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.
Posted on 17 May 2014.
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.
Posted on 17 May 2014.
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.
Posted on 11 December 2012.
Tonight is the eve of what will hopefully be a vote on the second reading of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill in the House of Representatives.
In tonight’s Congress session the Honorable Representative from Cebu, Pablo Garcia, and his cohorts showed the country how Christ-like the anti-RH truly are. These are men who say they are fighting for God’s will, right? Surely the moral character of God must be reflected in their attempted amendments to the RH bill, right?
Representative Pablo Garcia tried to include an amendment into the RH bill to remove post-abortion care from the bill. His reasoning for this amendment is that including language that guarantees post abortion care for women who felt compelled to undergo an abortion would just encourage more women to undergo abortion. Our country totally does not need to take care of women who undergo an illegal operation, I mean, theres a reason its illegal right?
What a very Christ like moral argument there, Representative Garcia. After all when Jesus was faced with that adulterous woman who was to be stoned in the gospel of John, he was all like, “Yeah! Lets totally stone her!”
Oh wait. No. He didn’t.
Jesus forgave her and actually dared the pharisees, the clergy men, to hurt the woman they brought before him.
Women who suffer post abortion complications in the Philippines don’t just endure the effects of a most likely poorly done illegal abortion, they’re also stigmatized when they try to go to hospitals for care. These women who are already suffering are made to feel even worse, given substandard care because of a stigma that stems from religion.
The anti-RH go on and on about their morals derived from God. They declare that they know God’s will, that they are just doing what their God wants them to do.
According to their Bible, Jesus himself protected the life of a woman from the dictates of the clergy; from their desire to exact justice without thought of mercy. And yet, when these men who claim to follow God’s will have the chance to do what Jesus would do, they do the exact opposite.
Maybe its time to stop listening to the men of the cloth. Maybe its time the country acts as Jesus did when dealing with women who have illegal abortions: with compassion and mercy. Maybe instead of listening to our own pharisees, maybe its time to pass the RH bill.
Image: Christ and the woman taken in adultery, via the Wikimedia Commons
Errata: I had mistakenly written “third reading of the Reproductive Health Bill” when it is only the second reading, the mistake has since been corrected.
Posted in RH BillComments (1)
Posted on 02 November 2011.
Based on true events, “Paalam, Soledad” follows the struggles of Sister Soledad with her faith and her principles amidst the realities of Santa Clara, a small town ruled by closed minds, false hopes and repressed sexuality. [YouTube’s block has been resolved; this video is now viewable.]
First Act: Baptism (11:28)
Second Act: Marriage (31:22)
Third Act: Funeral (46:49)
Posted on 30 September 2011.
(Plenary address delivered at the 11th International Women’s Health Meeting, Brussels, Belgium, September 15, 2011)
Permit me a moment of personal sharing. Before I left the Philippines, Senator Vicente Sotto, during his interpellation of a proposed bill to ensure reproductive health services in the country, projected the website of the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR). He chose particularly that part of the website which discusses abortion. He added that Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio is the Chair of WGNRR, and that she has been seen frequently with the authors of the reproductive health bill.
The proposed legislation does not, in fact, change the Philippine’s restrictive law on abortion. The proposed law however, will mandate humane treatment of women seeking post-abortion care. It will also assure access to sexuality education, emergency obstetric services, modern contraceptives along with a range of other services such as those which treat and prevent reproductive tract infections.
I will add that Senator Sotto and other legislators who oppose any legislation related to reproductive health, divorce, LGBTI rights, are open about the fact that they are doing the work of God. Many advocates also state that they are doing it out of obedience and respect for the Bishops of the Catholic Church. And yes, in case any of you were wondering, the Philippines is a secular republic. But in the Philippines, as well as in other countries, legal guarantees on secularism have not restrained the fundamentalists from violations.
