Should the Church fear Reproductive Health?

Juan Miguel Luz (juanmiguel.luz@gmail.com) is a trustee of the Philippine Center for Population and Development (PCPD) and associate dean for Development Management at the Asian Institute of Management.  The views presented are the author’s and reflect the position of PCPD.  AIM does not have a position on the subject. This piece was published in the October 24, 2011 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.

 

The debate in Congress on the proposed RH (Responsible Parenthood) bill is heating up in both houses, with the Catholic Church weighing in heavily dictating its dogma on legislators.

The question to be asked:  Should the Church fear reproductive health?

As a practicing Catholic and an education professional, I am dismayed that the Church in the Philippines is operating as if we were in the Middle Ages when debate and discussion were an affront to the institution.

To illustrate, let me quote from the pastoral letter written by the Bishop of Bacolod and read in all parishes in that diocese during the Holy Week period:

“…the Church bemoans the culture of death that looms over our country and seeks to be institutionalized thru the passage into law of the infamous RH Bill.  The Bill that seeks to convert the wombs of Mothers into dungeons of execution instead of abodes of security and nurturance of human life…

“How blinded is Herod by his devilish ambition and envy when he ordered the mass execution of hundreds of innocent babies!  How wicked is the madness of the murderous Hitler when he ordered the extermination of human lives in the gas chambers of Dachau and Auschwitz!

“And yet, what big difference is there between such atrocious acts and the actual abortion and extermination of human lives thru abortifacient pills and gadgets, as well as thru contraceptive methods espoused by the culture of death thru the RH Bill?”

This line of Catholic thinking is unfair to well-meaning parents, both young and old, who desire to better plan their families in terms of size and quality of life.  The logic of the pastoral letter is heavily flawed, if not outright absent.

The rationale behind the RH bill is, in fact, very Catholic in principle and practice:

  • Reproductive Health is about health and welfare, particularly of women and children.
  • By focusing on the health and well-being of both mothers and children, it is pro-life.
  • By focusing on mothers and children, RH promotes family welfare, starting with proper family planning:  It is about how a husband and wife can plan and prepare to bring children into this world in a manner that allows them to provide them with proper care and maximum attention.
  • Family planning also means the proper spacing of children, however many are planned, giving each child a better chance at growing up to be healthy and successful individuals.
  • The use of contraception in family planning is to help prevent unwanted or unplanned pregnancies.  Prevention is the key.
  • When a pregnancy does occur, however, the RH bill does not condone abortion or the willful destruction of a fetus or the unborn child.  In short, abortion is not an option.

In arguing against the RH bill, the Church’s reasoning is flawed in asserting that abortion is a logical next step.  The provision against abortion is a statement of law in the proposed bill and has a strict definition based on science and not one based on dogma or subjectivity.

When RH is portrayed as a great evil and when women and men who choose to pursue RH measures, notably contraception, are deemed to be sinners by Church leaders, this is neither fair nor informed.

The greater sin would be to bring any number of children into a world of poverty.When parents do so with no means to provide adequately for them nor provide them a chance at a decent quality of life, they do themselves and their children a great wrong by placing the family at great risk.  (I consider poverty a great risk and not a blessing despite what the Church might think.)

A government that does not provide the means by which families of any income group (but especially the poor) can help plan family size and expectations would thus be an irresponsible one.

Furthermore, RH is not intended to legislate the size of the family or to provide government with a mandate to manage population growth unilaterally.  Family size must be a matter of parental discretion and choice.  But when parents make a decision to plan the number of children they choose to bear, to properly space child birthsand/or to avoid unwanted pregnancies (without resorting to abortion), the Church – an advocate of informed choice – should not deny individuals or families that choice.   That is what free will and discernment  are ultimately about within the context of right and wrong.

Smaller family sizes – a direct result of willful family planning – will mean more time spent by parents with young, growing children.  This will translate into better role-modeling and more family resources for education, health and other purposes per child.

The ends of RH and the Church are thus similar:  a more secure life for the family. Ultimately, if RH is about better-off families, then society will be the better for it.

The bishops and priests should therefore have nothing to fear if every Catholic Filipino parent were a responsible individual making informed choices and acting with discernment for their own benefit to improve family well-being.

That, surely, must be what life, development and public policy (as well as Catholic thinking) should be all about.

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