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

September 30, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

Fr. Joaquin Bernas on #rhbill : serves the welfare of the nation and especially of poor women who cannot afford the cost of medical service

May 24, 2011 42 comments

My stand on the RH Bill

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I HAVE been following the debates on the RH Bill not just in the recent House sessions but practically since its start. In the process, because of what I have said and written (where I have not joined the attack dogs against the RH Bill), I have been called a Judas by a high-ranking cleric, I am considered a heretic in a wealthy barangay where some members have urged that I should leave the Church (which is insane), and one of those who regularly hears my Mass in the Ateneo Chapel in Rockwell came to me disturbed by my position. I feel therefore that I owe some explanation to those who listen to me or read my writings.

First, let me start by saying that I adhere to the teaching of the Church on artificial contraception even if I am aware that the teaching on the subject is not considered infallible doctrine by those who know more theology than I do. Moreover, I am still considered a Catholic and Jesuit in good standing by my superiors, critics notwithstanding!

Second (very important for me as a student of the Constitution and of church-state relations), I am very much aware of the fact that we live in a pluralist society where various religious groups have differing beliefs about the morality of artificial contraception. But freedom of religion means more than just the freedom to believe. It also means the freedom to act or not to act according to what one believes. Hence, the state should not prevent people from practicing responsible parenthood according to their religious belief nor may churchmen compel President Aquino, by whatever means, to prevent people from acting according to their religious belief. As the “Compendium on the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church” says, “Because of its historical and cultural ties to a nation, a religious community might be given special recognition on the part of the State. Such recognition must in no way create discrimination within the civil or social order for other religious groups” and “Those responsible for government are required to interpret the common good of their country not only according to the guidelines of the majority but also according to the effective good of all the members of the community, including the minority.”

Third, I am dismayed by preachers telling parishioners that support for the RH Bill ipso facto is a serious sin or merits excommunication! I find this to be irresponsible.

Fourth, I have never held that the RH Bill is perfect. But if we have to have an RH law, I intend to contribute to its improvement as much as I can. Because of this, I and a number of my colleagues have offered ways of improving it and specifying areas that can be the subject of intelligent discussion. (Yes, there are intelligent people in our country.) For that purpose we jointly prepared and I published in my column what we called “talking points” on the bill.

Fifth, specifically I advocate removal of the provision on mandatory sexual education in public schools without the consent of parents. (I assume that those who send their children to Catholic schools accept the program of Catholic schools on the subject.) My reason for requiring the consent of parents is, among others, the constitutional provision which recognizes the sanctity of the human family and “the natural and primary right of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character.” (Article II, Section 12)

Sixth, I am pleased that the bill reiterates the prohibition of abortion as an assault against the right to life. Abortifacient pills and devices, if there are any in the market, should be banned by the Food and Drug Administration. But whether or not there are such is a question of scientific fact of which I am no judge.

Seventh, I hold that there already is abortion any time a fertilized ovum is expelled. The Constitution commands that the life of the unborn be protected “from conception.” For me this means that sacred life begins at fertilization and not at implantation.

Eighth, it has already been pointed out that the obligation of employers with regard to the sexual and reproductive health of employees is already dealt with in the Labor Code. If the provision needs improvement or nuancing, let it be done through an examination of the Labor Code provision.

Ninth, there are many valuable points in the bill’s Declaration of Policy and Guiding Principles which can serve the welfare of the nation and especially of poor women who cannot afford the cost of medical service. There are specific provisions which give substance to these good points. They should be saved.

Tenth, I hold that public money may be spent for the promotion of reproductive health in ways that do not violate the Constitution. Public money is neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Muslim or what have you and may be appropriated by Congress for the public good without violating the Constitution.

Eleventh, I leave the debate on population control to sociologists.

Finally, I am happy that the CBCP has disowned the self-destructive views of some clerics.

http://opinion.inquirer.net/5340/my-stand-on-the-rh-bill

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