Perhaps I should move to assure you that I do not yet perceive myself in danger. I should also add that the rabidness of the religious fundamentalists at home is related to the strength of our efforts for the reproductive health bill. Two weeks ago, Philippine President Aquino certified the bill as a priority measure.
I mention this because this is the 11th IWHM, we are on our 34th year of the contemporary women’s health movement since the very first IWHM was held in Europe in 1977. On the one hand we have achieved much as a movement. And yet on another, whether it be in Asia or Europe we are experiencing backlash and the continuing control of our bodies.
In 1977 and today regimes of control determine the way we work, love and live. Then and now, women have resisted. As long as there is a need for resistances there is a need for a movement. Where women work together to free themselves from class, caste, race, colonial, neo-colonial, heterosexist, and other regimes of control, there we shall find our movement.
In a paper of mine that has been put in our conference kits, I have mentioned a few reasons for our success. Permit me now to state where I think we must go. Why, despite our success, we are facing increasing poverty and control whether we be in Europe or Asia, or any other region of the world.
My dear sisters, I open my eyes and see that the world is poorer. There are large gaps that exist between the rich and the poor and the gap is ever-widening. Apart from this, the world is at war, led by a nation which reacted to the aggression of a few by punishing whole peoples. But big wars are not the only threats. Small wars are waged everywhere and the streets of our communities and the bedrooms at home can also be places of violence.
In places of worship, in the academe, in newspapers and websites, in village halls and international convention centers, whether these be in progressive democracies or known fascist regimes, women are experiencing serious attempts to roll back the gains of freedom. These are often led by religious groups but any type of group and individual may be the source of this.
In the meanwhile world organizations such as the UN, which we have invested in so that they may reflect our resistance and solidarity, have become increasingly bureaucratized and impotent. On top of the previous institutions of control like the Vatican, we see the rise of minor despots or major power institutions like the World Trade Organization.
In the meantime the environment is suffering and we are threatening the life of the earth itself.
Whether through militarism or environmental degradation we are being brought to the brink of destruction.
Please, I do not wish to raise a panic. Whenever there is a panic it is the women and children who are trampled in the stampede. Women are likely to be blamed for overproducing people causing poverty and environmental degradation. This is one reason we are told by some to stop making babies. Or, we are told the breakdown of our communities is caused by our licentiousness and that we had better go back to our homes to produce babies.
Shall I be honest now? As if I have not been honest before? Shall I have a small tantrum? For the last 21 years that I have been working with IWHMs I have watched as those of us coming from the global South had to speak louder when we said we wished to oppose the imperialism of the World Bank which made our governments cut down on health spending and impose user fees. I have also heard the criticism of lesbian women about their marginalization. And we may go on about others: the disabled, the women from various indigenous populations, etc.
I have seen how organizers have succeeded or failed to root out the very elements of the oppressive structures which the movement wishes to change. And as it is with the IWHMs so it is with our social movements.
But I am tired of recriminations and guilt. They are the power tools of the despots and the messiahs. We are a movement that understands that life means pleasure and that those who wish to create our lives for us will end pleasure for us, and that is where poverty starts. So resistance means an insistence on food, housing, health, but also pleasure.
And why is this so? Because I have come to understand that in the era of globalization control is not merely political it is also biological,
In magazines conceived in London but sold in the corner store in Bombay or Prague, people are told what bodies to have—what kind of hips, what kind of lips, what kind of sexual aspirations.
Fast and global systems of market surveillance all over the world make the gestures of rebellion or alienation by people in any part of the world today tomorrow’s chic and latest consumerist trend. Fashions are designed in New York, cut by women pattern makers in Manila and rolled out as clothes in Shanghai.
The extraction of profit at every moment of our human need to communicate or create has never been more efficient. Indeed, life itself is being patented for a profit.
This profit taking is so frenetic and so efficient that in capitalism’s boom and bust cycles, trillions of dollars are lost or gained over very short periods of time.
We cannot delude ourselves that this efficiency in profit making is not resulting in global poverty.
