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Intolerant of Intolerance

Civil rights are not a matter of religious opinion or personal preference. If you seek to deny others their civil rights, you are a bigot.

Scientific facts are not a matter of religious interpretation or parental prerogative. If you seek to deny others—especially your own children—education, then you are denying them a basic human right. And if you disbelieve in science despite the evidence available and reasons apparent, you are suppressing truth and spreading disinformation.

Your choice

Reproductive Health, sex education and science education, divorce and gay marriage—these are all civil rights issues. Denying others their choice is denying them their civil rights. In contrast, allowing other people their civil rights—specifically Reproductive Health, divorce, and gay marriage—does not curtail your own freedom.

  • If you want to refuse the health and economic benefits of contraception and responsible family planning and if you stubbornly believe that an abstinence-only approach works despite evidence to the contrary, that is your choice and your loss.
  • If you refuse to believe in sex education after learning all the facts and if you refuse to believe in the science of evolution and natural history after learning all the evidence and how it is the foundation to understanding and making sense of this world, that is your choice and your loss.
  • If you disagree with certain music, literature, or other forms of art because of their message, then you can simply choose not to watch or listen. That is your choice and your loss.
  • If you refuse divorce and want to stay in abusive, loveless, and failed relationships, or if you want a priest to have the power to refuse you annulment of your marriage, that is your choice and your loss.
  • If you want to miss out on your friends’, your siblings’, or your children’s joyous weddings simply because they are gay or lesbian, that is your choice and your loss.

None of the proposed laws on Reproductive Health and sex education, divorce and gay marriage will stop you from voluntarily practicing your religious beliefs.

But what I cannot abide by is when you seek to deny others their right to Reproductive Health, sex education and science, divorce, and marriage equality before the law regardless of gender. That is simply oppression. That is simply bigotry. My friend, my kin, I do not want you to be a bigot.

Nor do I want you to prejudice your own children. Your children are individuals, guaranteed to have the same civil rights and choices as everyone. They should not be denied the information, the education, the science, the rationality, and the access necessary to make their own responsible choices when they come of age.

Science and reason are not a matter of religious interpretation or parental prerogative. These are truths that all people—even children—have a right to access, which are a necessity for making responsible and informed decisions.

Education is a basic human right. It is wrong for parents to keeping their children ignorant or misinformed about sex education, literature, philosophy, evolution, natural history, cosmology, plate tectonics, and other fields.

Sex education needs to be taught at schools by professionals trained for the job. Evidently, Filipino parents have failed to educate their children about sex for generations. For many Filipino parents, the only thing they fear more than the possibility of their children (and younger siblings) having premarital sex is confronting them about it. Most youths learn from the media and their peers. Just as abstinence-only policies have failed to foster responsible parenthood, so have ignorance-only policies failed to foster young adults who are empowered about their reproductive rights and responsible about sex. The Reproductive Health bill and Sex Education are necessary because the status quo has evidently failed us.

Truth is truth and it is not for religious schools nor home schooling parents to subvert. There should be no exceptions to any religious institution as to how sex education or even mandatory pre-marriage counseling (as already required under the existing Family Code) is conducted or implemented.

We should love our children regardless of who they were born to be or what personal informed choices they make as adults.

Full Disclosure

I confess, I don’t discriminate. I have friends and family who are either gay, lesbian, separated, together from previous marriages, single mothers, etc. I may not know exactly what it is to be in their place, but I do know what it is to be friend and family. It means standing up with them against prejudice. You can’t be friends or family to someone while denying them equal rights.

I confess, I myself come from the majority in the Philippines. I was born to a Roman Catholic family. I even belong to the currently unfairly advantaged sex; I am a straight man. On the other hand, I am a minority in one crucial aspect; I do not need government help to afford responsible family planning or access information about my reproductive rights like most Filipinos. Many Filipinos do, hence the need for the Reproductive Health bill. And it is a dire need. The Philippines has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The Reproductive Health bill only seeks to provide the poor the same choices and information that the wealthy Filipinos already enjoy, nothing more. But why should

I, a straight guy from the middle class, care about the civil rights of others? Because a republic isn’t just about the rule of the majority. It is also about respect and tolerance for all, most especially minorities, even ones whose lives you disagree with or cannot comprehend.

