we are reprinting this in full here.
When is family planning anti-life?
I use the phrase family planning because it is a phrase that covers a broad spectrum of ways of limiting the number of children. It can include abstention from sexual congress intended to beget children. It can include what are called natural methods of preventing conception. It can include artificial means of preventing conception. It also includes abortion. All these contribute to the reduction and regulation of the number of children that are brought into this world.
In the current debate brought about by the introduction of the Reproductive Health bill, the question of what is anti-life comes up. It is therefore important to be able to clarify what precisely is meant by being anti-life. In the current debate, the term anti-life is often used in the most pejorative way. It is used in the sense of being against existing life. Murder, in other words.
But it can also be understood to mean not being willing or not desiring to add more human life to the already crowded population. This would be the stance of a married couple who decide to abstain from the acts that bring about life. To a certain extent this is also the stance of a young man who chooses a celibate life not because he hates children, but out of a conviction that he can accomplish better what he feels he is called to do without the burden of raising children. Definitely I would not categorize such a person as being anti-life. People like him love life so much that they take it upon themselves to contribute in some or other ways to the improvement of the quality of life of those who are already born.
We come now to contraception. Is contraception anti-life in the sense of being directed at actual life? The phrase anti-life is an active and not a passive word. The word “anti” in compound word is an active word aimed at life. Thus we must ask when life begins, because before life begins it is beyond the reach of anti-life action.
When does life begin? For me, the starting point in dealing with this very specific question is what the Constitution says. It says that the state “shall protect the life of the unborn from conception.” What this means, in the understanding of the men and women who wrote that Constitution, is that life begins at conception, that is, upon fertilization. Before fertilization there is no life. This is also the view of the Philippine Medical Society, and this is the view of John Paul II. John Paul II said that life is so important that we should not do anything that will endanger it. We would be taking at least a very serious risk against life if we terminate development after fertilization.
What this means is that one who practices abstention is not anti-life. The celibate who gives up procreation for a higher calling is not anti-life. The use of contraceptive devices that only prevent fertilization is not anti-life in the sense of being an act of murder. Abortion, in the sense of expulsion of the fertilized ovum at any time after fertilization is anti-life, and is an act of murder. If life of the unborn is terminated at a stage of viability the crime is infanticide. For that reason the Penal Code and also the proposed RH bill prohibit and penalize abortion and infanticide.
I have heard it loosely said that what are being marketed as contraception devices are in fact abortive devices. This is loose talk. If there are such abortive devices being marketed, they should be identified scientifically, not by gossip, and withdrawn from the market. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the responsibility of ensuring that no abortifacient drugs be marketed. I know of one drug which was withdrawn from the market after being proved before the FDA to be abortifacient. This was the subject of a thesis of a student of mine which she defended, as required for graduation from the Ateneo Law School, before a panel of professors.
Having said all this I must also put on my hat as a priest of the Catholic Church. I accept the teaching of the Catholic Church which prohibits not only abortion but also artificial contraception. Yet one might say that through this article I am in fact approving artificial contraception. I am not doing such a thing. Aside from being a Catholic priest in good standing, I am also a lawyer and teacher and student of Constitutional Law. What I am doing is to place all this in the context of our constitutionally mandated pluralistic society. Not all citizens of the Philippines are Catholics. Many of them therefore do not consider artificial contraception immoral or anti-life. The teaching of my Church is that I must respect the belief of other religions even if I do not agree with them. That is how Catholics and non-Catholics can live together in harmony. The alternative which, God forbid, is the restoration of the Inquisition.
THE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH BILL: LOGIC 101
(Speech at the inter-university forum on 15 September 2011 sponsored by the UP Law Center Human Rights Institute at the UP College of Law Malcolm Theatre)
Reproductive Rights as Part of Human Rights
Our topic is the nature of reproductive rights as part of the greater sum of human rights. In legal terms, human rights form the totality of the freedoms, immunities, and benefits that, according to modern values – specially at an international level – all human beings should be able to claim as a matter of right in the society in which they live.
