The Catholic must choose

There is nothing in 'The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012' which prevents a good Catholic from being a good Catholic

Fr Joel Tabora, SJMy thesis has been: There is nothing in “The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RA 10354)” which prevents a good Catholic from being a good Catholic.

In simply citing texts from this act I can show that the law recently passed in the name of responsible parenthood and reproductive health is sensitive to religious convictions, proscribes abortion and abortifacient contraception, provides for funded natural family planning, and respects conscience based on ethical or religious convictions for hospitals owned by religious groups and for individual health workers.

RA 10354, whether people like it or not, is now a law. If there have been those who fought its passage, the law has now been passed. There are those who have challenged the law’s constitutionality before the Supreme Court. That is their right. Eventually, the Supreme Court will decide.

Meanwhile, we have a law. It can neither be denied nor ignored. In talking about it, in stating it is good or it is bad, or partly good and partly bad, it is good to start with a serious reading of the text.

I. Texts pertinent to religious convictions

For me it is remarkable with how much care the legislators of RA 10354 provide for our citizens’ fidelity to religious conviction. Some of the statements this law makes in this regard are the following:

“The State recognizes and guarantees the human rights of all persons including … the right to choose and make decisions for themselves in accordance with their religious convictions, ethics, cultural beliefs, and the demands of responsible parenthood” (Sec. 2).

“The State recognizes marriage as an inviolable social institution and the foundation of the family which in turn is the foundation of the nation. Pursuant thereto, the State shall defend … The right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions and the demands of responsible parenthood” (ibid.);

“The State shall promote programs that: (1) enable individuals and couples to have the number of children they desire with due consideration to the health, particularly of women, and the resources available and affordable to them and in accordance with existing laws, public morals and their religious convictions (Sec. 3.f.)

“The State shall respect individuals’ preferences and choice of family planning methods that are in accordance with their religious convictions and cultural beliefs, taking into consideration the State’s obligations under various human rights instruments” (Sec. 3.h.).

“Responsible parenthood refers to the will and ability of a parent to respond to the needs and aspirations of the family and children. It is likewise a shared responsibility between parents to determine and achieve the desired number of children, spacing and timing of their children according to their own family life aspirations, taking into account psychological preparedness, health status, sociocultural and economic concerns consistent with their religious convictions” (Sec. 4. v).

Under prohibited acts, the law provides that any public or private healthcare worker may not “refuse to extend quality health care services and information on account of the person’s marital status, gender, age, religious convictions, personal circumstances, or nature of work: Provided, that the conscientious objection of a health care service provider based on his/her ethical or religious beliefs shall be respected; however, the conscientious objector shall immediately refer the person seeking such care and services to another health care service provider within the same facility or one which is conveniently accessible” (Sec 23 a. 3).

Even in the matter of healthcare workers, the law respects conscience. There is nothing in this law, as far as I can see, which offends against the Catholic notion of the family, since it recognizes the right of all to found families in accordance with their religious conviction. There is nothing that constrains Catholics to keep their families to a prescribed size, so that it would be illegal to bear more children than allowed, as is practiced in China.

Parents, according to their religious convictions, may choose to have two children, or even 10. There is nothing in this law that constrains a family to use artificial contraception, nor even to use natural family planning, if this is against their religious sensitivity. Under this law, the Catholic can abstain from all family planning methods, or even abstain from sex altogether. There is nothing in this law that prevents Catholic parents, consistent with their religious convictions, from desiring and actually striving to provide sufficient food, shelter, clothing, education and the prospect for a good life in human society for themselves and their children within the concrete context of the Philippines today. Sec. 2 describes the “beneficiaries” of this act as “voluntary.” There is nothing in this act that constrains even a Catholic health worker to act against conscience.

Instead, RA 10534 also recognizes the right of children to proper care and assistance, to protection against neglect, abuse, and exploitation, and the right of a family to a “family living wage and income.” Thus, “The State shall also promote openness to life; provided, that parents bring forth to the world only those children whom they can raise in a truly humane way” (Sec. 2).

As we have seen, the law respects religious conviction. It does not force reproductive practice or behavior on any one against religious conviction.

What it does presuppose is religious conviction(s) on the basis of which individuals make choices. Here, I believe, is the core of much of the emotional reaction to this act. The law presupposes that convinced Catholics, and convinced Protestants, and convinced Muslims, and convinced atheists will make their choices according to religious convictions. If choices are made without religious conviction, that is a situation that the law itself cannot remedy, once it has provided for choice according to religious conviction.

Let us look at another set of texts.

