Debate on Abortion, Humanae Vitae and the Reproductive Health Care Act Continues

Humanae Vitae (Latin for “Of Human Life”) is an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI and promulgated on July 25, 1968. Subtitled “On the Regulation of Birth”, it re-affirms the traditional teaching of the Roman Catholic Church regarding abortion, contraception, and other issues pertaining to human life.

Last Friday’s 40th anniversary of the encyclical was celebrated by the Philippine Catholic faithful with a prayer rally at the University of Santos Tomas. Four decades after its issuance, Humanae Vitae continues to engender much impassioned debate.

Police estimates placed the crowd at 12,000. The speakers included Philippine boxing hero Manny Pacquiao, who said: “Siguro, kung nag-family planning ang mga magulang ko. Wala tayong Manny Pacquiao ngayon. Pang-apat na anak ako ng aking magulang” (If my parents practiced family planning, we would have no Manny Pacquiao today. I am the fourth child.)

The recent discussion is particularly relevant in the light of renewed assaults by the institutional Church against the reproductive health bills pending in Congress.

The influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is opposed to the bills for allegedly advocating “morally unacceptable” population control methods including some which it claims would induce abortion. Unfortunately, the way the CBCP presents its arguments has generated a lot of heat but little light.

The CBCP described the proposed legislation pending before the Lower House – authored and sponsored by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin – as a “DEATH bill because they eventually lead to Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Total Reproductive Health and Homosexuality.”

How practicing safe sex leads to homosexuality, or any of the other enumerated “sins”, has not been explained. Furthermore, the Church’s intolerant attitude towards homosexuality has became increasingly untenable. Coming from an institution with more than its fair share of sex-offenders and pedophiles, as acknowledged by no less than Pope Benedict XVI just the week before last, this is blatantly hypocritical.

Raul Pangalangan points out the lie in the CBCP position:

Hardline clergy have labeled as “evil” the sponsors of the Reproductive Health Care bills pending before Congress, and have called them “abortionists.” That is a lie.

I have read the various bills authored by Senators Rodolfo Biazon and Panfilo Lacson and Representatives Edcel Lagman and Janette Garin. I can categorically say that there is not a single mention in any bill of legalizing abortion. In contrast, a computer search shows that the bills mention the word “abortion” solely in order to reiterate that “abortion shall remain to be penalized under the Revised Penal Code and relevant jurisprudence” and to provide programs to teach people about the “proscription and hazards of abortion.”

In fact, each time they define “family planning” (so that couples may “decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children”), they always affirm that “abortion is not included as a family planning method” and that the methods “exclud[e] abortion, which is a crime.” In case the bishops still have any doubts, the authors go out of their way and affirm that “abortion remains a crime and is punishable.”

Even a cursory reading of the bills will show them to be clearly against any form of abortion, an act prohibited by both the Constitution and the Penal Code. The bills merely refer to family planning programs, which actually aim “to help women avoid abortion [by] preventing unintended pregnancies and ensuring access to quality family planning methods”. The proposed law “recognizes women’s rights and gender equality and ensures universal access to reproductive health information, education and services”. There is convincing evidence showing that making contraceptives readily available is the best way to reduce abortions. It is estimated that there are nearly 480,000 terminated pregnancies yearly in the Philippines, one of the highest rates of unsafe abortions in Asia. The Commission on Population says that induced abortion is the fourth leading cause of maternal deaths in the country. Which could be prevented if people simply had information on and access to artificial birth control methods , like condoms, but not abortifacients .

But the bishops and their supporters simply refuse to heed the voice of reason. They’ve been exerting their influence, with some success, against the sponsors of the bill. The pressure from the Church has likewise been felt by Malacañang, which has indicated its willingness to tow the CBCP line.

This makes a mockery of the doctrine of separation of church and state, as it seeks to force Catholic dogma upon the entire nation, regardless of whether one subscribes to it or not. It has now become an issue of the Church imposing its will on what is essentially a secular matter. What of the non-Catholics among us ? Are they also to be denied the freedom to choose ?

In truth, the encyclical issued by Pope Paul VI was in direct opposition to the findings made by the Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth, which was tasked to look into the continued validity of the Church stance on birth control. The Commission was composed of theologians, sociologists, medical doctors and social scientists, including a Filipina, Dr. Mercedes Concepcion (!) of the University of the Philippines. It would state in its final report that the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception was in a state of doubt and that birth control, as long as this did not involve abortion, was not intrinsically evil. Its final recommendation was to change the Church’s position on contraception to reflect the sentiments of the faithful worldwide that they be allowed to decide for themselves about the contraceptive methods to be employed.