We cannot delude ourselves that this enslavement of our human capacities to capitalist extraction happened independently of gender, race, class, caste and other dimensions by which they wish us to perceive our humanity.
Let me be clearer: class, sex, race, heterosexist and caste systems are not separate entities. There is no such thing as a less racist capitalism or a less heterosexist caste system. The feminist insight that brought us to reproductive and sexual rights has been validated by the evolution of the world’s economy. Productive and reproductive systems derive from the same human creativity. When wealth is extracted from the poor, it begins by making us accept that these two moments of life, production and reproduction, can be separated. When power moves it dictates what we think of ourselves and our world. It does so only because it has to—because our lives are not like this and we resist.
But to understand the our own envelopment by hegemony is not a call to stop noticing the race, class, caste and other differences that cause divisions among us. I have no wish to excuse myself from my own shortcomings. I have no respect for those who would use political theory to excuse their own bigotry.
However, my ability to be bigoted is not the problem. Bigotry is the default option that biopolitical mechanisms of control instill in us. The problem is my ability to accept the world according to their making. Where I exclude myself from others and their struggles, there is where I fall into error. Where I conceive of the women’s health movement as not also a movement against globalization; where I conceive of the movement against sexism as not also a movement against heterosexism, where I conceive the movement against racism as not a movement against caste—that is where I fall into error.
Where I conceive that my ability to love can be stunted so that it stays in the confines of my home or tribe or nation, instead of allowing it to expand towards solidarity with all the world’s poor, there is where I fail.
We cannot be blind to the fact that the world’s economy is in trouble. Everywhere people are insecure about their futures and their jobs. In the meanwhile, the world financial crisis has not brought an end to capitalist greed because it cannot help itself. It falls to all of us to deal with this crisis.
It is wrong to think that world poverty comes about from the lack of democracy and equity in the area of production and not in the area of reproduction. The women’s health movement must not feel itself out of its depth when it engages the movement against globalization. At the very least we must recognize that the medicalization of the bodies of women who can afford the expensive drugs and procedures, something I have seen discussed well in this meeting, comes from the same logic that denies life saving drugs to those who cannot afford to pay.
War, militarization and fundamentalisms are not distinct from the economic crisis. Wars have become police actions against leaders, nations or groups that would challenge the expropriation and concentration of wealth. But wars and intimate violence are never only about the free flow of goods and capital, it is also about how women must behave. Let us not be fooled by the rhetoric that those who would liberate us from our usual despots because these puppets can no longer to serve capitalism effectively, will also protect women’s rights—as if our sisters from advanced capitalist economies were so liberated. We cannot throw off one set of dictators for a set of liberators who will instill the same norms for women’s being. If real democracy is to be had it must be radicalized to extend to freedom for women as well.
Similarly do not let the urgent need to protect our environment blind us to the fact that it is not the world’s majority poor who are the main polluters. The solution cannot be to lessen the population of a country by imposing sanctions on women’s fertility.
But I do not wish to make a list of huge tasks addressed to some anonymous group called “us”. Rather I would like us also to think how easy it is to work on all these issues because we are already in resistance. The movement for sexual rights and freedoms is everywhere. We can begin by refusing the identities that oppression wishes to impose– “us”, “other” and “others”.
There is after all no need to submit our political actions to any unifying principle or hierarchy. As if our desires and our creativity have not always been polymorphous and unregimented. To ask a any woman to prioritize only this struggle or that is to say a woman is a good Muslim when she fights prejudice against Islam but chastise her when she criticizes the fundamentalists in her religion. Or it is asking a woman to be solely a lesbian and fight against heterosexism while denying that she is also a worker fighting against contractualization. We cannot fall into the these dichotomies.
In the Philippines, the Catholic spokespersons accuse us of going against Philippine culture and identity when we refuse Catholic norms for sexuality. Our response has been to insist that those among us who are not Catholic, and/or do not subscribe to their views on sex, must have equal citizenship rights and not be forced to live under their norms. To put it succinctly, I am a feminist and a freethinker and very much a Filipina. All women, as citizens, have a right to participate in social institutions and culture so that they may work to change the patriarchal norms embedded within them.
