22 July 2008

A Call for Common Ground and Moderate Voices in the Population Debate

Defining Population Growth.
In the heat of the population debate, credible facts are a much needed commodity. Sadly, it is not uncommon that hard line representatives from both sides tend not to mention data deemed unfavorable for their positions.

Below are some relatively reliable data from Index Mundi that may help:

While the general population of the Philippines may have surged from 81.16 million in 2000 to 92.68 million in 2008, certain other data need to be considered:

1. The country's population growth rate is in steady decline, from 2.07 in 2000 to 1.728 in 2008.

2. The birth rate, too, has lowered from 27.85/1000 population in 2000 to 24.07/1000 in 2008.

3. The infant mortality rate, a key issue in the reproductive health debate, has also lowered from as high as 29.52/1000 live births in 2000 to 21.45/1000 live births in 2008.

4. Life expectancy has improved from age 67.48 in 2000 to age 70.8 in 2008.

5. Now here's the clincher, the total fertility rate (TFR) is also in steady decline, from 3.48 in 2000 to around 3.0 in 2008.

The site gives a helpful definition of TFR: "This entry gives a figure for the average number of children that would be born per woman if all women lived to the end of their childbearing years and bore children according to a given fertility rate at each age. The total fertility rate (TFR) is a more direct measure of the level of fertility than the crude birth rate, since it refers to births per woman. This indicator shows the potential for population change in the country. A rate of two children per woman is considered the replacement rate for a population, resulting in relative stability in terms of total numbers. Rates above two children indicate populations growing in size and whose median age is declining. Higher rates may also indicate difficulties for families, in some situations, to feed and educate their children and for women to enter the labor force. Rates below two children indicate populations decreasing in size and growing older. Global fertility rates are in general decline and this trend is most pronounced in industrialized countries, especially Western Europe, where populations are projected to decline dramatically over the next 50 years."

6. On the matter of HIV-AIDS cases, the adult (age 15-49) prevalence rate of .07% of the general population in 2001 has surged and then plateaued at .1% since 2003 till the present. The number of people living with HIV-AIDS has significantly decreased from around 28,000 in 2001 to around 9,000 in 2004 till the present. The number of deaths due to AIDS has also significantly lowered, from 1,200 in 2001 to 500 in 2004 till the present.

A caveat: The Index Mundi data is based from the CIA World Factbook. In a 2005 committee hearing on the reproductive health bills, Rep. Lagman and other proponents insisted on the "accuracy" of the "official" NSO data of 2.36% population growth rate, as opposed to the 1.61% growth rate of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, which the CBCP quoted.

Defining Abortion. The Church and pro-life groups have consistently accused the consolidated bill of promoting abortifacients, while its supporters have vigorously denied the claim. The key to understanding the polemic lies on which definition of abortion you are holding.

During the 2005 congressional hearings, supporters of the reproductive health bills seemed to favor the definitions provided by
Dr. Marita Reyes, Chancellor of UP Manila, who in turn quoted two "official" medical definitions.

1. For the International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetrics (FIGO), abortion is defined as “the termination of pregnancy after implantation and before the conception has become independently viable.”

2. The Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, Inc. (POGS) defines abortion as "the expulsion of a non-viable fetus or product of conception on or before the 20th week of gestation."

These definitions, of course, were strongly contested by the Church, which solidly teaches that life begins at conception, and, therefore, any act that causes the termination of unborn life after conception is considered abortion. In the battle of quotable quotes, pro-life groups are also not wanting of formidable experts:

1. Dr. Watson A. Bowes, University of Colorado Medical School: “The beginning of a single human life is from a biological point of view a simple and straightforward matter – the beginning is conception.”

2. Prof. Hymie Gordon, Mayo Clinic: “By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of

3. Dr. Jerome Lejeune, (known as the Father of Fundamental Genetics), University of Paris: “After fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being…This is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception.” Further, “if the human zygote was not already an independent and fully human and viable being, then – in vitro fertilization would be impossible… embryo transfer could not be performed.”

Thus, Church and pro-life groups howl in protest at the explanatory note in page 2 of HB 17 which states that “this bill does not only protect the life of the unborn from the moment of implantation…”. The statement apparently even runs against Section 12, Article II of the Constitution, which states: “(The State) shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

The bill admittedly does promote contraceptives that prevent implantation of fertilized egg or zygote after conception. Thus, such contraceptives are branded by pro-life groups as abortifacients. Pro-"quality of life" supporters, on the other hand, stand by the standard FIGO and POGS definitions of abortion which enable them to argue that such contraceptives are not, in fact, abortifacients.

Pro-Life vs. Pro-Quality of Life?

"It's lunchtime in Vitas, the sprawling slum built on the City of Manila's garbage dump. Flies swarm as Bing, a 34-year-old mother of five, prepares a meal of salted rice for her children. While she feeds them, her husband sifts through the mounds of grease-stained cardboard boxes, plastic bags, and broken glass that crowd their home. He'll sell his rotten harvest for about $3.50. For their family of seven, that’s 50 cents per person, per day. The arithmetic is simple, Bing says. 'With every child I have, there is less rice each. I can’t give them all a good life.'"