Brushing aside the Commission’s findings, and relying on a minority report by conservative bishops, the Pope issued Humanae Vitae. There was an immediate wave of resistance from Catholic communities around the world, including the Philippines. The misgivings against Humanae Vitae were voiced out by the Catholic bishops themselves. As told by Garry Wills in his book “Papal Sin”:

Catholics responded with unparalleled refusal to submit. Polls registered an instant noncompliance with the encyclical. Xxx

But for the first time in memory, bishops’ statements, while showing respect for the encyclical, told believers they could act apart from it if they felt bound by conscience to do so. Xx In other words: do not treat the Pope’s words lightly, but follow your conscience after taking a serious look at them. That was the position taken by bishops in the United States, Austria, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Mexico, the Philippines, West Germany , Japan, France, Scandanavia and Switzerland. The Scandanavian statement was typical:

“Should someone, however, for grave and carefully considered reasons, not feel able to subscribe to the arguments of the encyclical, he is entitled, as has been constantly acknowledged, to entertain other views than those put forward in a non-infallible declaration of the Church. No one should, therefore, on account of such diverging opinions alone, be regarded as an inferior Catholic.”

If these were the true sentiments of the flock 40 years ago, one can imagine how much less compliant today’s Catholics are. In fact, more than 50 Catholic groups from around the world have written an open letter asking Pope Benedict XVI to lift the Church’s ban on birth control. Taking a half-page ad in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the groups said that the Church’s ban on artificial birth control has had “catastrophic effects,” particularly in the fight against AIDS. It’s distressing how the good bishops can remain indifferent to the present-day realities of AIDS, rising abortion mortality among the poor, the worldwide food crisis and other current evils, which may not have been present or foreseen at the time Humanae Vitae was laid down and which may be alleviated by a more progressive and humane position from the Church.

But as the old saying goes, there is none so blind as those who refuse to see.

Caffeine_sparks gives us some hard, cold facts on the issue of reproductive health and the Church.

Even as the Church stands firm, “Humanae Vitae” will also continue to be the most widely flouted injunction of the Church at the level of practice, according to the New York Times.

In her 8th State of the Nation Address, President Arroyo, fearful of further antagonizing the Catholic Church at a time when her ratings hit a record low, reaffirmed her support for natural family planning over artificial methods such as condoms and pills.

19 thoughts on “Debate on Abortion, Humanae Vitae and the Reproductive Health Care Act Continues”

  1. i’m a student of UST and i do not agree with their pro-life campaign. i’m actually ashamed that our school had to be the venue of the prayer rally when their stand do not represent the stand of most of the students.

  2. God answers:They take very literally the “Go forth and multiply” adage without realizing that your land space has not increased even an inch since the earth’s creation.

    * Why is there an obvious lack of patriotism among high public officials?

  3. @ Mariah, the task is to raise awareness of the issue by listening to both sides and bringing the matter before the people. In this you can help out by informing yourself and making your views known.

    @ BrianB, yes, the Church will not back down on this issue. The sad thing is that it is not the clergy that stands to suffer most from such a narrow-minded stance but the poor.

    @ the Equalizer, its a question of whether our public officials should allow a single religious institution to dictate public policy. This goes against our supposed adherence to the doctrine of separation of church and state.

  4. ours is already a messy country even before the legalization of the very controversial reproductive health care bill…and im afraid this bill could bring the worst! the minds of the majority, including the youth were already poisoned with bad examples, wrongful use of technology and other bad influences…its time to retrospect! its time to renew our commitment to good morale, the value of one’s dignity and sanctity as our bodies are the temples of Christ! Be awake, be watchful!

  5. @ Jessica, I agree. The biblical exhortation to be watchful and awake is so much more relevant and urgent today.

    @ CD, thanks very much. This will help greatly in looking into the deeper details of the debate. And thank you also for pointing me to your site. I hope to learn more about the CFC controversy, being a lapsed member although we were active for quite a number of years.

  6. Impose birth control! And NOW! To HELL WITH THE CHURCH! TO HELL WITH RELIGION!

    The future we save today are the very same people who scream hosannah to some God up there for saving them from overpopulation at the expense of pro-abortion, pro-population control martyrdom.

    And God shines then at expense of Satanic people who opted for population control …

    SEE? GOD IS SMART!!! AND PEOPLE ARE FILIPINOS (Meaning, extremely dumb)

  7. I’ve been to a private mass before wherein a lot of nuns and priests were attending. After the Celebration, they began talking about Abortion in the Philippines. [but were referencing to provisions from laws made outside the country. Obviously, the speaker who claimed to have done extensive research on the internet knew little of the program parameters of search engines.]