I confess, I do come from another kind of majority: the majority of Filipinos who support Reproductive Health, are tolerant of gays and lesbians, and are understanding of the realities and complexities of married life. This despite most Filipinos being Catholic.

I confess, it comes easily for me to support Reproductive Health, divorce, and gay marriage because these do not threaten the sanctity of life, the sanctity of my marriage, or my manhood for that matter. I was born this way, and nothing can change that. It is not a choice; my gender is a pillar of my identity. And evidently that is the way for all. Oppression can only drive a person to hide their identity, not change it, as centuries of repression have failed to change people’s genders. People will be who they are, regardless. People will love who they love, regardless. However, being a bigot wouldn’t be me. It is not natural for anyone to deny others equality. More importantly, supporting civil rights not only frees the oppressed, it frees the oppressor. There is no neutral in the battle between right or wrong. Those who fail to act and testify against wrongs committed to others are accessories and accomplices to it.

I confess, there are beliefs and lifestyles among the people whose civil rights I defend that I do not share. But I also know that neither agreement nor understanding are necessary. None of us owes anyone an explanation when we all are in the constant process of self-discovery and realization. Even the ones we have loved for years constantly surprise us. We do not need anyone else’s permission to be ourselves. We only owe it to each other to tolerate one another, to allow one another the freedom to pursue happiness.

So what about your beliefs? Shouldn’t these be tolerated as well? Not if they impose on the lives of others. You just can’t claim that your religious sensitivities are offended every time you disagree with someone so you can shut them down.

It was your choice to be offended, not theirs. They are just being themselves. For as long as they are not forcing their choices on anyone and are not spreading hate, violence or lies, all people have a right to be who they are. Do not deprive others of the same freedoms you enjoy.

Science and Reason

Before you criticize, oppose or support anything, know and read about it. It seems obvious, but many apparently don’t.

With the Reproductive Health bill, opponents criticize it by claiming it “legalizes abortion” and “imposes an ideal family size.” Read the bill in its entirety and know that it says nothing of that sort. In adherence to the 1996 Philippine Constitution, the Reproductive Health bill reiterates its support in protecting the health of the unborn.

Then they claim that some forms of contraception such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and “morning-after pills” that prevent conception even a few days after unprotected sex are also abortifacients. IUDs and morning-after pills work by not only preventing fertilization—the fusion of sperm and egg—but also implantation—the adherence of the embryo to the wall of the uterus. American and British laws define the beginning pregnancy and the conception of human life at implantation, hence the classification of IUDs and morning-after pills as contraceptives, not abortifacients.

Doctors, bioethicists, law experts and theologians of several religions define implantation as the beginning of human life for several reasons:

  • The ability to create embryos in vitro (such as in test tube babies fertilized outside the womb) has proven that fertilization does not automatically result in pregnancy. Only after implantation does an embryo’s existence have an effect on the mother’s body. It is only upon implantation that a fetus receives oxygen and nutrients from the mother to grow into a human being. It is at this point when the fetus cannot survive except within the woman’s body. Any rights granted to it must come at the expense of the pregnant woman. Note that to be pregnant—which is to be implanted—means risking one’s life for nine months to bear a new one.
  • Majority of fertilized eggs do not go on to become infants. With unprotected sex, embryos are often formed that never undergo implantation. If fertilization were to be defined as the conception of life, then countless souls have been killed without knowledge or intent.
  • After fertilization and implantation, an embryo can segment to become identical twins—separate and distinct individuals who, despite their similarities, develop their own personalities, experiences and decisions and possess their own unique DNA, fingerprints, etc. If segmentation defines the start of an individual with an indivisible soul, then an embryo prior to the stage of possible segmentation cannot be defined as an individual.

Some even make the ridiculous claim that every sperm is a life. If that is so, then every act of sex is mass murder since the millions of sperm in ejaculated semen all die save for the single one that successfully fuses with the egg cell to form a fertilized embryo. And that’s if fertilization occurs. Often no sperm succeeds at fertilizing the egg and most fertilized eggs do not go on to be infants.

Those who cite “natural” family planning-only policy fail to note that it has simply failed to work despite years of implementation.

Those who cite the cost of implementing Reproductive Health avoid considering the cost of not implementing it: the cost in lives, in health and the economic cost of building more hospitals, homes, schools, jails, and cemeteries on a finite amount of land.