This is the opening paragraph of the Time article "The Philippines' Birth Control Battle" by Emily Rauhala.

to be continued...

More stats and ruminations...

Kids in the wings

By Juan Mercado
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:25:00 07/22/2008

In today’s shrill population debate, has the “youth bulge” vanished like the “eerie missing voice of poor Filipino women”? “Youth bulge” is scientists’ shorthand for large clusters of potential parents: those between 15 and 30 years of age.

“Their hormones will soon be in overdrive,” the Sun Star noted. Children from their albeit delayed marriages could form a “boomlet.” But like women driven to abortion by lack of family planning options, these children in the wings are “invisible” in current exchanges.

Archbishop Jesus Dosado of Ozamiz casts into “exterior darkness” reproductive health bill backers. They’ll be denied Communion in his archdiocese. “Who is without sin” should be first to deny the Eucharist to others, snapped columnist Orlando Carvajal.

The bills “don’t legalize abortion,” scoffed Albay province’s Rep. Edcel Lagman. True. But Lagman and Co. copied from foreign laws abortion-on-demand provisions for their first draft. Alarm bells were clanging when they spiked offending paragraphs.

A conspiracy of silence” shrouds women who, denied family planning services, induce abortion, Professor Mary Racelis of Ateneo de Manila University and University of the Philippines wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last July 18. About 473,400 women had abortions in 2000.

Does that even out at 1,265 aborted babies daily? Hard to tell. Abortionists slink in illegality’s murky world. Reports by 1,658 hospitals, in contrast, provide hard data on abortion’s consequences.

Over 105,000 women were hospitalized due to complications, mainly hemorrhaging and infections, Racelis noted. “And 12 percent, or 12,600, died. How many more never made it to a hospital… or suffer lifelong disabilities is anyone’s guess.”

The UN Human Development Report reveals that 170 mothers die out of every 100,000 deliveries. The “preventable major causes” are: abortion, hemorrhage and hypertension. At this rate, maternal death rates will dip to 140, come 2015. This will sharply cut the 209 fatalities recorded in the 1990s. But we will flunk the Millennium Development Goal for trimming deaths to 52.

Abortions, meanwhile, have ratcheted higher, new partial data indicate. Do they now crest at 1,930 daily? Who knows? “Sino ba ang babaeng magpapalista na nagpa-aborsyon siya?” Racelis quoted a Catholic Bishops’ National Rural Congress participant. What woman, in her right mind, would admit she had an abortion?

This is glossed over slaughter of innocents. “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation,” Matthew wrote. “Rachel weeping for her children … because they were no more.”

“The Philippines is in the midst of a ‘youth bulge,’” note Filipino demographers Corazon Raymundo of University of the Philippines (UP) and Socorro Gultiano of San Carlos University. Age distribution tables, from the 2007 census, haven’t been released. But projections based on the previous census say these youngsters may top 18 million.

“Teenage pregnancies have been rising,” the savvy UP demographer Mercedes Concepcion says. “If the proportion of those bearing children at ages 15-19 escalate, we may see a minor baby boom—unless these teenage mothers resort to abortions. Some of their elders did. No one wants that.”

Even a “boomlet” would further burden 79 provinces that haven’t started, in earnest, its “demographic transition” to lower birth rates.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, meanwhile, called for a new dialogue. “But did this dialogue ever leave square one?” the Bohol Chronicle asked.

“For more than 30 years now, the ‘population debate’ divided segments of society,” sociologist John Carroll, SJ writes. It has been marred “by mutual suspicions, one-sided arguments and caricatures of opposing positions. The outcome has been two groups, each dominated by more ‘hard-line’ spokespersons… They talk past each other without taking time to listen. (Ex-secretary of health Alberto Romualdez, for example, would gag citizens from commenting on population, if they are priests or religious, and constitutional right to free speech be damned.) “We must move past the deadlocked debate into an area of respectful discussion…”

How? Use undisputed facts.

There are four of us today where in 1948, there was one. Daily, about 5,800 babies are born. They’re equal to three villages. No crystal bowl is needed to tally how much more food, water, shelter, medicine, etc. an additional 1,098 villages will need in a year.

Poor families that haven’t spaced children find it tougher to break out of penury. Two out of every 10 married women want no more children for now, surveys show. Many cannot access family planning services.

Keeping in mind the common good, couples determine their family size, says the Vatican II Council document, “The Church in the Modern World.”

“Procreation and parenthood do not entail a right to have as many children as one desires,” writes theologian Fr. Aloysius Cartagenas. “The former need not take moral precedence over the later all the time.”

Informed discussion will enable “families to choose their preferred family planning methods, consistent with the Second Vatican Council’s teaching: the final arbiter of one’s decision is informed and responsible conscience,” 17 UP economists said earlier.

The Catholic Church supports family planning but bucks contraception. The Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay prelature and Cagayan de Oro archdiocese implement an All- Natural Family Planning program. Do other dioceses have comparable programs? Or do they stop at “anathemas”?

There’s far more common ground than the hard-liners indicate. And the consequences of failing to find areas of agreement will be dire.

1 comment: