On Monday, August 1, 2011, my good friend and neighbor Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago delivered a speech co-sponsoring Senate Bill No. 2865, “An Act Providing For A National Policy On Reproductive Health and Population and Development.”
She titled her speech, “Primacy of Conscience in Catholic Theology,” the first of three parts, and signed it not as senator but as “Doctor of Juridical Science and Master of Arts in Religious Studies (cand.).”
The display of academic credentials was probably meant to lend authority to what she was going to say and moderate the skepticism of her audience. As a student of parliamentary procedure and a Senate majority leader for many years, I have not seen anything like it, certainly not a sponsorship or co-sponsorship speech in three “gives”.
The speech focused on Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life and the evil of contraception, as contained in Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, and reiterated emphatically since then in such papal documents as Blessed John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, Veritatis Splendor, Familiaris Consortio, and Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate, among others.
It argued that Humanae Vitae is not binding on all Catholics because it is based on the “minority report” rather than the “majority report” submitted by the papal commission tasked to study the problem, and that many clerics, theologians and laymen do not agree with it.
It pointed out that out of 48 Catholic countries, only the Philippines and five others have not enacted a reproductive health (RH) law, and that here, the Catholic Church is “the only major religion” opposed to the RH bill.
It was a spirited defense of the “right” of Catholics to exercise their individual “conscience,” without qualification, against the teaching of the Church on a fundamental moral question.
A Serious Misreading
But the good senator failed to recognize that the real conflict, with respect to the bill, is not between Church authority and individual conscience, but between the claims of Congress (on behalf of the State) on the one hand, and the rights of the Church and of individual conscience on the other.
She called on Catholics to ignore what the Church says about contraception, and simply “follow their conscience” without any qualification, but she failed to tell them not to let Congress or the State be “their conscience.”
It was a serious misreading of the bill and the problems it has spawned.
What the RH Bill is and is not
Miriam is too good a lawyer not to know what the RH bill is, and what it is not.
Despite the dogged attempt to portray the RH bill as an effort to “guarantee” the “right” of women (and men) to practice contraception and sterilization, that is not what it is. No law prohibits contraception or sterilization, so there is no need to “guarantee” that “right” through an RH bill.
The senator herself has been voting, year after year, to fund the RH program, which the Department of Health (DOH) and Population Commission (POPCOM) have been running since the seventies. Even foreign governments and multilateral institutions are now operating their own RH program, with rank impunity, through our local governments.
So women (and men) have been freely contracepting and getting sterilized. And the national contraceptive prevalence rate now stands at 51 percent.
The RH Bill’s Real Intent
Clearly, Filipino women (and men) do not need an RH law to do what they are already doing for themselves. But what the RH bill wants to do – and this is what they do not want us to see too clearly – is to prescribe birth control as an essential component of marriage, and to make the State the principal instrument in carrying it out.
What Freedom is More Important?
And we have great libertarians who will fight to the death any attempt to abridge their “freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances,” but who will gladly hand over to the State a right it does not have, to enter the bedroom and tell couples to stop making babies.
Legalization or Prescription?
Miriam says we should be like all the other countries that have enacted their RH laws. No, ma’am. The RH bill will not make us like the other countries; it shall make us much worse. Let me explain.
In those countries, what was once prohibited has now been legalized. For instance, in the United States, both contraception and abortion were once prohibited. But in 1965, the US Supreme Court legalized contraception for married couples in Griswold v. Connecticut; and in 1973, it legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade.
But the word is legalized, not prescribed. And there is a world of difference between legalizing something and prescribing it.
The RH bill seeks to prescribe birth control as a component of marriage, with the State as its principal instrument. Thus no couple may be issued a marriage license without proof that they had received official instructions on how to avoid having babies.
The Nazis and the communists had no qualms doing that. But it ought to be unthinkable in a democratic state. This is one reason, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide of 9 Dec 1948 condemns as “genocide” “imposing measures intended to prevent births within (a) group.”
The Core Issue
That the bill allows you to choose what birth control means or method/s to use does not mitigate the offense. That you happen to believe in birth control, using methods of your choice, is only secondary to the fact that the policy directive has been set by Congress, and commands you to practice birth control as an essential component of married life.
If anyone had told you before that “the purpose of marriage is procreation and the propagation of the species,” the RH bill is now telling you, “That’s an awful lot of nonsense. The purpose of marriage is contraceptive sex.”
That is the core issue, skillfully screened out of the media, and the “public debates.”
A Catholic Citizen’s Duty
Nevertheless, a Catholic citizen who is truly Catholic and a law-abiding citizen will have to oppose the bill not only because it offends Church teaching but above all because Congress or the State has no business telling married couples whether or not they could have babies. If they are attentive to the Constitution, they will see that the Constitution does not allow it either.
Why Miriam Should Oppose the Bill
Now, even if Miriam rejects Humanae Vitae, if she believes, as I think she does, that the State has no right to enter her bedroom and manage her conjugal life, she will simply have to oppose the bill. For it violates the very concept of freedom and human dignity she has stood for all her life. Her own pursuit of theology, which St. Anselm defines as “fides quaerens intellectum” (faith seeking understanding), would make no sense at all if she is ready to remove the whole area of human sexuality from the domain of the moral law, and put it in the hands of the State instead.
The Sects Too
The same thing will have to be said of the various sects and denominations that “support” the RH bill. They might all believe, as a matter of doctrine, that women (and men) should be free to contracept and get sterilized. But should they concede to the State a right it does not have – to instruct their members on the most intimate details of their married life? Would that not negate the basic concept of freedom that is at the root of every religious life?