Second, we need not submit to any geographical hierarchies of struggle. Let me appeal to you that the local struggle in the Philippines may be as important as larger regional and international struggles. Our struggle in the Philippines is important because we are one of the last bastions of Catholic fundamentalism in the old colonies. Here, the local is global. Similarly, the struggle of Dr. Agnes Gereb, imprisoned in Hungary for providing home births is of equal importance–as are a thousand other individual struggles.
At the same time I would not make boycotting or attending UN activities a litmus test for our alliances. As we go to the UN for the review of the ICPD for example, my question is whether those who go will speak of all our struggles. My question is whether those who will go to the UN will still do so out of a sense of joyous struggle rather than gloomy obligation. Because, as we grapple with the bureaucratization and isolation of the UN, we shall see how the global can be extremely parochial. Cairo and Beijing are not supposed to be the maximum, they are supposed to be the minimum. And we cannot forget what was not won in Cairo but knew we wanted. Sexual rights are not a matter to be compromised this time around.
Whereas the enemy prefers us to think of homogeneous and stable identities and institutions, we are actually a heterogeneous and nomadic movement. Whereas the enemy would divide the world into distinct arenas of struggle, we make the linkages, the confluences and the synergies. This is not a way of saying we must respect the diversity in the women’s movement, as if diversity was a difficult but unavoidable condition. I am saying that it is only through diversity that we subvert the sterile homogeneity of fundamentalist prescriptions.
Lastly, we must trust our immense power to create what is positive. The first-ever IWHM did not speak of rights; it spoke of self-help, the capacity of women to help themselves. Indeed, the regimes of power and control that envelope us survive only on our strength. This is why they lock us in their death embrace. As the world stands on the edge of increasing misery we must counter-pose a new regime of life enhancement for all the world’s population. Universal health care, jobs for all, housing, clean water, food, security — these are not mere words, they are attainable social projects.
Thank you and good morning.
Posted on 05 February 2011.
Just a few years ago, say “RH” in ordinary talks and you’ll get blank looks. Now, most Filipinos know that RH is reproductive health. It has entered presidential debates, topped the news, been surveyed to death. Moreover, majority have plainly said their piece: “We support RH.” Why? Loads of reasons—from the practical “We need help” to the proud “It’s my choice!” But 10 good ones should be enough to convince rational people and thoughtful policy-makers. So here are our top picks.
The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that complications arise in 15% of pregnancies, bad enough to hospitalize or kill women. From the 2 million plus live births alone, some 300,000 maternal complications occur yearly. This is 7 times the DOH’s annual count for TB, 19 times for heart diseases and 20 times for malaria in women. As a result, more than 11 women die needlessly each day.
Enough skilled birth attendants and prompt referral to hospitals with emergency obstetric care are proven curative solutions to maternal complications. For women who wish to stop childbearing, family planning (FP) is the best preventive measure. All these are part of RH.
Proper birth spacing reduces infant deaths. The WHO says at least 2 years should pass between a birth and the next pregnancy. In our country, the infant mortality rate of those with less than 2 years birth interval is twice those with 3. The more effective and user-friendly the FP method, the greater the chances of the next child to survive.
Times have changed and people want smaller families. When surveyed about their ideal number of children, women in their 40s want slightly more than 3, while those in their teens and early 20s want just slightly more than 2.
Moreover, couples end up with families larger than what they planned. On average, Filipino women want close to 2 children but end up with 3. This gap is unequal, but shows up in all social classes and regions. RH education and services will help couples fulfill their hopes for their families.