II. Texts pertinent to abortion

While there is still debate even on the theological level as to whether natural family planning is the only legitimate manner of contraception, if legitimate at all, there is general consensus that abortion is wrong. We can recall that the Philippine Constitution protects “the life of the unborn from conception” (Sec. 12, Art. 2).

“The State likewise guarantees universal access to medically-safe, non-abortifacient, effective, legal, affordable, and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices, supplies which do not prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum as determined…” (Sec. 2) The explicit reference to “non-abortifacient” contraceptive, further described as those “which do not prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum” was not in the original drafts of this law, but are now explicit in it.

Under the guiding principles for implementation, RA 10534 prescribes, “The provision of ethical and medically safe, legal, accessible, affordable, non-abortifacient, effective and quality health services and supplies… (Sec. 3 d). Again, even if one under this law were to choose artificial contraception, it must be non-abortifacient, that is, it cannot kill human life once it begins “from the first moment of conception.”

In this light, RA 10534 defines “abortifacient”: “Abortifacient refers to any drug or device that induces abortion or the destruction of a fetus inside the mother’s womb or the prevention of the fertilized ovum to reach and be implanted in the mother’s womb upon determination of the FDA” (Sec 4 d).

Furthermore, “The State shall promote and provide information and access, without bias, to all methods of family planning, including effective natural and modern methods which have been proven medically safe, legal, non-abortifacient, and effective in accordance with scientific and evidence-based medical research standards” (Sec. 3 e). Even in information given, methods must be non-abortifacient.

All family planning must be non-abortifacient: “Family planning refers to a program which enables couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and to have access to a full range of safe, affordable, effective, non-abortifacient modern natural and artificial methods of planning pregnancy” (Sec. 4 e).

Again: “Modern methods of family planning refers to safe, effective, non-abortifacient and legal methods, whether natural or artificial, that are registered with the FDA, to plan pregnancy” (Sec. 4 l).

Even reproductive health rights do not include abortion or access to abortifacients: “Reproductive health rights refers to the rights of individuals and couples, to decide freely and responsibly whether or not to have children; the number, spacing and timing of their children; to make other decisions concerning reproduction, free of discrimination, coercion and violence; to have the information and means to do so; and to attain the highest standard of sexual health and reproductive health: Provided, however, that reproductive health rights do not include abortion, and access to abortifacients” (Sec. 4 s).

In its provision for the care of those suffering from post-abortive complications, prescinding from moral judgments which ethicists or moral leaders may make on the origin of the complications, as they must, RA 10534 provides: “While this Act recognizes that abortion is illegal and punishable by law, the government shall ensure that all women needing care for post-abortive complications and all other complications arising from pregnancy, labor and delivery and related issues shall be treated and counseled in a humane, nonjudgmental and compassionate manner in accordance with law and medical ethics” (Sec. 3 j). Where error and sin may have been committed in abortion by particular persons, the law provides for their proper care, preventing further evil through incompetent care or abandonment to their own despair.

In the matter of use of the nation’s resources for all, RA 10534 provides, “The resources of the country must be made to serve the entire population, especially the poor, and allocations thereof must be adequate and effective: Provided, that the life of the unborn is protected” Expressly prohibited are “emergency contraceptive pills, postcoital pills, [and] abortifacients” (Sec. 3 n).

The Philippine National Drug Formulary System and Family Supplies can include only family planning products that are “non-abortifacient” (Cf. Sec 9)

As the lead agency for the implementation of RA 10534, DOH must “ensure people’s access to medically safe, non-abortifacient, legal, quality and affordable reproductive health goods and services” (Sec. 19, 2).

The law, therefore, faithful to the Constitution as well as to general-held condemnation by Catholics of abortion as immoral, clearly proscribes abortion and abortifacient contraceptives. Those who assert that the use of contraception necessarily leads to abortion due to a “contraceptive mentality” must substantiate their assertion based on empirical data if they wish credence. The use of natural family planning, as a licit form of contraception, does not lead to abortion.

III. Texts pertinent to natural family planning

“Modern methods of family planning refers to safe, effective, non-abortifacient and legal methods, whether natural or artificial, that are registered with the FDA, to plan pregnancy” (Sec 4, l). RA 10534 provides for natural family planning.

“Natural family planning refers to a variety of methods used to plan or prevent pregnancy based on identifying the woman’s fertile days” (Sec 4, m). This is consistent with the Church’s recognition of Natural Family Planning or “rhythm” as consistent with its moral practice.

In the implementation of the law, RA 10534 mandates the Department of Health, as its implementing agency, to “engage the services, skills and proficiencies of experts in natural family planning who shall provide the necessary training for all [barangay health workers] BHW” (Sec 19, b, 3).

The appropriations for the implementation of this Act include natural family planning. (Cf. Sec. 25).