Ultimately those who believe that contraception is intrinsically evil, and those who believe that contraception is good for one’s soul will have to agree that they should be free to practice what they each believe, without Congress or the State telling them what to do.
What Does the Church Want?
That is all the Church is asking for. The Church is not asking Congress to make the State the official enforcer of its teaching on reproductive health. The Church is simply asking Congress not to disrespect and attack its teaching by prescribing contraception as a national policy, and making the State the chief provider of contraceptive services, funded mostly by Catholic taxpayers.
That would be like lining up innocent people against the wall, and then requiring their surviving kin to pay the executioners for their services and the cost of the bullets used for the execution. That would be religious persecution, pure and simple.
It would turn the country into a totalitarian state even without the barbed wires and the jack-boots, reduce Congress into an abomination, and make the President impeachable for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.
None of these need to happen.
Recurring Sound Bites
In the last few months, we have been bombarded with all sorts of heart-rending sound bites about the RH bill. Among the most persistent are the following:
· We remain poor because we are too many; the only solution to that is the RH bill.
· Ten to eleven women are dying everyday from pregnancy or childbirth; the only cure for that is the RH bill.
· Most Filipinos (and Catholics at that) support the RH bill, according to all opinion polls.
What are the facts?
They are far more reassuring.
1. Population is the first resource. China’s 1.6 billion people have provided the base for the world’s fastest growing economy today, and Nandan Nilekani’s “Imagining India” tells us that India’s 1.3 billion population, once singled out as the main reason for the country’s poverty, is now singled out as the main reason for India’s new prosperity.
2. “Depopulation” is the real crisis. On the other hand, the Moscow Declaration issued at the end of the Moscow Demographic Summit on June 30, 2011 tells us that nearly half of all mankind today are living in countries where the birth rate is no longer able to replace the older generation, and that “depopulation” is the world’s next irreversible crisis.
3. More women dying from other causes, but virtually unnoticed. On those poor pregnant women, the unbiased health experts tell us the only solution is adequate appropriate and competent health care, not contraception. Not just ten to eleven, but so many times more women are dying everyday from heart, vascular and respiratory diseases, cancer, pneumonia, diabetes, tb, and various accidents. They deserve equal, if not prior, attention from our RH proponents.
4. Polling is entertainment. As for the reported surveys, treat them as one form of amusement. “Conducted” by pro-RH pollsters, propagated by the pro-RH media, and made to reflect the opinion of people who did not have to know the bill, the real wonder is why those surveys have failed to report a 100% approval.
The Final Question
This has to be asked. Assuming, arguendo, that everything the pro-RH side has said about population, poverty, maternal deaths, public support for the bill, and what Miriam now says about Church doctrine is right, and that everything its opponents have said against it is wrong, can Congress enact the present bill into law, without violating the Constitution?
What does the Constitution say?
The Constitution provides, among others, the following:
The State recognizes the family as the foundation of the nation. Accordingly, it shall strengthen its solidarity and actively promote its total development (Art. XV, Sec 1).
Marriage, as an inviolable social institution, is the foundation of the family and shall be protected by the State (XV, Sec. 2).
The State shall defend the right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions and the demands of responsible parenthood (XV, Sec. 3).
The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government (Art. II, Sec. 12).
The RH bill is in conflict with all those provisions.
Thus in its State of the Soul of the Nation Address at Club Filipino on the morning of 25 July 2011, the Congress of the Filipino Faithful asked: “How can anyone in the world possibly think of making a valid law out of it, even if the entire Congress should vote for it, 100 percent?”
I now make that question my own.
Restating the Issue
To repeat, the question before the Senate is not whether Catholics should follow the Church on contraception and sterilization. It is whether the State can enter the private lives of its citizens, and undo the natural laws on human life, sexuality and marriage without committing the same crime which Nazi Germany had to answer for at Nuremberg in 1945-46.
Protector or Preventer?
With specific reference to the core provision of Article II, Sec. 12, the only question is whether the State can remain the protector of the life of the unborn from conception while becoming the preventer of conception under an RH law.
There has been a concerted effort to muddle this issue by asking, when does conception take place? Or, when does life begin?
Scientific Fact on Conception Unchanged
Medical science has long answered that. As it was in the beginning, so it remains today, human life begins at fertilization, and advances in stages until death. Science gives specific names to each of those stages: zygote, embryo, fetus, infant, child, adolescent, and adult. But none of that alters the fact that what begins at fertilization is and continues to be a living member of the human species.
Principle of Non-Contradiction
You may need to know when life begins if you want to know when an abortion could take place. But you don’t need to know that to know when conception could be prevented. Whether human life begins upon fertilization as medical science maintains, or upon implantation as the pro-abortion lobby claims, a woman will normally use contraceptives before or during sexual intercourse.
But at whatever point conception occurs, the State cannot be part of a program whose purpose is to prevent even a single woman from conceiving.
The State cannot be the protector of conception under the Constitution and the preventer of conception under an RH law.
This is known as the principle of non-contradiction, the first principle of speculative reason – a thing cannot be and not be at the same time.
In the next few pages, we shall examine some of Miriam’s theological objections.
(Part 2 deals exclusively with theological issues raised by Miriam and should properly be addressed to Catholics.)
Francisco Tatad is a former senator of the Philippines. He has a blog entitled First Things First.