    Young as a mind as I have, I knew what they were saying were horribly misconstrued. We studied the Constitution in High School. It expressly states the protection of the life of mother and child, right? So if they say that the Bill is unconstitutional, it wouldn’t be passed. What were they worrying about?

    And can’t they realize that holiness is the least of the priorities someone with nothing to feed six children? I mean, COME ON.

  8. for me, RHB should not be implemented because it promotes wrong values for families, children and for our people. it clouds up the true meaning of love, family and life. Let us demand that stinky RHB, to be dumped!!!!!

  9. What bothers me about the Catholic Church’s actions is that they actively disseminate misinformation about artificial contraception. They say that “condoms will destroy the sanctity of the sexual act” or “condoms have holes and won’t protect against STD” as if that is a matter of fact but actually, it’s just an opinion.

    I hope the legislators will listen to the majority of Filipinos who want the state to provide services for reproductive health instead of the exhortations of the bishops who want to impose their beliefs on everyone.

  10. These hypocrite clerics would rather pursue public compliance to their dogma than acknowledge the fact that women die of unhealthy pregnancies and babies get botched by illegal abortions – all because of lack of information regarding safe family planning.In short, they are the ones who kill life.

    These old men like to do things the WAY they see it fit; a notable example is the prevention of AIDS without using contraceptives – it is simply impossible and impractical.

    And it is not surprising that there is a direct proportion between being a lapdog of bishops and being poor. That’s one of the reasons why the Philippines never came out of poverty. There is simply NO PROGRESS in the hands of the Church.

  11. abortion is only a matter of choice that a woman had facing… if its only the way or the choice of her problem, so why not support her…? rather than accusing her.. its her choice…..! we all know that its not easy to have it, but its only the way to solve for an occuring problem..

  12. It seems I will belong to the minority commenting in this issue. I stand pat on the side of the Catholic Church. The reproductive function of the body is something sacred as far as Scripture is concerned. Besides, I do not blame the big population as the culprit in our economic problem. Let us stop blaming the population as the problem. The problem lies more in the inability of our government officials to do what has to be done. Instead, they did what was supposed to be ‘not done’. An audit into their lifestyle will bring about what I mean. Graft and corruption has destroyed the Philippines and the Filipino that it is a cancer that has silently grown and is properly fed not only by the officials but also the citizenry. I think the lawmakers are barking at the wrong tree in solving the economics of our country.

    I am not saying that we dont have a population problem. I see our problem not with the size but more with the quality. Lawmakers should design laws that would increase the quality of family life and defend and strengthen marriage. People who care about family are a minority.

    A look at influences on family will surely see that media has had a great and misguided influence on the family and the individual. Our morals and values have been eroded so much that even our ‘guardians’ of morals and values are now discredited and not believed in. People rely more on individual beliefs based on consumerism and hedonism. Many will not agree with me in this matter but having lived in the seventies and today gives me a comparative view on what was and what is. The original Filipino value is critically ill and may die soon and be change with foreign morals and values.

    Going back to the Bill, the danger of mis-use is great. The right of parents over their children is superceded. The parents do not have a control over the sex education of their children. They are merely given a copy on what the children will be taught. Employers are given the burden of giving the so called ‘services’ to their employees when they dont even have the ability to do so. The poor construction of the Bill allows young children and adults to the same educational material. The moral degradation that the Bill will give is very much present. When we talk of HIV or STD, we are talking of extramarital sex or even multi-partners relationships.

    People of the present generation will think of me as old fashioned, but what I carry in me is still the remnant of the Filipino morals and values that was instilled in me by my forefathers. If the present generation cannot carry this morals and values, it cannot be called Filipino.

    I say, let the real Filipino spirit, which was built upon the blood of our heroes be allowed to live.

  13. if you still believe that God is still present!you will not allow yourself to be poison with this unnecessary bill…if you still value life you will not allow this bill to be imposed..it is anti humanae vitae!what is really needed is one’s gumption…couples can still use natural family planning rather than artificial one(includes contraceptives-condoms etc.)that is surely been present in thid bill!

  14. yes!your definitely right about your views sam… i do believe too that this bill is an immoral act!i still believe that god is still there..i think that there are still lots of ways to prevent the growth of our countries’ population and poverty!our government officials are just hesitant to look for another one…a one in which few will opposed!

  15. I find it weird that the real issue about this bruhaha is not being discussed in the open. The real fact about this anti-contraception thing is that the catholic church teaches that sex, even for couples, should not be done for pleasure alone, that it’s main purpose is for childbearing. Therefore, to have sex and hinder fertilization of a baby is for them a sin. BAWAL MAKIPAGTALIK KUNG AYAW MABUNTIS. I wonder what would the ordinary catholic people think of this.

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