This House believes that the Reproductive Health Bill will undermine families and values

To describe the political progress of the Reproductive Health Bill through the parliament of the Philippines as tortuous would be an understatement. However, after a decade of wrangling and political manoeuvring, a bill making contraception and family planning advice available from government health centres, as well as effective medical treatment for women who have had abortions or miscarriages and a place for family planning classes on the national curriculum, has become law. [i]

In the ten years since it was initially proposed, the Catholic Church has used its considerable political muscle (80% of the population are Catholic) to make every possible argument against the measure. However, in the words of one of the bill’s supporters, “At the end of the day, those who opposed the Bill just ran out of arguments, because you can see the stark reality in the Philippines: women need to be given a choice about how they create and run their families.”[ii]

Even after the bill had completed its passage through parliament, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) remained defiant. Writing on the CBCP website, Father Melvin Castro, said that the government clearly wanted to destroy “the traditional Filipino values of family and life.”

Fr. Castro added, “This government has revealed its true face. It has never been for the welfare of families, women and children.”[iii]

Proponents of the bill source their inspiration from somewhat less theoretical sources, Ramon San Pascual, former Executive Director of the Philippines Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development said “You see the need for change every day staring you in the eyes: Poor, young urban girls carry their malnourished babies while the religious leaders pontificate on the evil of reproductive health education.[iv]

The Catholic Church carries huge political clout in the country and has threatened to encourage civil disobedience to continue its fight. It has already been challenged in the supreme court in a petition that said the bill “mocks the nation’s Filipino culture—noble and lofty in its values and holdings on life, motherhood and family.”[v] It seems unlikely that their efforts will be successful as a clear majority of public opinion support the legislation.[vi] However, it seems likely that the debate will continue at least for the remaining three years of Aquinos’s term of office.

Socrates B. Villegas, Archbishop of Lingayun-Dugupan, speaking for the Bishops’ Conference condemned the decision as corrupt, saying that the money spent on contraceptives could be better spent on healthcare and education for the poor, which would have a far greater effect on their quality of life[vii]. Bishop Socrates’ statement certainly implies that the church will return to this issue in future elections.

The National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) estimates one fourth of the population can be described as impoverished[viii]. Many believe that contraception, both directly and indirectly through allowing the greater employment and education of women, is the single largest element of alleviating poverty around the world[ix]. The Catholic Church argues that contraception is a sin and, in the words of Villegas, “As we your bishops have said in the past a contraceptive mentality is the mother of an abortion mentality”. The Act also allows for the treatment of those women who have had an abortion, nay involvement with abortion is a mortal sin and can result in excommunication[x].

 

Debaters’ Note

Debates such as this are difficult as the two sides approach the issue with different standards of proof. In this case, were the proposition to rely upon standard Catholic teaching, there would be no room for debate at all and no need for them to extrapolate their arguments beyond demonstrating that contraception is condemned by the Church and, it is claimed, scripture. This distinction is made as the references to contraception in doctrine are explicit (§2370) whereas those from scripture must be inferred.

However, a debate that ran along the lines of “The doctrine of the church is inviolable and must be obeyed”, “No, it isn’t” would be far from satisfying and, ultimately, futile. As a result, these notes have touched on biblical and moral arguments but leave dogmatic assertion alone. There is certainly no doubt that this bill flies in the face of Catholic orthodoxy.

However, the argument put forward by the CBCP allows debaters more fertile territory and are also introduced here. However, the evidence is fairly overwhelming that giving women control over their reproductive cycles is a huge issue with regards to poverty reduction; it is however, debatable – in the literal meaning of the word - as to whether this bill will prove more efficacious in that regard than the other measures suggested by the Filipino Church.

[i] CNN Staff, ‘Philippines leader signs divisive reproductive health bill’, CNN, 30 December 2012, http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/29/world/asia/philippines-health-bill/index.html

[ii] Carlos Conde, Asia Division Researcher for Human Rights Watch, speaking to Les Roopanerine. ‘Philippines only a signature away from passing the reproductive health bill into law.’ Guardian.co.uk, 21 December 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/dec/21/philippines-reproductive-health-bill

[iii] ‘Govt ‘destroying’ traditional families, values’, CBCP News, 19 December 2012, http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=10326

[iv] Roopanerine, Les, ‘Philippines only a signature away from passing the reproductive health bill into law’, guardian.co.uk, 21 December 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/dec/21/philippines-reproductive-health-bill   

[v] Editorial, ‘Birth pains’, Inquirer, 3 January 2012, http://opinion.inquirer.net/44119/birth-pains

[vi] Porcalla, Delon, ‘Palace reminds Church: 70% of Pinoys back RH bill’, ABS CBN news, 2 August 2012, http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/08/01/12/palace-reminds-church-70-pinoys-back-rh-bill

[vii] Villegas, Socrates B., ‘Contraception is Corruption!’, CBCP News, 15 December 2012, http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=9989

[viii]  Virola, Dr. Ramulo B., 2009 Official Poverty Statistics, National Statistical Coordination Board,. Presented 8 February 2011. http://www.nscb.gov.ph/poverty/2009/Presentation_RAVirola.pdf

[ix]  Kristof. Nicholas, ‘The Birth Control Solution’. New York Times, 2 November 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/03/opinion/kristof-the-birth-control-solution.html?_r=0

[x] Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2272.

 

Title 
The appropriate setting for sexual relations is within marriage, contraception encourages pre-marital sex
Point 

The population of the Philippines are overwhelmingly Catholic, it seems reasonable to accept that many, if not most, accept the teaching of the Church that safe sex is married sex. Appropriate sexual relations between husband and wife can lead to a fulfilling family life including children.

However, freely available contraception leads to a rise in premarital sex with the rises in unwanted pregnancies that go along with that. In the US, women having premarital sex increased from 2% in 1920 to 75% in 1999, a period that saw a massive increase in the availability of contraception[i].. This runs against the teaching of the Church, which, itself, is one of the cornerstones of Filipino culture.

The first Mass was celebrated in 1521 and by the early 1600s, Catholicism was unquestionably the countries’ dominant creed[ii]. The teaching of the Church on this issue is absolutely clear – and for four centuries those have been the values of the Filipino people. This bill undermines that understanding, it will lead to an increase in pre-marital sex with devastating consequences for, particularly, the young people of the archipelago[iii]. There is a reason why the Church argues against contraception and those values – that sex should take place within marriage, are deeply ingrained in the Filipino way of life.

[i] Greenwood, Jeremy and Nezih Guner “Social Change: The Sexual Revolution.” Population Studies Center PSC Working Paper Series University of Pennsylvania.2009 http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1011&context=psc_working_papers

[ii] Wikipedia. Roman Catholicism in the Philippines.

[iii] Bishop Filomeno Bactol, ‘Naval diocese continues fight against RH’,. CBCP News., 23 December 2012, http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=10460

Counterpoint 

It is simply untrue to suggest that Catholic hegemony is one and the same as Filipino values and that the two are – or have ever been – indistinguishably intertwined. Even where popular support for this very bill not sufficient proof, the very fact that the Filipino constitution states quite clearly that there is a division between the secular and ecclesiastical should be enough[i].

[i] Constitution of the Philippines. Article III (Bill of Rights). Section Five. 

Title 
Poor families would be helped far more by investment in education and healthcare
Point 

This has been an urban and political obsession from the outset. The idea that the hungry and homeless need condoms more than food and shelter is clearly absurd. The poor would be better helped through “accessible education, better hospitals and lesser government corruption.”[i] Rather than interfering in the moral life of the nation, parliamentarians would be better exercised in tackling these concerns.

This issue has consumed political energy for over a decade and received massive national and international attention and yet there are far more pressing concerns for the nation – and its political leaders.

Instead this bill, which carries the marks of both political and moral corruption has been the main focus of the president and congress. At the very least this suggests a questionable sense of priority, at worst a gross lack of interest in the welfare of the Filipino people.

[i] Villegas, Socrates B., ‘Contraception is Corruption!’, CBCP News, 15 December 2012, http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=9989

Counterpoint 

It is undeniably true that greater investment in public services would help the poor. It is however, difficult to see how these two things are mutually exclusive. Indeed the results of this measure look set to considerably increase the chances of an education and healthcare for every child.

Title 
The bill violates the Philippine values of harmony and respect
Point 

Perhaps the most important values in the Philippines are social harmony and respect for the family.[i] The Reproductive Health bill undermines both. Allowing contraception will take away a psychological barrier that prevents pre-marital or casual sex and once that barrier is crossed the individual will have higher sexual activity.[ii] In the Philippines this will mean greater numbers of teen pregnancies and pregnancies out of marriage because abortion will remain illegal.

In terms of politics these values mean support for democracy but also being against corruption and graft.[iii] Obviously the bill has been very politically divisive so undermining social harmony but also to pass this bill many parliamentarians had to be bribed so undermining this social harmony. The Reproductive Health bill represents the worst excesses of the pork barrel buffet. With a single-mindedness of purpose, the presidential palace has put everything on the table to shore up the votes required in parliament. Legislators, who had previously voted against the legislation, often repeatedly, where threatened with the loss of programmes in their constituencies if they failed to back the project, which has been at the heart of the presidential agenda[iv].

[i] Dolan, Ronald E., ed., Philippines: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1991. http://countrystudies.us/philippines/41.htm

[ii] Arcidiacono, Peter, et al., ‘Habit Persistence and Teen Sex: Could Increased Access to Contraception have Unintended Consequences for Teen Pregnancies’, http://public.econ.duke.edu/~psarcidi/teensex.pdf  P.30

[iii] Talisayon, Serafin D., ‘Teaching values in the natural and physical sciences in the Philippines’, University of the Philippineshttp://www.crvp.org/book/Series03/III-7/chapter_xiii.htm

[iv] Philippine Daily Inquirer. Philip Tubeza. ‘Philippine President accused of ‘bribing’ Congress’. Reported on Yahoo News 19 December 2012. http://ph.news.yahoo.com/philippine-president-accused-bribing-congress-0...

Counterpoint 

It should be remembered that other values within the 1987 constitution include ecological balance and the recognition of the role of women,[i] both of which are advanced by giving women access to birth control. Pork barrel politics is an all too real tradition of Filipino politics, it is hardly unique to this bill. The fact that its use lead to the implementation of a policy that enjoys popular support is difficult to square with the somewhat wild claims of the Church about corruption. The CBCP has also been fairly free on allegations in this regard but very, very short on proof. The amount of political pressure required had more to do with calming fears of the Catholic establishment intervening directly in elections than with the views of the people.

[i] Talisayon, Serafin D., ‘Teaching values in the natural and physical sciences in the Philippines’, University of the Philippineshttp://www.crvp.org/book/Series03/III-7/chapter_xiii.htm

Title 
This is a victory for democracy – a precious Filipino value - clear majorities in both houses and in the wider public support it
Point 

Opposition have conveniently glossed over one critical issue in this debate – that the RH Bill has significant popular support[i]. It also, as has been demonstrated that a majority of elected representatives support it. In itself these two facts provide evidence that modern Filipinos are sick of the fact that around half of the 3.4 million pregnancies each year are unplanned or the atrocious reality that 90,000 women a year seek the help of back street abortionists. When many of these go wrong, they were denied access to medical care and around 1,000 die each year as a result[ii].

The values for the respect for the life of the mother, the value of life of the child, respect for the opinions of the majority, respect for democracy and placing the future of individuals and society above the outdated mythology of the Church would seem to be alive and well in the decision to pass this bill.

[i] Rauhala, Emily, ‘Culture Wars: After a decade of debate, the Philippines passes Reproductive Health Bill’, Time, 17 December 2012. http://world.time.com/2012/12/17/culture-wars-after-a-decade-of-debate-the-philippines-passes-reproductive-health-bill/

[ii] Ibid.

Counterpoint 

Opposition have conveniently glossed over one critical issue in this debate – that the RH Bill has significant popular support[i]. It also, as has been demonstrated that a majority of elected representatives support it. In itself these two facts provide evidence that modern Filipinos are sick of the fact that around half of the 3.4 million pregnancies each year are unplanned or the atrocious reality that 90,000 women a year seek the help of back street abortionists. When many of these go wrong, they were denied access to medical care and around 1,000 die each year as a result[ii].

The values for the respect for the life of the mother, the value of life of the child, respect for the opinions of the majority, respect for democracy and placing the future of individuals and society above the outdated mythology of the Church would seem to be alive and well in the decision to pass this bill.

[i] Rauhala, Emily, ‘Culture Wars: After a decade of debate, the Philippines passes Reproductive Health Bill’, Time, 17 December 2012. http://world.time.com/2012/12/17/culture-wars-after-a-decade-of-debate-the-philippines-passes-reproductive-health-bill/

[ii] Ibid.

Title 
There are clear and proven benefits to the health of the Filipino families, especially women
Point 

Both sides of this debate have spoken about the need to respect the rights and lives of women. It is, however, difficult to see how exactly opponents of the legislation reconcile this with their actions. Decades’ worth of research demonstrates that educational, health and nutritional levels all fall once a family outgrows its means. In the slums of Manila that research is unnecessary as it is all too apparent at a glance. However the research is there[i] to provide grisly commentary to the narrative folding out on the streets.

Investigations on a personal, national and global level demonstrate that effective family planning is at the heart of eradicating poverty[ii]. When families have less children they are more able to afford better education for those they do have and have a greater incentive to do so as they need their child to be able to support them when they are retired.[iii] Proposition is keen that this money should have been spent on eradicating poverty – they fail to realise, deliberately or otherwise, that that is exactly what it is being spent on.

[i]  Rauhala, Emily, ‘The Philippines’ Birth Control Battle’, Time, 6 June 2008. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1812250,00.html

[ii] Brown, Lester, ‘Smart Family Planning Improves Women’s Health and Reduces Poverty’, guardian.co.uk 14 April 2011.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2011/apr/14/smart-family-planning-reduces-poverty

[iii] Merrick, Thomas, W., ‘Population and P{overty: New Views on an Old Controversy’, International Family Planning Perspectives, Vol.28, No.1, March 2002, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/2804102.html

Counterpoint 

It is difficult to see how the life of anyone is improved by reducing sex to a cheap form of entertainment. Certainly not the unborn children and not the objectified women. Proposition is more than happy for women to take control of their own fertility – indeed we would go further and suggest that their boyfriends and husbands should do so as well. Recreational sex, within wedlock and during times of infertility removes all of these problems; a little planning and restraint achieves that aim. It also means that both parents need to show that they are responsible for the results; Op seems happy to say that people are uncontrollable beasts with no control over their desires – hardly an edifying concept.

Title 
Any body of values that claims to respect the rights of the individual must recognise the right of a woman to choose
Point 

Even the doctrines of the Church accepts that pregnancy is not, in and of itself, a virtue – there is no compulsion to maximise the number of pregnancies; there is simply a disagreement about how they should be avoided. The Church recommends that couples may minimise the chance without ever making it impossible through a chemical or physical barrier.

In some parts of the world a pregnancy, even one that is not planned, is seen as a time for joy – a blessing for the family that will lead to a new and happy life bringing pleasure to both parents, their society and the child. That ideal is very far from the experience of much of the world where a child is another mouth to feed on impossibly little income. For all too much of the world, that life will be cruel, nasty and short. In slums, favellas and barren wastes that life is likely to be one marked more by dysentery or diarrhea, malnutrition and misery than by the sanitised, idealised image promoted in the West. That is, of course, not to say that children everywhere cannot be a cause for joy, of course they can. Indeed even within the poorest of situations, a new child can be the focus of great joy in an otherwise hard life.

However, if that is to be the case, that child must be planned and prepared for. Overwhelmingly, the mother is likely to have paramount responsibility for the child; so that planning and preparation needs to be theirs. It is difficult to imagine the scenario that would reach the objective observer to reach the conclusion that the right group of individuals to reach that decision were a group of celibate men who had never met the parents and would take to role in the care or support of the child. Yet that, astonishingly, is what Proposition would like us to believe.

Counterpoint 

It is difficult to see how the life of anyone is improved by reducing sex to a cheap form of entertainment. Certainly not the unborn children and not the objectified women. Proposition is more than happy for women to take control of their own fertility – indeed we would go further and suggest that their boyfriends and husbands should do so as well. Recreational sex, within wedlock and during times of infertility removes all of these problems; a little planning and restraint achieves that aim. It also means that both parents need to show that they are responsible for the results; Op seems happy to say that people are uncontrollable beasts with no control over their desires – hardly an edifying concept.

Bibliography 

Arcidiacono, Peter, et al., ‘Habit Persistence and Teen Sex: Could Increased Access to Contraception have Unintended Consequences for Teen Pregnancies’, http://public.econ.duke.edu/~psarcidi/teensex.pdf

Bishop Filomeno Bactol, ‘Naval diocese continues fight against RH’,. CBCP News., 23 December 2012, http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=10460

Brown, Lester, ‘Smart Family Planning Improves Women’s Health and Reduces Poverty’, guardian.co.uk 14 April 2011.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2011/apr/14/smart-family-planning-reduces-poverty

Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2272.

 ‘Govt ‘destroying’ traditional families, values’, CBCP News, 19 December 2012, http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=10326

CNN Staff, ‘Philippines leader signs divisive reproductive health bill’, CNN, 30 December 2012, http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/29/world/asia/philippines-health-bill/index.html

Constitution of the Philippines. Article III (Bill of Rights). Section Five.

Dolan, Ronald E., ed., Philippines: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1991. http://countrystudies.us/philippines/41.htm

Editorial, ‘Birth pains’, Inquirer, 3 January 2012, http://opinion.inquirer.net/44119/birth-pains

Greenwood, Jeremy and Nezih Guner “Social Change: The Sexual Revolution.” Population Studies Center PSC Working Paper Series University of Pennsylvania.2009 http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1011&context=psc_working_papers

Kristof. Nicholas, ‘The Birth Control Solution’. New York Times, 2 November 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/03/opinion/kristof-the-birth-control-solution.html?_r=0

Merrick, Thomas, W., ‘Population and P{overty: New Views on an Old Controversy’, International Family Planning Perspectives, Vol.28, No.1, March 2002, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/2804102.html

Porcalla, Delon, ‘Palace reminds Church: 70% of Pinoys back RH bill’, ABS CBN news, 2 August 2012, http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/08/01/12/palace-reminds-church-70-pinoys-back-rh-bill

Roopanerine, Les, ‘Philippines only a signature away from passing the reproductive health bill into law’, guardian.co.uk, 21 December 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/dec/21/philippines-reproductive-health-bill   

Rauhala, Emily, ‘Culture Wars: After a decade of debate, the Philippines passes Reproductive Health Bill’, Time, 17 December 2012. http://world.time.com/2012/12/17/culture-wars-after-a-decade-of-debate-the-philippines-passes-reproductive-health-bill/

Rauhala, Emily, ‘The Philippines’ Birth Control Battle’, Time, 6 June 2008. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1812250,00.html

Talisayon, Serafin D., ‘Teaching values in the natural and physical sciences in the Philippines’, University of the Philippines, http://www.crvp.org/book/Series03/III-7/chapter_xiii.htm

Tubeza, Philip, ‘Philippine President accused of ‘bribing’ Congress’. Reported on Yahoo News 19 December 2012. http://ph.news.yahoo.com/philippine-president-accused-bribing-congress-0...

Villegas, Socrates B., ‘Contraception is Corruption!’, CBCP News, 15 December 2012, http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=9989

Virola, Dr. Ramulo B., 2009 Official Poverty Statistics, National Statistical Coordination Board,. Presented 8 February 2011. http://www.nscb.gov.ph/poverty/2009/Presentation_RAVirola.pdf

Wikipedia. Roman Catholicism in the Philippines.

X