Those who see the Philippines’ environmentally unsustainable population growth as a positive fail to mention that natural resources are finite and that even renewable resources diminish when abused beyond their capacity to recover.

Worse, they see the Philippines’ unsustainable population growth as the solution to declining populations in industrialized countries. Migration has already robbed the country of its talent. Work overseas has already broken so many families apart and exposed so many Filipinos to racism and abuse. Nonetheless, the Reproductive Health bill does not in any way stipulate any means or programs of population control. It only provides the masses choices and information already available to the privileged in the Philippines.

Showing One’s Character

Tellingly, those against Reproductive Health not only oppose IUDs and morning-after pills but also contraceptives that only prevent fertilization and not implantation. They oppose condoms—the only contraceptive device that protects against sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS as well as accidental pregnancies. They also are against sex education and knowledge empowerment of young adults. Their definition of conception is but one of many arguments used against all of reproductive health, responsible parenthood, and gender empowerment.

Tellingly, those against Reproductive Health continue using the false specter of “abortion” and “population control” for disinformation and fear mongering despite these being clearly absent in the bill. They also question the science behind it and imagine fantastic conspiracies.

Tellingly, those opposed to the Reproductive Health do so despite the fact that the bill simply affords the poor the same choices and information that wealthy Filipinos already enjoy. These opponents who rabidly denounce the bill had curiously stayed silent for the many years that their privileged class enjoyed these same choices and information.They claim to be “pro-life” but they do not want to foot the bill to truly alleviate poverty, uplift the lives of the masses, and empower women regarding their choices in a meaningful, long-term manner. Charity donations and other public relations and tax deduction gimmicks during holidays and disasters evidently do not substantively alleviate poverty.

Tellingly, those who claim contraception promotes promiscuity ignore that accidental pregnancies, premarital sex, and corruption have long been rife in the Philippines despite 400 years of conservative Roman Catholicism, first forcibly introduced by the rapacious Conquistadors during the time of the murderous Spanish Inquisition. Four hundred years of Inquisition-era Catholicism has evidently done little to make “Good Christians.”

Tellingly, this alarm at liberties already enjoyed by some spreading to all characterizes not only those who oppose Reproductive Health but also those who are against gay marriage, divorce, science education, and sex education as well.

Tellingly, those who denounce gay unions and divorce for supposedly defiling the sanctity of marriage were curiously silent for the decades that spousal abuse, arranged marriages, marriages for convenience and appearances truly made a mockery of the institution.

Tellingly, those who see sex education and science education as a threat to their “prerogative” as parents don’t see inculcating their own religious beliefs upon their children as an imposition.

Tellingly, those who oppose Reproductive Health, gay marriage, divorce, science education and sex education tend to see themselves as devoutly religious, rejecting any facts that run counter to their beliefs.

Tellingly, when engaged in discussion and debate, those who oppose Reproductive Health, gay marriage, divorce, science education, sex education, and other civil rights sometimes comment derisively, “masyado kang matalino (you are too smart).”

Tellingly, Church authorities have threatened those who support Reproductive Health with expulsion from Catholic institutions and excommunication, the same sentence they meted out to famous truth-tellers such as scientist Galileo Galilei who insisted that the Earth revolved around the sun as evidenced by his telescope, Martin Luther who exposed the corruption within the Church as it sold indulgences that“absolved”the wealthy of all their sins for a fee, and Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal who exposed how priests used religion as a tool of oppression by engendering unthinking docility and submissiveness.

Tellingly, those against Reproductive Health include a plagiarist, the unapologetic family of the late Ferdinand Marcos, ousted dictator who instituted corruption in the Philippines, and the Roman Catholic Church, an institution that has been accused and convicted of endemic sexual abuse of minors and well as the systematic and leadership-sanctioned coverups of these cases.

Tellingly, those who are anti-Reproductive Health and anti-gender-equality have wished us ill and even dead. We have endured name calling and threats, disinformation and fear mongering. Anti-Reproductive Health zealots also see natural disasters and misfortunes as collective and indiscriminate punishment, as if those who were most affected deserve it. And yet when the same misfortune falls upon them, they see it as a divine test. In many aspects of their thinking, they lack both rationality and compassion.

Tellingly, we who support civil rights continue to engage in argument, dialogue, and debate. To attempt to communicate is to presume intelligence and humanity in one’s opponent, hence this message.

