The petitioners object to four. How can any reasonable person describe “most of the talks” as being about the right to abortion?
But Pro-Life Philippines president Eric Manalang made Imbong sound like the embodiment of intellectual integrity, when he reduced the entire conference to one subject: “Their topic is about abortion and its availability to women and the youth.”
Mischaracterizing the conference program is not only unchristian, scanting both the resource persons’ preparations and the experience on which their presentations are based; it is also stupid—because anyone can easily access the program on the Web.
So anyone can see, for example, that there are sessions on “Harmful practices: Ending child marriage and female genital mutilation” (Wednesday, meeting room 8, by UNFPA Indonesia); “National Maternal, Neonatal Child Health & Nutrition Programs: Improving access, utilization and quality of services,” which includes a presentation from Cambodia on “Better birthing care through regular clinical skills practice” (Thursday, meeting room 2); and “Partnership and local alliances,” with a presentation, among others, from the Philippines, on “Mindanao Working Group in reproductive health, sexuality and gender: Collaboration among universities, civil society organizations and local government units” (today, meeting room 5).
In truth (and the reader can check the veracity of our claim), there are many more topics like these than about abortion. How can any person dedicated to the welfare of women in general and pregnant women and vulnerable children in particular object to such subjects being discussed, their lessons shared, at an international forum?
The sessions on abortion include one on “Improving women’s access to post-abortion care,” with presentations from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and the United States. There is another one on “Women’s rights to safe abortion services,” with panelists from the United Kingdom, India, Australia and China, and also one on
“Access to medical abortion,” with speakers from Australia, Pakistan and Malaysia. These are the presentations the petitioners want to gag?
“Our laws prohibit abortion. Propagating and teaching it is a criminal act,” Manalang said. Again, the leap of
logic is breathtaking. There is no question that abortion is prohibited in the Philippines, in the same way that there is no question about the dire consequences of terrorism. But will an international forum on what turns vulnerable or disaffected members of a society into terrorists propagate and teach terrorism?
Defense lawyer Harry Roque hit the legal nail on the head. “No abortions will be performed at the conference.” The petitioners make the egregious mistake of confusing talk—which a democratic polity should welcome—with performance. That’s because their desperate intolerance makes them assume the worst.
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