In international law, the basic document is the non-binding but authoritative Universal Declaration of Human Rights, accompanied by the binding documents known as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.
In national or domestic law, the basic document is the Philippine Constitution, particularly Article 2 on Declaration of State Policies, and Article 3 on the Bill of Rights. Our Constitution, Art. 2 Sec. 15 specifically provides: “The State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them.” This right to health is now viewed as including the right to reproductive health.
Reproductive rights constitute the totality of a person’s constitutionally protected rights relating to the control of his or her procreative activities. Specifically, reproductive rights refer to the cluster of civil liberties relating to pregnancy, abortion, and sterilization, specially the personal bodily rights of a woman in her decision whether to become pregnant or bear a child.
The phrase “reproductive rights” includes the idea of being able to make reproductive decisions free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Human-rights scholars increasingly consider many reproductive rights to be protected by international human rights law.
When we speak of Philippine internal laws and politics, we are speaking of the so-called “horizontal” strand of the human rights movement. But as constitutionalism spreads among states, we now speak of the so-called “vertical strand” of the new international law, that is meant to bind states and that is implemented by the new international institutions. Filipino politicians seem to be aware only of the horizontal but not of the vertical dimension of the human rights movement.1
But the truly novel developments of the last half century have involved primarily the vertical dimension. Thus, contrary to the misimpression of many of our politicians, the national debate on reproductive health is not only limited to the Constitution, but necessarily include Philippine obligations under the legally binding obligations of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, as well as other treaties to which the Philippines is a state party.
The urgency of enforcing reproductive rights in our country was raised at the 1993 Vienna World Conference, when the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights2 drew attention to:
The shocking reality . . . that States and the international community as a whole continue to tolerate all too often breaches of economic social and cultural rights which . . . would provoke horror and outrage and would lead to concerted calls for immediate remedial action.
In the human rights movement, the mechanisms and processes for the delivery of health services are themselves morally compelling. Evaluation of health programs emphasizes distribution in outcomes, not only averages. We are concerned about the entire distribution, because reproductive rights theories take seriously the idea that every human being is worthy of respect.
Advocates of human rights pay particular attention to disaggregated data among women and the poor, because they are particularly liable to practices and prejudices that weaken their agency and the social basis of their self-esteem. Finally, reproductive rights approaches accommodate adoptive preferences. Many poor women do not receive information on how to receive reproductive health care. In addition, our underprivileged women have to accept standards lower than what they need, want, or deserve.
This is the reason why we hold forums like these – to raise consciousness, provide political education, and take measures in civil society to expand the imagination and the demands of the excluded group of women who belong to the poorest of the poor.3
Why the RH Bill is Controversial
The two most controversial provisions of the RH bill are:
Sec. 7. Access to Family Planning. – All accredited public and private health facilities shall provide a full range of modern family planning methods, except in specialty hospitals which may render such services on an optional basis. No person shall be denied information and access to family planning services.
Sec. 8. Maternal Death Review.
Sec. 9. Family Planning Supplies as Essential Medicines. – The National Drug Formulary shall include hormonal contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectables and other safe, legal and effective family planning products and supplies in accordance (with FDA guidelines). These products and supplies shall also be included in the regular purchase of essential medicines and supplies of all national and local hospitals, provincial, city, and municipal health offices, including rural health units.
In brief, the RH bill merely wants to empower a woman from the poorest economic class to march to the nearest facility operated by the Department of Health or the local government unit, to demand information on a family planning product or supply of her choice. The bill, at the simplest level, wants to give an indigent married woman the freedom of informed choice concerning her reproductive rights.
If the bill is highly controversial, it is not because it is dangerous to humans or to the planet. It is not subversive of the political order. It is not a fascist diktat of a totalitarian power structure. The reason this bill is emotionally charged is because of the fervent opposition of the Catholic church in the Philippines and those who wish to be perceived as its champions.