Nonetheless, the time is upon us when we all must come to a decision that determines our character and our relations. Will we be bigots and truth deniers, or will we be emancipators and truth-tellers? Will we be opponents, or will we be friends and family? I simply cannot tolerate bigots.

Posted in Advocacy, Personal, RH Bill, Science, Secularism0 Comments

FF Podcast 58 (Audio): That Abstinence Video

FF Podcast 58 (Audio): That Abstinence Video

FF Podcast 58: That Abstinence Video

Are you a bobo boy or a gaga girl? This week, we talk about the Department of Health’s abstinence dance video.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, HIV/AIDS, Politics, RH Bill, Science, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 58: That Abstinence Video

FF Podcast 58: That Abstinence Video

Are you a bobo boy or a gaga girl? This week, we talk about the Department of Health’s abstinence dance video.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Advocacy, HIV/AIDS, Podcast, Politics, Religion, RH Bill, Society1 Comment

Population and Poverty

Father Castro, a church executive, recently mentioned, “100 million population, it’s good for the economy. Ibig sabihin niyan meron tayong workers, hindi bad news ang population. Na brainwash tayo na malaking population is equated with poverty.”

100 million

This sentiment has been repeated by many; that the growing population is good for the economy and does not lead to poverty. Their logic is that the the more people, the more workers; the more workers, the better the economy.

There is some truth to the assertion that a fast growing population may lead to faster economic growth. Even the New York Times published an article by Floyd Whaley called, “A Youthful Populace Helps Make the Philippines an Economic Bright Spot in Asia.”

Although it is true that more people can produce more goods and services, leading to faster economic growth, the question we should ask is, “Who benefits from this kind of growth?”

About 1 million people enter the labor force every year, each one of them competing with each other and with existing employees for jobs. With such an abundance of labor, employers face very little pressure to raise wages. After all, if one person doesn’t want to work for next to nothing, there are hundreds of others lining up to apply for the same job.

To quote HSBC economist Frederic Neumann:

“The Philippines stands out as the youngest population. As other countries see their labor costs go up, the Philippines will remain competitive due to the sheer abundance of workers joining the labor force.”

In other words, the economy will grow rapidly precisely because wages will not.

Who will benefit? The rich who have an army of workers competing for a small number of jobs, willing to work for next to nothing just to stay alive, and Father Castro’s church which will gain legions of faithful poor.

Posted in Advocacy, Personal, Politics, Religion, RH Bill, Secularism, Society2 Comments

Women’s Autonomy in the Hands of the SC

The legal state of a married woman’s autonomy over her own body has been put in a strange limbo thanks to two recent Supreme Court decisions.


Image by Justin Vidamo

In the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law, certain provisions were struck down as unconstitutional. While most of the RH Law was retained, one of the provisions struck by the SC puts women’s autonomy in a precarious position. The provision that the SC struck down was Section 23(a)(2)(i) and in their decision the court stated that it is unconstitutional to:

allow a married individual, not in an emergency or life threatening case, to undergo reproductive health procedures without the consent of the spouse;

In the Philippine context, this is especially bad for the wives in a (heterosexual) marriage. Over the course of the lengthy RH debates, we’ve heard many stories of women who could not undertake reproductive health measures because of pressure from their husbands.

Women should have autonomous control over their own bodies, even after they have entered a marriage. After all, it is the woman’s life that is at stake when they undergo pregnancy.

The majority decision from the SC to declare unconstitutional the spouse’s autonomy over their own RH decisions becomes puzzling in the light of a newer ruling from the SC on marital rape. In this ruling, the SC upheld a decision from the lower courts that rape within marriage is still rape, doing a good job in laying down local jurisprudence for future legal cases of marital rape. In the decision authored by Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes, he says in the final note that:

A husband does not own his wife’s body by reason of marriage. By marrying, she does not divest herself of the human right to an exclusive autonomy over her own body and thus, she can lawfully opt to give or withhold her consent to marital coitus.

Justice Reyes’ decision on the status of marital rape was consented by four other SC Justices. Among these five, Justice Reyes and Chief Justice Sereno were consistent with in voting that Section 23(a)(2)(i) of the RH Law is constitutional. Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Lucas Bersamin, and Martin Villarama Jr had voted it down as unconstitutional.

These two SC decisions on marital rape and reproductive health have put a strange tension to the legal question of women’s autonomy over their bodies.

On one hand, women in marriages don’t have autonomy over their own bodies when it comes to their own reproductive health decisions. On the other, they do have autonomy when it comes to deciding when to have sex in marriage.

In the marital rape ruling, the SC Justices have shown that they understand the importance of the human right to autonomy over your own body. It could even be said that three SC Justices have gained a better understanding about the importance of this right since the RH Law decision.

While RH groups won’t be appealing the SC rulings anymore, I hope future rulings on women’s autonomy follow the line of legal reasoning laid down by Justice Reyes in the marital rape case.

Posted in Politics, RH Bill, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 38: Filming an Abortion

FF Podcast (Audio) 38: Filming an Abortion

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 38 - Filming an Abortion

This week, we talk about Emily Letts, an abortion counselor who filmed her own abortion and posted it online.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Gender Rights, RH Bill, Secularism, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 36: Watching Your Words

FF Podcast (Audio) 36: Watching Your Words

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 36 - Watching Your Words

This week, we talk with Carlos Celdran about an encounter with the anti-RH and about watching your language around children.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Religion, RH Bill, Science, Secularism, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 36: Watching Your Words

FF Podcast 36: Watching Your Words

This week, we talk with Carlos Celdran about an encounter with the anti-RH and about watching your language around children.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, RH Bill, Society, Video0 Comments

In Baguio for RH Verdict

In Baguio for RH Verdict

We went to Baguio last April 7 for the Supreme Court’s decision on the Reproductive Health Law. Here’s how it turned out.

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Anti-RH Supreme Court Justices and the Arroyo Connection

We have confirmed through reliable sources within the Supreme Court that the instigator of the ongoing hold order against the Reproductive Health Law was Justice Arturo Brion, who was appointed by GMA and has supported her throughout her administration and, it appears, beyond that. He penned the dissenting opinion on Arroyo’s electoral sabotage charges, coming out in favor of her. He maintained this position when the motion was reconsidered. He also voted to grant Arroyo’s travel request.

He also made his sentiments on RH clear.

The other identified Justices leading the Anti-RH camp in the Supreme Court are Justices Teresita de Castro and Roberto Abad. Abad joined Brion in the travel request vote. De Castro, with Abad, joined Brion in his dissenting opinions on both times Arroyo’s alleged electoral sabotage faced the high court.

Over the last month it has been observed that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo entertained a series of visits from prominent leaders of the Catholic Church. From Bishops Tirona, Odchimar, Marquez, Talamayan, and Villena to Lipa Archbishop Arguelles, ex-president GMA, currently under hospital dentention on plunder charges, has no shortage of friends claiming the authority of the Almighty. With her close ties to the Church, she maintained throughout her presidency opposition to all forms of the reproductive health law.

(Pajero_Bishop_Scandal)_Filipinos_protest_against_the_Bishops_that_allegedly_accepted_money_and_luxury_cars_from_former_president_Macapagal-Arroyo_in_exchange_for_support

The former president has had a history of making deals with the Catholic Church hierarchy, purchasing their silence with checks for luxury SUVs. What is notable now is that even Archbishop Oscar Cruz, formerly a vocal opponent of hers, has visited her and is now calling for her to be moved to a more comfortable state of house arrest.

Other luminaries gracing the former president’s place of detention include pro-life partylist BUHAY’s representative Lito Atienza. GMA’s spokesperson confirmed that they discussed the passage of the RH law.

Legal experts and some members of the Supreme Court itself showed that the arguments supporting the SQA border on the farcical. This was further demonstrated by Anti-RH arguments from Francisco Tatad.

We know that the Supreme Court is supposed to be impartial, but we also know that GMA has subverted that impartiality to her benefit in the past. Given the circumstances surrounding the core Anti-RH bloc in the Supreme Court, it is not unreasonable to suspect that former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has recruited the Catholic Church leaders’ support in exchange for influencing the high court’s ruling on the Reproductive Health Law.

Image Credit: Westcrosse via Wikimedia Commons

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Anti-RH Church Leaders Blame Calamities on RH

Tacloban_Typhoon_Haiyan_2013-11-13Why would God let calamity hit a predominantly Catholic country? “God is not the cause of the suffering,” answers Father Bacaltos, a Tacloban parish priest. “God cannot prevent this. This is the work of nature.”

Many Catholics would agree that nature, not God, is to blame for this tragedy. But for some leaders of the Catholic Church, the Reproductive Health (RH) law is to blame. Which leaders? Well, what a coincidence: the ones who are most vocal against RH.

Here’s Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, who campaigned against “Team Patay” through tarps, reminding us that rather than Nature’s random acts, calamities like Yolanda (Typhoon Haiyan) are God’s reminders. He adds that when we continue to oppose God through the RH Law, we put our lives in danger:

 What happens to us — earthquakes, floods, storms — are reminders.We are reminded to never forget life… Even our life is in the hands of God so we better make it meaningful… Let us not forget him. We remove Him, for example, in this [RH] law that goes against His will. So when we oppose God, we are in danger.” [some parts translated]

And here’s Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, an anti-RH voice in mainstream media since 2010, explaining why Typhoon Pablo was no coincidence:

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or it’s because the Lord is trying to tell us that if you talk about that [the then RH bill] seriously it’s like there’s a message saying that many difficulties happen to us… especially since we [the Catholic Church] don’t want the bill deliberated hurriedly and secretly so that it is passed.” [translated]

Finally, here’s Father Melvin Castro, who frequently heads anti-RH contingents during demonstrations and vigils, blaming the RH Bill for the heavy rains of “Habagat:”

Although we would not give other meaning to it, nonetheless God speaks through his creation as well. Nature tells us to respect the natural course of things.

If I researched further back in time, I’d probably find even more Church leaders who blamed calamities on God (or the people who disobey God, depending on how you look at it). And something tells me it’s only a matter of time before some distasteful CBCP leader does it again.

But there are priests, like Father Bacaltos, who are more tactful, more humble, and it’s Catholic leaders like these that I continue to respect. As Susan B. Anthony, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement, said:

I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do to their fellows, because it always coincides with their own desires.

***

image source: Trocaire

Posted in Religion, RH Bill8 Comments

Pediatrician Claims to Have “Final Answer” to Question of Life

trust-me-im-the-doctor-royal-bros

A little over a week ago, The Philippine Daily Inquirer published a letter written by the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), claiming that science had presented a final answer to when life begins. To quote the relevant section of the ACPeds letter:

As stated in our website, “Scientific and medical discoveries over the past three decades have only verified and solidified this age-old truth. At the completion of the process of fertilization, the human creature emerges as a whole, genetically distinct, individuated zygotic living human organism, a member of the species Homo sapiens, needing only the proper environment in order to grow and develop. The difference between the individual in its adult stage and in its zygotic stage is not one of personhood but of development.” (http://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/life-issues/when-human-life-begins)

This is the final answer to this issue, as Professor Kischer puts it. In an article titled “When does human life begin? The final answer,” which was published in the Linacre Quarterly, he categorically states: “Virtually every human embryologist and every major textbook of human embryology states that fertilization marks the beginning of the life of the new individual human being.”

There are numerous problems with ACPeds’ assertions.

The first is their statement that “virtually every human embryologist and every major textbook” agrees with their stance that life begins after fertilization. A cursory search turns up several notable embryologists and researchers in relevant fields who wouldn’t hesitate to call out at ACPeds’ claim.

For instance, there is Professor Scott Gilbert of Swarthmore College, who has stated in one of his more notable lectures (available here) that there is no consensus among embryologists on when life begins. Here is a basic rundown of Professor Gilbert refuting common misconceptions about fertilization, as summarized by Rationalwiki:

  • Instructions for Development and Heredity are all in the Fertilised egg. The view that we are genetically determined by the combination of parental DNA has been shown to fall far short of the complete story. How the DNA is interpreted can vary greatly affected by things such as the maternal diet. Similarly some development requires certain bacteria to be present. Thirdly, and most surprisingly, the level of maternal care can determine which areas of DNA are ‘methylated’ which radically alters how they are interpreted. As such the view that we are ‘complete but unformed’ at conception is far from accurate.
  • The Embryo is Safe Within the Womb. Modern research shows that 30% or fewer fertilised eggs will go on to become foetuses. Many of these early miscarriages are because of abnormal numbers of chromosomes. The view that every fertilised egg is a potential human being is wrong in around 70% of cases.
  • There is a Moment of Fertilisation when the passive egg receives the active sperm. Again recent research has shown that the previous commonly held view that the fastest sperm races towards the egg and, bingo, we’re up and running is wrong on many levels. Fertilisation is a process taking up to four days. As such there is no magic moment, rather there is a process.
  • There is consensus amongst scientists that life begins at conception. There isn’t even consensus amongst scientists as to whether there’s consensus. However, Scott Gilbert’s paper lists embryologists who support each of the major view points belying the common and oft repeated assertion that there is consensus amongst embryologists, let alone scientists.

Lewis Wolpert, a well-known developmental biologist, also made similar points in his lectures regarding when personhood begins:

“What I’m concerned with is how you develop”, he says. “I know that you all think about it perpetually that you come from one single cell of a fertilized egg. I don’t want to get involved in religion but that is not a human being. I’ve spoken to these eggs many times and they make it quite clear … they are not a human being. The cells divide and the question I’m going to deal with a little bit here…how do the cells know what to do. So, how do they end up looking like … you? It is amazing that you come from one single cell. I’m sorry to give you a lesson in embryology but you should know how you develop.”

And then there’s professor Paul Zachary Myers (of crackergate fame) if you like your rebuttals served with a side of snark and heat.

I’m hoping you get my point – that there is no such consensus among the scientific community that life begins at fertilization, and that several scientists have in fact spoken at length on why they disagree. This leads to another problem with the ACPeds letter. By using language like the title “Science’s final answer to when human life begins”, ACPEds implies that they speak on behalf of the rest of the scientific community. This is not the case, and it reeks of arrogance on their part to assume they do.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that ACPeds has been caught making questionable claims.

The American College of Pediatrics is actually a breakaway faction from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and was formed by a small group of healthcare providers who did not agree with the latter’s support for adoption by gay parents.

Since its establishment in 2002, ACPeds has been caught intentionally spreading numerous disproven claims about homosexuality, and trying to pass it off as science. The group has the distinct (dis)honor of being personally called out by the director of the National Institutes of Health for misrepresenting his work. Dr. Collins was not the only researcher who was upset by ACPeds, as seen here and here.

If there is anything we can learn from ACPeds actions, both in the Inquirer letter and in their previous activities, it is that they’re more about pushing an ideology and a political agenda than about promoting truthful and fact-based science.

If you’d like to read more about the matter of when life begins, we’ve also got a couple of articles here and here, written by fellow freethinker  Garrick Bercero

Posted in Advocacy, RH Bill, Science0 Comments

FF Podcast 013: Is Gender Equality Against Freedom of Religion? Plus—Soylent!

FF Podcast 013: Is Gender Equality Against Freedom of Religion? Plus—Soylent!

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This week, we talk about the claim by Couples for Christ that gender equality in the RH Law goes against their religious freedom. Then, we discuss Soylent, the food replacement drink.

You may also download the episode file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Gender Rights, Podcast, Politics, RH Bill, Society0 Comments

An Open Letter to All RH Supporters: A Response

Dear Pro-Life Philippines,

It is undeniable that in the protracted fight for women’s rights, both sides of the RH debate have had their fair share of mudslinging and cynical caricaturing. I do not doubt at all that the anti-RH mean well. I believe in the sincerity of your positions, though I do believe that these positions are often misleading and often scarily absurd. I have no illusions that your side will reconsider any of these positions regardless of evidence, but in the interest of goodwill, I will sincerely address the statements in your open letter.

First of all, you claim that you share our concern for the health of women. Again, I do not doubt this, but I do question the way you act on this concern. The RH Law does provide for increased funding for maternal health services. You do not seem to be opposed to that, only that you are hung up on the matter of contraceptives.

It is totally unnecessary to lie about cancer links to oral contraceptives, since your opposition to the RH Law is founded on dogma, not medicine or scientific research. You would oppose the law even if it would only provide for barrier contraceptive methods, such as condoms. If you want a civil discussion, let us not pretend that the argument is really about abortion or about cancer concerns.

Citing cancer links only serve to weaken your position, when better studies have refuted then. You cite the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s classification of oral contraceptive pills as group 1 carcinogens. As the Mayo Clinic clarifies, this classification was based on studies on old OCP formulations. While studies did show links between breast cancer and OCPs, these links completely disappear in studies on modern formulations.

In the largest modern study on current lower estrogen and new progestin formulation oral contraceptive pills involving over 9000 women, no breast cancer links were found. It is plainly intellectually dishonest to pass off old data as current.

