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 MalacaÃ±ang, 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.