Episode 7: A Three-Prong Approach to the RH Bill

The following article was posted on the Kuro-Kuro website as my attempt to flesh out the arguments on the RH Bill and try to piece together my own perspectives on the issues. I took the liberty of adding links here to external site – the Kuro-Kuro interface didn’t seem to provide that functionality – for easier reference.

Much has been said in this debate between the pro and anti Reproductive Health Bill, or HB 4244. What I’ve noticed, however, is that what is said isn’t necessarily on the same levels. From what I have read, discussions on the RH Bill take place on at least three planes: economic, moral/religious, and rights-based. The following are just some of my own thoughts on these discussions. (I apologize in advance if the discussion seems to meander. As mentioned, these are just some thoughts on the various arguments I’ve read on, and since those discussions aren’t interrelated, my discussion of them sill also tend to be somewhat disconnected from one another.)

The discussion on the economics of the RH Bill focus on several points. Primarily, the anti-RH argue that population control is not a factor in economic growth, citing the study by Simon Kuznet in 1966. First off, Simon Kuznet used historical differences between countries to arrive at his conclusion; he did not analyze the progression of economic development of countries, specifically the Philippines. In fact, Gary Fields, in his 2001 book “Distribution and Development, A New Look at the Developing World,” considers the Kuznet Curve (the trend of developing economies to first contract and then expand regardless of population growth) to be refuted.

But more to point, the RH Bill does not set any population targets (Sec. 3 (k)). What it does worry about is maternal health, mortality rates and the empowerment of families who require State assistance in exercising their right to plan their families according to their own beliefs. Any effect on population growth is incidental, and is outside the scope of the RH Bill by its own provisions. In other words, all of this argumentation on population controls and economic theories is pointless and irrelevant.

Another angle of attack here is that poverty will be better addressed through other legislative measures. This point in itself is debatable, but the argument itself misses the issue. The promotion of and the assistance of the State in the exercise of reproductive health rights is the crux of the RH Bill. Poverty reduction, like population growth controls, is within its purview, but not its main focus. It is in fact acknowledged in Sec. 12. (Integration of Family Planning and Responsible Parenthood Component in Anti-Poverty Programs) of the RH Bill.

Herein would be my only real criticism of the RH Bill. Although it recognizes the need for a multi-dimensional approach, government itself has not shown such an approach in terms of its legislative agenda. I have yet to see any bills pending in Congress that complement the possible gains of a healthier population of women and children that can expand opportunities for economic development. In the end, though, this is not a criticism properly directed at the RH Bill itself, but rather on government as a whole for lacking any clear development strategy.

The moral/religious debate on the RH Bill deserves a website all onto itself. Myself, I am a practicing Catholic, and my rule of thumb is, “Rome has spoken, the case is closed. (St. Augustine)” And here, I literally mean Rome – as in the Vatican, as in Pope Benedict XVI. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI issues the encyclical Deus Caritas Est, and in it the Holy See talked about God’s love, and in one portion talked about the role of the Church in the world.

Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly. This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just. (§28 (a))

The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply… The Church’s charitable organizations, on the other hand, constitute an opus proprium, a task agreeable to her, in which she does not cooperate collaterally, but acts as a subject with direct responsibility, doing what corresponds to her nature. (§28-29)

Here it is clear that the Church, in preaching God’s love, does not and should not intend to make the State subservient to it, nor should it impose Catholic doctrine upon non-believers. Furthermore, the Church must promote a just society by engaging the State in a rational argument, rather than a doctrinal one.

It is along these lines that I feel that the CBCP has gravely erred in their fight to keep population control out of the hands of the government. I feel that as a concession, the RH Bill proviso on conscientious objectors is already sufficient to ensure that Catholics in the practice of medicine and public health may observe Catholic beliefs while being free from repercussion. To demand any more than that, that is to demand that the RH Bill not be passed at all based on religious grounds, is a direct participation in politics and a betrayal of this mission charged to them by the Pope himself.

Instead of arguing for the non-passage of the Bill, I feel that the efforts of the Church are better-spent reiterating Catholic teachings on reproductive health and family planning, and ensuring that Catholics understand and appreciate the doctrinal truths behind these teachings and practice this in their daily lives.

The rights-based discussions center around two key themes: the right of the unborn child to life, and the right of the mother to plan her family. Most of the time, these two are presented as two opposing, mutually exclusive rights, competing for primacy. Honestly, I don’t see the incompatibility. What many people forget is that the right of the unborn child to life is already protected by the illegality of abortion here in the Philippines (Art. 256 – 259, Revised Penal Code), and reinforced in the RH Bill, which restates this illegality (Sec. 3 (j)). Artificial contraception has nothing to do with this right, because the unborn’s right to life emerges upon conception. Contraception, by its very definition, prevents conception from occurring, thus the right to life never emerges.

The distinction therefore between “pro-life” and “pro-choice” is an artificial one, improperly transplanted from the US debates on legalizing abortion. This non-difference becomes more apparent when we consider that pro-lifers, largely conservative Catholics and Christians, are bound by their own beliefs to concede that natural family planning methods are acceptable – meaning they agree with family planning in principle, just not in terms of means. By this, they are clearly pro-choice, in the sense that they also value the choice of the mother to become pregnant or not.

Perhaps a fourth plane of discussion exists, though largely in the realm of a misrepresentation of issues. Sadly, this plane is mostly perpetuated by the anti-RH forces who insist on misquoting provisions in the RH Bill, making claims about State action that are entirely inaccurate vis-a-vis the 1987 Constitution, and misrepresenting pro-RH arguments through false appeals to religious sentiment and emotion. As with all forms of misrepresentation, this has no place in a discussion of such importance.

In the final analysis, there is a real problem with the lack of an enabling law to empower women, especially those who are disadvantaged, in exercising their rights to reproductive health measures. The RH Bill, in its current form, is sufficient to address this problem. The RH Bill ought to be passed into law.

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2 responses to “Episode 7: A Three-Prong Approach to the RH Bill

  1. Pingback: Episode 12: Responding to the Varsitarian, and How the Anti-RH Bill Position Should *Really* be Argued « Letters from the Laughing Man·

  2. Pingback: Episode 17: The Year That Was, And How The Times They Are A’Changin « Letters from the Laughing Man·

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