Revisiting reproductive health

Joe Cole, a British citizen based in Manila, occasionally writes for Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in February 15, 2010 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.

This piece may have gained relevance in light of the failure of the Philippine Congress to act on the reproductive health bill.

A US doctor who performed abortions was shot dead. In church. The irony of this was not lost on many people.

Abortion, indeed the whole family planning debate, is a hot and perennial topic in many countries. Population control is not an area where the Philippines can afford to do nothing as it is the cause of many of her social, economic and environmental ills. However she does not necessarily have to go against her Catholicism to do control herself.

There are six main ways of avoiding or preventing pregnancy, and therefore controlling population (castration is not one of these; though it is a humane way to deal with stray dog problems). There is the obvious, but generally risky abstinence (risky in the sense that abstainers usually end up with proportionally higher sexually transmitted diseases or STDs, as they have a general lack of sex). Catholic priests are generally abstinent, but a thousand years or so ago they could marry women.

Contraception is the prevention of conception; it’s basically condoms and things like IUDs (intra-uterine devices), which should not be confused with IEDs (improvised explosive devices) – ever. Condoms have the great benefit of helping to prevent STDs. Contraception is closely followed by contragestion, which is the pill. Then you have abortion, which is a very hot area (Priests—foremost antiabortionists—tend to be male, and people who have abortions tend to be female is just one simple reason why it’s hot). Then you have coitus interuptus, which can’t really be relied upon as a method of population control, and Natural Family Planning (NFP), which also can’t be relied upon because there are so many influences such as the moon’s gravitational pull, or the amount of hours you work a week, or the length of brownouts, that you cannot be 100% certain, and even when you are 100% there is no guarantee as NFP has a failure rate of 4%.

The foundation of why Catholics (and actually most religions take this view) are limited in terms of birth control has to do with the sanctity of life. Catholics, again like most religions, believe that because God creates life it is sacred (for an opposing view of this, check out the Cathars).  Obviously sanctity of life is not limited to birth control; it includes euthanasia, though ironically Christ was effectively euthanized (spear to the side).

But there is a problem with this; if all life is sacred then Catholics should only ever use non-lethal force and live in pacifist countries because they are supposed to turn the other cheek. There is a problem here, for Catholics that defend themselves after all “do not be like the hypocrites.”

Originally all acts of pregnancy prevention were considered a sin; yes even NFP. It was only Pope John Paul the VI in 1968 who allowed NFP in Humae Vitae (HV). Now, it is possible to be destructive and make arguments based around anti-popes and Holy Roman Emperors (neither Holy or Roman) but to take the constructive approach it is simple to say that the church is ever changing; we just don’t notice it because it is two thousand years old. Just because the church denies contraception now does not mean it will do so in ten years’ time. There are clear theological ways it can reverse its teaching, and being infallible really helps.

One hundred years ago we didn’t have penicillin, today we have AIDS. The current Pope is simply buying the Church time; that is why they elected an old man, and not another John Paul II (one of the longest-lasting popes).  It is my firm belief that the Church is at a crossroads, and its views will change and it will probably splinter as it did with Vatican II, and has done many times before. If you accept that the Church is correct on grounds of faith and morals, then that leaves a whole load of areas (economy for one) for the government to work in.

This is really important because we have to be free for the whole Catholic ideology to work. We have to choose the lesser of two evils constantly. Driving cars kill children, but we still do it.

The Winnipeg statement (from Canada ’s catholic bishops) reasserted the primacy of the individual’s conscience as well as stating that the NFP laid out in HV is all but impossible (and has a failure rate of up to 4%). ‘”Man has the right to act according to his conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions.”

There is a vast difference between abortion and contraception/gestation; as there is a vast difference between the death penalty and imprisonment. People should be free to choose what method they want to use, if they want to use any, to avoid pregnancy. Importantly any and all methods should be made available to all upon demand and not just those who can afford it; otherwise the country will be imprisoned in a nightmare of over-population and everything that comes with it. Five million families unable to care properly for their nth child are individual disasters, adding collectively to a national one.

Even the withdrawal method is a sin because it prevents pregnancy (women’s rights proponents could have a field day on the old “old male church subjugating woman by making sure they get pregnant when they don’t want to and thus stops them getting all uppity and asking about rights, etc”). Sixty years ago NFP was also a sin. In sixty years’ time, it will all be different, but the damage from population growth cannot be reversed.

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