27 January 2009

The Lagman Bill and the Catholic Moral Tradition: Agreement and Conflict

by Rev. Fr. Eric Genilo, SJ, S.T.D.
Professor of Moral Theology, Loyola School of Theology

(Updated Sept. 10, 2008)

I. Introductory Notes

A. Reproductive Health

The Catholic Church uses the terms “reproductive health” and “reproductive health care” with a specific Christian meaning. The way the Church uses these terms is different from the usage of the UN, WHO or other organizations.

“The Church considers the terms “reproductive health” and “reproductive health care” within a more general concept of health. These terms embrace, each in its own way, the person in the entirety of his or her personality, mind and body. They foster the achievement of personal maturity in sexuality and in the mutual love and decision making that characterize the conjugal relationship in accordance with moral norms.” (from the message of the Holy See to First World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth in Lisbon 1998)

Reproductive health is viewed by the Church always in the context of the integral good of the whole person and every person.

The Church rejects the act of abortion or access to abortion as a dimension of reproductive health.

B. The Difference between Abortion and Contraception

Abortion is the “the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus.”

Contraception is “every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, propose, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.” (Humanae Vitae)

Contraception is different from abortion. They involve different acts, they have different effects, they have different moral meanings; although they are both seriously wrong acts, they are treated differently by the Church.

Abortion merits an automatic excommunication while contraception does not.

Some contraception methods/devices do not lead to abortion [condoms].

Some contraception methods/devices can lead to abortion [IUDs and morning-after-pill prevent implantation of fertilized ovum].

We need to be clear and precise about what we are objecting to; we object to condoms for their contraceptive effects; we object to IUDs and morning after pills for their abortifacient effects.

C. Interpreting Church Teaching

In interpreting its own teaching, at times the Church speaks in a diversity of voices.

Within the hierarchy and among the catholic laity there are conservatives, moderates and liberals. Depending on their views, their interpretation may vary.

It is important to listen to the various voices and discern the position that best embodies the whole of the Church’s moral tradition.

II. Points of Agreement Between Lagman Bill and The Catholic Moral Tradition

There are certain points in the House Bill on Reproductive Health which are in agreement with the Catholic moral tradition.

These positive points of agreement can be the starting point for a reasonable and civilized discussion between the legislature and the hierarchy.

A. Respecting the sound judgment of parents and couples

The Church objects to any coercion by the state on the decision of parents to decide the number and spacing of their children.

In various sections, the Bill affirms the rights of parents and couples to freely decide the number and spacing of their children. Its two-child recommendation is only meant as an ideal for families in their decision-making. (Sec. 3, g; Sec. 16;)

The Bill emphasizes that it is not coercive and no punitive measures will be imposed on families who exceed two children. (Sec 16)

B. Respect for the conscience

The Church teaches that the decision of a well-formed conscience must be respected. A person must not be made to act contrary to his or her conscience except if it involves grave harm to one’s self, to others, or to the common good.

The Bill makes it clear that conscientious objections of health care providers based on ethical and religious beliefs will be respected. (Sec 21a, 5)

C. Provision of comprehensive information on reproductive health

The Church teaches that the correct use of one’s conscience is dependent on its proper formation and access to necessary information for decision-making.

The Bill states that one of its aims is to provide relevant, adequate and correct information on matters that pertain to reproductive health. (Sec. 3, g)

D. Prohibition of abortion

The Church has made a clear and firm stand against the legalization of abortion in order to defend the life and dignity of the unborn.

The Bill states that it continues to proscribe and penalize abortion as a crime in the Revised Penal Code. It states that its provisions on assisting complications arising from post-abortion complications are not intended to violate this law. (Sec. 3, m; Sec 7, d)

E. Preventing Discrimination

The Church affirms the equal dignity of all persons and is against any form of discrimination.

The Bill prohibits the refusal of quality health care services and information based on a patient’s marital status, gender or sexual orientation, age, religion, personal circumstances, and nature of work. (Sec. 21, a, 5).

F. Care for the poor and vulnerable

The Church urges the government to extend preferential aid to those who are more vulnerable in society.

The Bill has various provisions that address the specific needs disadvantages groups such as the poor, senior citizens, women in prostitution, differently-abled persons, and women and children in war crisis situations. (Sec 2; Sec 3, j)

III. Points of Conflict Between Lagman Bill and The Catholic Moral Tradition

A. Abortion

There are some who take the position that protection of the unborn begins upon implantation of the embryo in the womb (such as stated in a previous version of the Lagman Bill [House Bill 17], Introductory Section, Par. 7). The Philippine Constitution declares that protection of the unborn begins at conception (Art. II Sec. 12) The Church also teaches that protection of the unborn begins at conception. This difference between implantation and conception is crucial.

Any device (e.g. the IUD) or medicines that prevent the implantation of a fertilized embryo is not contraceptive but is abortifacient and therefore any promotion of such devices or medicines would be a violation of the Philippine Constitution.

The current version of the Lagman Bill does not define clearly when the protection of life begins. Although it mentions the constitutional illegality of abortion, it does not state directly that human life is to be protected upon conception. This is important because there are some contraceptive means that are actually abortifacient in effect (IUDs) while there are contraceptive means that can be abortifacient if used after conception has already occurred but implantation still has not happened (morning-after pills for example.) The Bill must make it very explicit that no devices or methods would be provided that is aimed at the prevention of implantation.

B. Mandatory RH and Sexuality Education

The Bill states that the Sexuality Education curriculum shall be common for both public and private schools starting from Grade 5 up to Fourth Year High School.. (Sec 12)

Private Catholic schools would strongly object to this provision. In conscience, Catholic educators would refuse to teach methods of family planning which they consider immoral or unacceptable according to Catholic norms.

This provision can be accused of violating the freedom of religion and freedom of conscience of Catholic educators as well as the freedom of Catholic parents who prefer sex education based on Catholic teachings for their children. The Church would consider it unjust for a catholic school to be penalized if it refuses to teach methods of family planning that is against its moral teachings.

A better solution would be to allow Catholic schools to implement their own sex education curriculum and to allow Catholic parents with children in public schools to choose whether or not to allow their children to attend the sex education classes in their schools.

C. Providing the full range of RH services

The Bill states that the Reproductive Health Care Program will provide the full range of information and services pertaining to all methods of family planning including surgical methods. (Sec.5, f, 1& 6 )

The Church objects to artificial means of birth control that involve direct human intervention to prevent conception, either temporarily or permanently. The above provision will be interpreted by some sectors of the Church as direct promotion by the government of methods of family planning that are immoral. This is what some would call “cafeteria style” of family planning where all methods of family planning are all presented as equally good and acceptable.

For some sectors of the Church, this would not be objectionable because it respects the use of reason and the exercise of conscience of persons when making moral decisions. These sectors would focus on the formation of conscience to help Catholics make decision faithful to their religious and moral values.

Some may see this provision as recognition of the existence of a diversity of religious views on the morality of artificial contraception and sterilization. While the Catholic Church views contraception and sterilization as immoral, the Protestant Churches and some Muslims do not. Some may argue that since the Bill is to be applied to all Filipino citizens, it should respect different religious and moral positions on contraceptives and sterilization.

D. Natural and “Modern” Methods of Family Planning

Advocates of Natural Family Planning will object to the Bill’s use of “modern” to describe artificial means of family planning (Sec 3, a; Sec. 12, f). This gives the impression that the natural methods are not modern or not scientific thus giving a negative image to NFP methods.

Current natural family planning methods such as the Standard Days Method, the Two Day Method, the Billings Method, the Basal Body Temperature Method, and the Symptothermal method, and the Lactational Amenorrhea Method are based on the latest scientific research on the reproductive system.

The use of the word “modern” to describe the use of artificial means of family planning can also give the impression that out-dated (and ineffective) methods such as the old calendar method and withdrawal are natural family planning methods being endorsed by NFP advocates.

Withdrawal has never been recognized as an NFP method and the calendar method has already been replaced by more accurate methods based on body symptoms.

E. Free Ligation

The Bill directs public hospitals to provide indigent mothers delivering children in gov’t hospitals to be provided free ligation if they request for it. (Sec. 5, i )

This provision may be interpreted as evidence of the government’s bias for artificial means of birth control and providing improper enticement for the poor to have sterilizations. This provision makes it easier for people to choose artificial means of birth control over natural family planning.

F. Consultation

The Bill does not mention any consultation with religious groups or churches, unless these groups are under the category of NGOs. (Sec. 24)

Such an omission might be interpreted to mean that religious and moral beliefs of citizens are not significant factors in the formation of policies and programs involving reproductive health. A more explicit mention of consultation with religious groups can avoid criticism on this point

G. Employer’s Responsibility

The Bill states that CBAs [Collective Bargaining Agreements between employers and employed, between unions and management] should ensure the provision of an adequate quantity of reproductive health care services, supplies and devices. (Sec 17, Sec 21, c) But what if it is a Catholic institution? Should a Catholic school be forced to provide for contraceptive services for its employees when such an act would be against its moral teachings? The Bill should not penalize Catholic employers if they choose not to provide for contraceptive services and devices if it goes against their consciences.

H. Contraceptives as Essential Medicines

The Bill states that hormonal contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectables and other allied reproductive health products and supplies shall be considered under the category of essential medicines and supplies which shall form part of the National Drug Formulary and the same shall be included in the regular purchase of essential medicines and supplies of all national and local hospitals and other government health units (Sec 10). This provision does not make a clear distinction between products that only have a contraceptive effect and products that can have abortifacient effects. This provision could legitimize the promotion and use of products that have abortifacient effects such as IUDs and morning-after pills. This can run counter to the Constitution, which asserts that human life is to be protected at conception.

I. Freedom of Speech

The Bill penalizes those who maliciously engage in disinformation about the intent or provisions of this Act (Sec 21, a, f). Malicious intent is difficult to prove and there are wide disagreements about many aspects of the population question that the Bill is trying to address. It could be a violation of the freedom of speech of dissenting groups if they are prevented from speaking out to challenge the Bill. It is true that some opponents of the Bill do not use correct information, but to stop public debate on the issue of contraceptives through the use of penalties will not solve the problem but instead will turn the Bill into a coercive and undemocratic act in violation of the freedom of speech.

IV. Points to Consider

A. Necessity of Dialogue

The government must continue to maintain dialogue with the Catholic Church and other faith groups. Legislation that disregards or violates religious and moral beliefs will provoke opposition among the clergy and the laity, and will have very little chance of passing into law. The government, the Church, NGOs, religious groups and other dialogue partners must keep a level of civil discourse that is reasonable and rational.

B. Manner of Discourse

In all forms of discourse on reproductive health, responsible parenthood and population, there should be an effort to gain some form of reasonable consensus that respects basic values of all stakeholders.

A belligerent and antagonistic approach that uses insults, demonization of opponents, distortion of information, threats, and emotional arguments distract from and do not contribute to finding a proper response to urgent reproductive health and population concerns. Unfortunately, some sectors in the Church use these wrongs ways of discourse. They only cause confusion and make it appear that the Church is irrational, insensitive, and crude.

C. Democratic Process

It is not be in keeping with the democratic nature of our society for the Church to speak above the heads of its members and simply deal with legislators and leaders of government through pressure politics and threats.

The Catholic Church, in proposing its view of how to protect the life, health, and dignity of the human person should not only speak to leaders and legislators but more importantly it should speak to its members and form their consciences in order that they may exercise their moral choices through democratic and participative forms of political action.

D. A Way of Proceeding

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”

For things pertaining to protecting human life and dignity, we need to come to a consensus for the common good;

For things that can be left to individual decisions without violating human life and dignity, we need to respect freedom of conscience;

In all our discussions, we need to speak and act with charity and understanding as members of the same human community.

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