Position paper on the Reproductive Health Bill by individual faculty* of the Ateneo de Manila University
We, individual faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University, call for the immediate passage of House Bill 5043 on "Reproductive Health and Population Development" (hereafter RH Bill) in Congress. After examining it in the light of Philippine social realities, and informed by our Christian faith, we have reached the conclusion that our country urgently needs a comprehensive and integrated policy on reproductive health and population development, as provided by the RH Bill.
We also believe that the provisions of the bill adhere to core principles of Catholic social teaching: the sanctity of human life, the dignity of the human person, the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, integral human development, human rights, and the primacy of conscience.
As Catholics and Filipinos, we share the hope and mission of building a Church of the Poor. We are thus deeply disturbed and saddened by calls made by some members of the Catholic Church to reject a proposed legislation that promises to improve the wellbeing of Filipino families, especially the lives of women, children, adolescents, and the poor.
Being a "Church of the Poor" urges us to be with and listen to the poor, so that their "joys and hopes... griefs and anxieties" become ours as well.We therefore ask those who denounce the RH Bill as "pro-abortion," "anti-life," "anti-women," "anti-poor," and "immoral" to consider the economic and social conditions of our people, as borne out by empirical evidence, and to recognize that the bill is, in fact, "pro-life," "pro-women," and "pro-poor."
After studying the provisions of House Bill 5043 in the light of the realities of Filipino women, poor families, and our youth, we, individual faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University, speaking for ourselves and not for the University, have come to conclude that the Philippines urgently needs a national policy on reproductive health and population development.
We therefore strongly support the RH Bill’s immediate passage in Congress. We further believe that it is possible for Catholics like ourselves to support HB 5043 in good conscience, even as we recognize, with some anguish, that our view contradicts the position held by some of our fellow Catholics, including our bishops. We are aware that they have denounced it as "pro-abortion," "anti-life," "anti-women," "anti-poor," and "immoral."
However, our reason, informed by our faith, has led us to believe and say otherwise. We assert that RH Bill is pro-life, pro-women, pro-poor, pro-youth, and pro-informed choice. By giving couples, and especially women, information on and access to "medically-safe, legal, affordable and quality" family planning methods (whether modern natural or modern artificial), the RH Bill seeks to avert unwanted, unplanned, and mistimed pregnancies, which are the root cause of induced abortions.
In that sense, the bill is not only pro-life but also pro-women, because it helps them to plan the number and spacing of their children, so as not to experience frequent and closely-spaced pregnancies that take a toll on their health and wellbeing.
Moreover, the RH Bill seeks to improve maternal and infant health by enjoining cities and municipalities to provide an adequate number of skilled birth attendants as well as hospitals rendering comprehensive emergency obstetric care.
HB 5043 is pro-poor because it makes contraceptives (including those requiring hospital services) more accessible and cheaper for Filipinos, especially for the poorest 20 percent, who have the highest unmet need for family planning (26.7%), and 2.5 children more than they desire and are able to feed, clothe, and send to school. The bill is also pro-youth, because it seeks to provide our young people the information and values they would need in taking care of their reproductive health, and in making responsible decisions regarding their sexuality, sexual behavior, and future family life.
Furthermore, the RH Bill is pro-informed choice. In seeking to promote both modern natural and modern artificial methods of family planning (with "no bias for either"), HB 5043 recognizes that couples, especially women, have the right to choose the family planning method that they consider to be the safest and most effective for them, provided that these are legally permissible.
Although natural family planning (NFP), which the Catholic Church promotes, offers many benefits, it is important to realize that pursuing an NFP-only population policy will be a disservice, if not a grave injustice, to women and couples for whom NFP simply cannot work. We are thinking of women who find it impossible to predict their infertile periods; or couples who see each other on an irregular basis; or women who are trapped in abusive relationships with men who demand sex anytime they want it.
Why is it morally wrong for such women and couples and even others not encompassed by the above situations to use a modern artificial family planning method that has been pronounced safe and non-abortifacient by health authorities, if their discernment of their particular situation has led them to conclude that such a method will enable them to fulfill the demands of marital love and responsible parenthood?
We respect the consciences of our bishops when they promote natural family planning as the only moral means of contraception, in adherence to Humanae Vitae (1968), which teaches that married couples who want to control and space births should "take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile" (no. 16).
In turn, we ask our bishops to respect the one in three (35.6%) married Filipino women who, in their "most secret core and sanctuary" or conscience, have decided that their and their family’s interests would best be served by using a modern artificial means of contraception.
Is it not possible that these women and their spouses were obeying their well-informed and well-formed consciences when they opted to use an artificial contraceptive? We therefore ask our bishops and fellow Catholics not to block the passage of HB 5043, which promotes women’s and couples’ access to the full range of safe, legal, and effective modern natural and modern artificial family planning methods, from which they can choose the one most suitable to their needs and personal and religious convictions.
To campaign against the bill is to deny our people, especially our women, many other benefits, such as maternal and child health and nutrition; promotion of breastfeeding; adolescent and youth health; reproductive health education; prevention and management of gynecological conditions; and provision of information and services addressing the reproductive health needs of marginalized sectors, among others.
We call on the Catholic Church to let the RH Bill pass in Congress, and to consider forging a principled collaboration with the government in the promotion of natural family planning which Humanae Vitae deems morally acceptable, and in the formation of consciences with emphasis on the value of responsible sex and parenthood.
To our fellow Catholics who, in good conscience, have come to conclude, as we have, that we need a reproductive health law: we ask you to declare your support for HB 5043.
Finally, we call on our legislators in Congress and in the Senate to pass the RH Bill. Doing so upholds the constitutional right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions; honors our commitments to international covenants; and promotes the reproductive health and reproductive rights of Filipinos, especially of those who are most marginalized on this issue--our women, poor families, and youth.
The RH bill supports youth’s right to information
Being educators, we are in favor of the RH Bill’s intent to offer "age-appropriate reproductive health education" to our children and youth. We affirm that this is key to providing young people the information and values they would need, not only to take care of their reproductive and sexual health, but also to arrive at sound and responsible decisions regarding their sexuality, sexual behavior, and family life, whether now or in the future.
In asserting the need for reproductive health education in schools, we are not negating the primary role of parents in educating their children on sex. We believe that families should provide the environment where children can raise their questions, feelings, and needs regarding sex. However, we also recognize that such discussions, in reality, rarely happen, with only, at best, one in five of the youth (15.7%) saying that they can talk about sex at home (2002 YAFSS 3).
Given this, reproductive health education in schools becomes all the more imperative. We share neither the view nor the fear that discussing sex in schools will make adolescents prurient and promiscuous. Rather, we trust that our youth have the capacity to make intelligent and value-driven choices regarding their sexuality and sexual behavior. As teachers, we believe that knowledge is empowering, and thus uphold our youth’s right to information and education on sex and reproductive health.
We would like to empower them to make responsible decisions now and in the future, first by providing them correct and sufficient information on reproductive and sexual health, and second, by helping them identify, articulate, and deal with their issues and sentiments regarding sex and their sexuality.
* Marita Castro Guevara (Department of Interdisciplinary Studies), Raymond B. Aguas (Department of Theology), Liane Peña Alampay (Department of Psychology), Fernando T. Aldaba (Department of Economics), Remmon E. Barbaza (Department of Philosophy), Manuel B. Dy, Jr. (Department of Philosophy), Elizabeth Uy Eviota (Department of Sociology-Anthropology), Roberto O. Guevara (Department of Theology), Anne Marie A. Karaos (Department of Sociology-Anthropology), Michael J. Liberatore (Department of Theology), Liza L. Lim (Department of Sociology-Anthropology), Cristina Jayme Montiel (Department of Psychology), Mary Racelis (Department of Sociology-Anthropology), and Agustin Martin G. Rodriguez (Department of Philosophy).
Note: These are excerpts from the paper of the authors. The opinions expressed in this paper are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of other faculty. Neither do they represent the official position of the Ateneo de Manila University nor the Society of Jesus.