Science improves through time, and old positions are discarded in the face of contradictory evidence. I understand that this method of revising and improving ideas is foreign to faith, but it is no excuse for when anti-choice advocates try to speak on matters of science.

Second, you claim to respect the right to choose. This is simply not true. Forgive me for lumping the actions of the Catholic Church hierarchy and its government allies with yours, but let’s not pretend that your ideals are not identical. If this is an inaccurate statement, then feel free to denounce the following.

The Catholic Church and its members have worked tirelessly to restrict access to contraceptives, even just in recent memory. The city of Manila, under the mayoralty of then-Pro-Life Philippines President Lito Atienza (your president), banned the provision of contraceptives in city hospitals and health centers, which the poor had relied on. A stronghold of the Opus Dei and the Saint James the Great Parish, the Ayala Alabang Village, banned the sale of all contraceptives to anyone without a prescription, even for barrier methods. There were also several copycat ordinances in other parts the country.

With your own then-president implicated, as well as your Mother Church, saying that you are not against choice and the freedom to acquire contraceptives is clearly a sin against the eight commandment. (That’s the one about lying.)

The issue of choice is also not simply having contraceptives available for sale. To pretend that it is betrays a level of privilege that is inexcusable for a supposedly charitable organization. It goes against the very notion of social justice. This is like pretending that any poor person has the free choice to be a doctor or a lawyer, without the assistance of scholarships and educational subsidies.

You seem to be oblivious to just how deprived of choice the poor are. Otherwise, ignorant statements like, “A law cannot give the people something the people already have,” would never even merit a moment’s consideration. But if it needs to be said, let me say it. The poor cannot afford meals, let alone contraceptives. No, they did not have a choice before the RH Law, and they still don’t, thanks to the status quo ante order against the RH Law.

Third, you claim not to be against the poor or progress. You claim that the solution to poverty is job creation, feeding programs, and education. I am certain that these are not bad ideas, but to advocate these to the exclusion of reproductive health is absolutely short-sighted and unsustainable.

Six out of every ten pregnancies is unwanted. This is particularly relevant to poor women who have a greater problem of achieving their desired family size. It takes little logical effort to figure out that abortions stem from unwanted pregnancies. If you are truly against abortion, reducing unwanted pregnancies should be your primary concern.

Poor women are especially burdened with having to provide for, feed, and educate unplanned children, when they do not even have the resources to feed themselves, let alone the other children they already have. I’m sure many of these parents grow to love their unplanned children, but this does not diminish the fact that families suffer because of having even less to divide among family members. This is a recipe for abuses, such as child abandonment and child labor.

Let us have a society where every child is wanted and is born to a loving family that will care for their well-being. That doesn’t have to be a controversial wish, but it is in the Philippines.

Women deserve a life where they can pursue happiness, however they define it. Incidentally, that definition usually does not include having a child too young or when finances are tight.

It is true that both sides of the debate share the goal of seeing the Philippines flourish. I do not believe the caricature that the anti-RH are against the law for the selfish reason of putting more people on pews. I believe that you want to help people, but understand that we want to help people in this life, not in some imagined afterlife that punishes people for all eternity.

Your concern for the faith of Catholics is not, and should not, be shared by the State. Your concern should not burden the Filipino people who, by an overwhelming majority, baptized Catholics and non-Catholics alike, want to take control of their reproductive choices.

You claim that it is “so easy” to distribute condoms and pills to the poor. On the contrary, it is not. Reproductive health advocates have fought for the right to do so for over a decade now because of the oppressive tactics employed by you and your Church. What is easy, though, is to pay lip service to providing education and employment to people without considering the realities of unwanted pregnancies. It is easy to misrepresent the RH movement as deludedly offering a silver bullet to poverty. That is not what the RH Law is about. It is not supposed to address all the problems of poverty. The law aims to help families achieve the family size they want. It aims to provide economic and personal freedom to women who cannot afford the opportunity costs of pregnancy.

It is easy for a privileged and powerful institution to talk about “empowering” the poor, then oppose one of the surest ways to achieve empowerment—freeing a society’s women from the shackles of forced pregnancy. People of means never have to worry about carrying a pregnancy to term while worrying about how to feed yourself and your already starving other children. If you want to talk about easy things, compare your lives to those who have less than you.

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Posted in Advocacy, RH Bill4 Comments

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