Monday, 28 February 2011

Impress me, Convince me: A Call to Those Opposing the RH Bill

Two friends of mine sipped coffee at Bo’s after what to them was a disappointing forum on the RH bill sponsored by the local Catholic Church. They were amazed by the lack of information, the drought of reason, and the argumentum ad misericordiam employed by those who said that the RH bill should be junked. The lady, mother of two, asked, “Why should an intellectual forum on a bill be reduced to an attack to our conscience? Why does the church have to repeat all over and over again that to kill is bad?” His companion replied, “I do not really see the point. I have not seen a provision there that says that the bill can be made responsible for deaths of unborn children. I do not really know what they are objecting about.”

“Impress me, convince me.”

These were the words that echoed in my mind when I heard the conversation. I heard it first in a reality show looking for fresh new talents, shouted by one of the three judges at a contestant doing an interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Knocks me off my feet”. The same words I think are hurled at those opposing the RH bill, more particularly to the vocal Catholic Church.

Reproductive health, or more specifically, population control is not a new issue. Every time it surfaces as a government program or a proposed law, the Catholic Church is always at the forefront in opposing it. So the issuance of the CBCP letter, read recently in Catholic churches across the archipelago, is not altogether new. The increased vigour of the church in holding public information campaigns, oftentimes in friendly venues, is not new. And the arguments are also not new, sad to say.

CBCP said that the RH Bill does not promote reproductive health because of the word “contraceptive”. Contraceptives kill....they cause cancer. This is not new.

CBCP said that the RH Bill contraceptives increase abortion rates. Again, this is not new.

CBCP said that that the RH Bill will increase instead the incidence of HIV AIDS. Again, this is not new.

CBCP said that the RH Bill does not empower women with ownership of their own bodies.

These recycled arguments, wanting of proof and evidence, are not new. To argue on the basis of “contraceptives are hazardous to a woman’s health” is not convincing when it comes from a male-led and composed Church organization. To say that “scientists have known for a long time that contraceptives may cause cancer” or that “scientists have noted numerous cases of contraceptive failure” without any reference to whoever was the scientist sound too unscientific and preposterous. To argue that “In some countries where condom use is prevalent, HIV/AIDS continues to spread“ is an utter disregard of evidence-based policy research on sexually transmitted diseases and contraceptive use.

My greatest disappointment in the pastoral letter (and those homilies of our priests), is the way it was written. It was written as if you do not have people in the audience who may want to question its assumptions. It was written as if the reader or the listener will take it as infallible truth. It was written without necessarily putting in proof, convincing proof that would impress all of us and sing and sway “No to the RH Bill”.

And here comes the Church again saying that the problem of this country is not overpopulation and that poverty is not caused by more people, but by “flawed philosophies of development, misguided economic policies, greed, corruption, social inequities, lack of access to education, poor economic and social services, poor infrastructures” (CBCP, 2011). I absolutely agree.

But I also know that having two children now requires more resources than the time me and my wife only had one. I also know that I my take home pay is bigger than my co-teacher (in the same salary bracket as I am) who has 6 kids. Population matters, this is an argument that is hard to ignore. The church may be able to argue the weak link of population and poverty in a macro-economic scale, but not in a household economy. One does not have to get married to know these things.

I also know that my church has wealth but its social action programs are wanting. A church for the poor is a hollow promise in this part of the globe, save for those who are really actively implementing programs that intend to lift "believers" from their poverty and not just appease them of the thought of an "afterlife". I also know that my church is only active in holding responsible parenthood forums only when a new reproductive health program is introduced, or when a bill is about to be passed.

A friend told me, that I am saying all these because I am not a real Catholic, because a real Catholic values life. Maybe, this will be the reaction of the others who will come to read this paper. I need not defend whether or not I value life. But before I will be able to say that I will reject the RH Bill, I should be made to understand how it does not value life and why it needs to be opposed.

Fr. Joaquin Bernas of the Society of Jesus said “that a shot-gun approach to the RH Bill will not succeed. You don’t burn an entire house to make lechon. Nor will a Tahrir Square type of a demonstration stop it. Such an approach can be a manifestation of intellectual bankruptcy. One must challenge each specific objectionable part and argue it out” (PDI 14 February 2011). Well written, well said, from somebody who incidentally comes from the church but nevertheless believes that the RH bill do not flunk standards of a law.

Indeed, what does the Church really object about in the RH bill? What particular provisions does it challenge? Is there nothing good about the law that it needs to be junked outright? What really is objectionable about it?

Come on. Impress me, convince me. Don’t tell me I need to junk the bill because it is my moral obligation. Better still; do not tell me that my questioning your stand makes me less of a member of this Church that Christ built.