Sylvia Estrada Claudio is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. A doctor of medicine and a PhD in Psychology, she is an Associate Professor of Women and Development Studie and the Director of the Center for Women’s Studies at the University of the Philippines. She chairs the Board of Directors of Likhaan, which advocates sexual and reproductive health and rights. Her article was published in the Yellow Pad column of the BusinessWorld on July 21, 2008, pages S1/4 and S1/5.

The headline in a newspaper last week read, “anti-life pols must be refused communion.”

I was excited, at first. I thought, the Catholic Church would refuse communion to:

1) Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for her bad economic policies that have caused joblessness, malnutrition and hunger. They also might refuse to give her communion for her erosion of the people’s trust in our social institutions and our democratic processes. It does not take a high IQ to know that because of her actions, we are indeed on the road to disharmony, contention, chaos, disease and death.

2) Refuse communion to the NBN-ZTE, Northrail scalawags and other corrupt officials. As a doctor and as an academic, I have interacted through the years with the personnel of the Departments of Health and Education. These are huge government bureaucracies with civil servants on the frontline. Through the years the main problem remains the same: the health and education budgets are meager.  The budgets are so small compared to the needs of our people that to describe the amounts as “anti-life” would be no exaggeration. Gloria’s economic professors will tell her that the real road to “asensong mararamdaman” (progress you can feel) is to invest in social services including women’s reproductive health.

3) Refuse communion to politicians who participate in 1) and 2).

But no, I misunderstood. It turns out that it is the legislators sponsoring reproductive health bills that  are being threatened. The newspaper article continues: “Ozamiz Archbishop Jesus Dosado has issued a pastoral letter saying that politicians who consistently campaign for and endorse permissive abortion should be taught about the Church position.”

I must say that I respect the right of the Catholic Church (or any religion) to decide about matters of faith. I really have no comment to make about that debate regarding how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

But should they tell me to stop buying pins because angels dance on pinheads; should they refuse to give wafers to pin manufacturers; should they refuse communion to lawmakers attempting to put standards on pin manufacture—well excuse me, Archbishops. Now you enter into secular space and I am allowed to ask you less respectful questions like—are you daft?

Here, in secular space, my good Archbishops, you deserve no more and no less than the rest of us. You deserve to be confronted with scientific fact and evidence and called to account when you misrepresent and mislead.

And so, to a bit of science: the mainstream scientific community, exemplified by the World Health Organization and the International Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, does not consider modern contraceptives abortifacient. Only the Catholic Church and its fringe scientists think so.  This is why they bring up the abortion bogey every time legislation for reproductive health services is proposed. The current bills do not legalize abortion, no matter what the Church claims.

The scientific literature on women’s health is also unequivocal. Give people access to contraceptives and you reduce maternal mortality and disability, reproductive tract infections including HIV-AIDS (and here to be precise I am referring to condom use) and improve neonatal survival. Reducing those three problems leads to a host of other benefits for individuals, families, communities, and nation.

So tell me Archbishop Dosado, who told you that giving women full reproductive health services is anti-life? Do you know how many women’s lives are lost because they are denied these services? Do you not read the literature? What right have you to attempt to dictate social policy on the basis of such ignorance?

Here from secular space, I can remind you that to intimidate representatives of the people from doing their duty (the right of couples to determine the number of their children is in our constitution) is probably a criminal undertaking.  By the way, the word intimidate is not an exaggeration here. Whether it is lawmakers at the local level such as Councilor Joseph Juico of Quezon City, medical personnel, or members of Congress, the Church intimidates. Tactics like talking to family members, text messages to cellular phones, bad propaganda especially during elections, are common experiences.

Here from secular space, I may also ask for a bit of consistency. I understand that these ravings of the Bishops find their basis in the papal encyclical letter entitled, Humanae Vitae.  But if this is so I suggest you further deny communion to:

1) Catholic priests who:

a) Have had sexual liaisons with adults.
b) Are pedophiles.
c) Are sexual harassers, rapists, abusive.
d) Suddenly remember their vow of celibacy when they decide to abandon their pregnant lovers.
e) Take their girlfriends for an abortion. (Trust me on this. The medical community knows. Our vow of confidentiality keeps us from telling.)

2) Anyone using a modern contraceptive.

3) Anyone who is divorced.

I argue that all of these suggestions are consistent with Humanae Vitae and its views on the sacredness of life.

And finally, dear Bishops, a few more words of advice. Perhaps you should ask yourselves whether democracy is still important to Catholicism, since a majority of Catholics in the Philippines and in the world are for modern contraceptives. Perhaps you should also behave with more humility considering many Filipinos (including lawmakers) aren’t even Catholic and have no idea what the fuss is about. Perhaps you should be more reality-based considering many people think they are reading Noli me Tangere when they hear you, and they are proud to have overthrown that kind of Catholicism.

Perhaps, dear Bishops, you should leave the few lawmakers who still have my respect, alone.