First posted 02:51:04 (Mla time) September 26, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The Catholic Church's hard-line position against contraception simply doesn't make sense. Fine, the Church objects to abortion, but the bill does not legalize abortion in any way and indeed affirms the criminal laws punishing abortion. Yet the opponents of the bill keep on calling the bill "pro-abortion."
Sure, they define abortion very broadly and consider as "abortifacients" any family planning method that takes effect after the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg. (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists pegs it at the moment of "implantation" unto the uterine wall). Even if we accept the clergy's broader definition, how can they conceivably object to condoms? Condoms actually prevent the meeting of the egg and the sperm and avert the moment of fertilization just like those so-called "natural methods."
Now they say that some birth control pills are bad for the mother's health. First of all, boy, am I glad that a Church that is fittingly founded upon Marian devotion has finally gotten around to seeing this issue from the standpoint of the mother. Again, even if we concede this, surely condoms have no adverse health consequences (unless swallowed, I suppose, but — ah — that means they were also committing another sin!).
The clergy, however, will have to reckon with one simple problem: facts. One, less than one month ago Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, the archbishop of Manila, bewailed the rise in abortions in the country. He noted successive reports of dead fetuses dumped into sewers, bins, public toilets and, in the saddest episode, inside a jar placed in a basket of fruits offered during the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass at the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Manila's Quiapo district.
Official figures show some 400,000 abortions carried out each year in the Philippines. As I have written earlier, one-third of all pregnancies in the Philippines have ended up in abortion and, in 2000 alone, they recorded 473,400 cases of induced abortions, more than 90 percent of them by married women. Almost 60 percent of contraceptive users depend on government for their supply of contraceptives.
In contrast, read Thursday's report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. "The abortion rate in the United States has hit a 30-year low, with the decline particularly marked among teens, who once had the highest rate of abortion." Abortions were dramatically reduced by more than 50 percent within 15 years, due in large part to the increased use of contraceptives.
In July 2008, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that rural women who spoke at the National Rural Congress II, attended by members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines and pro-life groups, said that abortion has been prevalent in the rural areas where women tended to have less access to family planning and maternal health care facilities. [Read story] The women, mostly community leaders, attested to first-hand knowledge of rural women who, confronted with unwanted and unplanned pregnancies and unable to afford another child, have turned to "hilot" [folk physical therapists] and herbal healers to terminate their pregnancies.
These documented reports should tell us that, in the Philippines today, you cannot logically oppose abortion and contraception at the same time. To oppose contraception is to cut out the tried-and-tested method to reduce abortions. To oppose contraception is to give one's Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval to the historical pattern of 400,000 abortions a year. It shows an indifference to the facts. Even worse, it shows a callous disregard for the needs of the Filipino couple who wishes to control the size of their family.
There are only two ways I can make sense of the clergy's scorched-earth stance on this issue. The first is pure Church doctrine. As part of the lay public, I defer to the experts in dogma. I understand that some authoritative guy some time in the past said it was wrong. He's got to be right. As proper faithful, we've got to toe the line. I leave them to their own internal wrangling, so long as they don't impose it on all other Filipinos.
Rep. Raul del Mar of Cebu asked: Why should the government spend millions on contraceptives when these come from taxpayers' money and these taxpayers are Catholic? The trouble, Congressman, is that you took an oath to uphold a Constitution that provides for the separation of Church and State. Look all the way back to the Malolos Constitution, guys, and up to the present. We are a secular state, just in case you have forgotten.
The second is that this debate is actually a proxy for other issues. If the anti-abortion campaign was merely the arena for the Church's attempt to contain the feminist movement's assault on the historical debasement of women in medieval Church doctrine, then today's anti-contraceptive campaign is the new arena for the Church's attempt to stem the sexual revolution and reassert the moral dimensions of sexual bonds.
Let us debate the real issues. I am sure the Filipino clergy will find enough supporters, myself included, in its campaign to reassert the primacy of ethical perspectives, but they will have to junk their 15th-century notion that sex is inherently evil and is justified only if it is for the purpose of reproduction. They must attune themselves to the modern sense that sex is a way by which couples express their deepest human feelings and by which the most meaningful human bonds are affirmed.
For a religion that singularly sets itself apart from the others with its belief in The Word made Flesh, of the Divine incarnated in mortal form, the Filipino clergy strangely persists in a medieval attitude, thankfully long ago discarded, that disregards the earthly bodies through which we aspire to the divine.