Home > reproductive health, RH Bill 5043 > teaching of my church is to respect beliefs of other religions – Fr. Bernas SJ on the RH Bill

teaching of my church is to respect beliefs of other religions – Fr. Bernas SJ on the RH Bill

September 30, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

we are reprinting this in full here.

When is family planning anti-life?

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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.

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