Natural family planning is a serious, available and funded option under RA 10534.

IV. Texts pertinent to implementing institutions and persons

Relative to: “Access to Family Planning. – All accredited public health facilities shall provide a full range of modern family planning methods, which shall also include medical consultations, supplies and necessary and reasonable procedures for poor and marginalized couples having infertility issues who desire to have children: Provided, that family planning services shall likewise be extended by private health facilities to paying patients with the option to grant free care and services to indigents, except in the case of non-maternity specialty hospitals and hospitals owned and operated by a religious group, but they have the option to provide such full range of modern family planning methods: Provided, further, that these hospitals shall immediately refer the person seeking such care and services to another health facility which is conveniently accessible: Provided, finally, that the person is not in an emergency condition or serious case as defined in Republic Act No. 8344” (Sec. 7).

Under prohibited acts of RA 10534, it is prohibited to: “Refuse to extend quality health care services and information on account of the person’s marital status, gender, age, religious convictions, personal circumstances, or nature of work: Provided, that the conscientious objection of a health care service provider based on his/her ethical or religious beliefs shall be respected; however, the conscientious objector shall immediately refer the person seeking such care and services to another health care service provider within the same facility or one which is conveniently accessible: Provided, further, that the person is not in an emergency condition or serious case as defined in Republic Act No. 8344, which penalizes the refusal of hospitals and medical clinics to administer appropriate initial medical treatment and support in emergency and serious cases” Sec. 23, 3).

In the implementation of RA 10534, “hospitals owned by a religious group” are excepted from the mandate to implement the law, even though they are given the option to do so, provided that they refer the person in need to another hospital and provided they are in an emergency condition already defined in a previous law, RA 8344.

The conscientious objections of health care providers based on his or her ethical or religious beliefs is respected.

Fear of choice

For an apparently monolithic body like the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) I think there is preference for a situation where the choice is not given. It will not argue with the necessity for individual Catholics to choose personally to be good Catholics in general, but it argues against a situation where Catholics in a plural society have an opportunity to choose behavior that conforms to their moral teaching or not.

There is fear, it seems, that many Catholics will not so choose, as many in fact already do not. That is cause for deep anxiety. It colors the ongoing negative evaluation of the law that has been passed. Rather than celebrate the situation where Catholics can choose to be Catholic and courageously live lives fundamentally defined by Humanae Vitae even as others live according to their religious convictions, they prefer a situation where no choice on responsible parenthood and reproductive health as provided in RA 10534 is afforded anyone.

Where there is diversity and Catholics cannot be counted on to choose according to their religious convictions, this is not due to RA 10354; it is due rather to shortcomings in proclamation, failures in religious education and especially in the pastoral care of our people – and an abyss that now exists between official Catholic teaching and actual practice of Catholics on an array of issues.

It is possible for pastors to close their eyes to this by resorting to the internal forum when people who have too many children come to them for relief. In the end, however, the question is whether the majority of our married people choose to accept a teaching that insists on the unitive and procreative meanings for each and every conjugal act, unless one resorts to natural family planning.

The defenders of the faith can insist on fidelity to this Church teaching, as they do, but when my driver responds startled to this teaching with, “Pero dadami po ang mga anak ko – at gugutom po sila!” (“But my children will multiply – and they will starve!”) whether I like it or not, among the options he chooses is neither rhythm nor abstinence.

There are many Catholics who object to an attitude relative to reproductive health or responsible parenthood becoming a litmus test of Catholicity. In some cases it is represented with such ferocity that Catholicity – originally meaning “for all” – becomes a new moniker for heroic sisters and brothers alone who follow Humanae Vitae – to the exclusion of all others.

The issues involved in the transmission of human life (humanae vitae) are much more profound and much more urgent than whether or not one uses natural family planning or abstains from sex in order impede conception, or even when one uses artificial non-abortifacient contraception or condoms.

The transmission of human life, within the Catholic communion, is based on a profound analogy of the Father transmitting life and love to the Church community through Jesus, and in the Church’s reciprocation of that love in the Spirit. It is life transmitted despite our sin, and love gifted despite our shortcomings, even as we are commanded today in faith to take care of one another, to do justice, to wage peace, to sensitize ourselves to different cultures, to be open to God’s manifestations even in other religions, and to pursue the common good.

In obedience to this calling of the Church in this globalized world, there is no need to heap more heavy burdens on one another (cf. Mt. 23:4). Instead, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God, and every one who loves God is born of God, and knows God” (1 John 4:7) – Rappler.com

 
Fr Joel Tabora, a Jesuit priest, is president of the Ateneo de Davao University. His blog contains the original version of this article, which Rappler edited and posted with his permission.

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