RH indicators show severe inequities between the rich and poor. For example, 94% of women in the richest quintile have a skilled attendant at birth, while only 26% of the poorest can do so. The richest have 3 times higher tubal ligation rates. This partly explains why the wealthy hardly exceed their planned number of children, while the poorest get an extra 2. Infant deaths among the poorest are almost 3 times that of the richest, which in a way explains why the poor plan for more children. An RH law will help in attaining equity in health through stronger public health services.
Unintended pregnancies precede almost all induced abortions. Of all unintended pregnancies, 68% occur in women without any FP method, and 24% happen to those using traditional FP like withdrawal or calendar-abstinence.
If all those who want to space or stop childbearing would use modern FP, abortions would fall by some 500,000. In our country where abortion is strictly criminalized, and where 90,000 women are hospitalized yearly for complications, it would be reckless and heartless not to ensure prevention through FP.
RH health services are needed wherever people are establishing their families. For example, a report by the MDG Task Force points out the need for 1 fulltime midwife to attend to every 100 to 200 annual live births. Other health staff are needed for the millions who need prenatal and postpartum care, infant care and family planning. Investing in these core public health staff will serve the basic needs of many communities.
RH will need and therefore support many levels of health facilities. These range from health stations that can do basic prenatal, infant and FP care; health centers for safe birthing, more difficult FP services like IUD insertions, and management of sexually transmitted infections; and hospitals for emergency obstetric and newborn care and surgical contraception. Strong RH facilities can be the backbone of a strong and fairly distributed public health facility system.
Currently, most young people enter relationships and even married life without the benefit of systematic inputs by any of our social institutions. We insist on young voters’ education for events that occur once every few years, but do nothing guiding the young in new relationships they face daily. The RH bill mandates the education and health departments to fill this serious gap.
Delaying sex, avoiding multiple partners or using condoms prevent HPV infections that cause cervical cancers. Self breast exams and Pap smears can detect early signs of cancers which can be cured if treated early. All these are part of RH education and care. Contraceptives do not heighten cancer risks; combined pills actually reduce the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers.
Ensuring modern FP for all who need it would increase spending from P1.9 B to P4.0 B, but the medical costs for unintended pregnancies would fall from P3.5 B to P0.6 B, resulting in a net savings of P0.8 B. There is evidence that families with fewer children do spend more for health and education.
Posted in SocietyComments (18)
Posted on 20 January 2011.
“Nations that have adopted contraception have not seen a drop in abortions,” fulminated a recent post in an anti-RH Facebook page. “That’s a patent lie.” This is such a common anti-choice trope, that anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson can repeat it without supporting data, and without fear of rebuttal.
Too bad the data doesn’t support their claims. More widespread contraceptive use correlates strongly with lower abortions. Diehard opponents of the pending Reproductive Health Bill will find this statement difficult to parse, much less accept: after all, aren’t abortions and contraceptives just two cogs in the same anti-life mechanism? Don’t abortion rates go up with rates of contraceptive use?
Actually, no – many studies show that abortion rates recede if decision makers are provided enough information and a wider range of contraceptive choices.
The states comprising the former Soviet Union are the perfect place to test this – a large population for whom “abortion was legal and widely available, whereas contraceptives were in limited supply” (Marston & Cleland). The data supports the conclusion that as more contraceptive methods were introduced, the rate of abortions began to drop precipitously. Read the full story
Posted on 18 January 2011.
The State “shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”
Based on the above Constitutional provision, the unborn cannot be protected separately from its mother, otherwise the word “equally” loses all its sense and purpose, and the phrase becomes fractured and meaningless. Up until the period of fetal viability, the unborn cannot survive without the mother surviving as well. The Constitution and basic biological necessities inextricably links the life of the unborn with the life of its mother. Thus, it is unfortunate that the proposed “Protection of the Unborn Child Act”, by its short title alone, has chosen to ignore equal protection and the full mandate of the Constitution.
The proposed law will not initiate outlawing abortion, for abortion is already a crime under the Revised Penal Code of 1930. It cannot ban methods of contraception disapproved by the Catholic Church, for medical authorities like the World Health Organization (WHO) have already stated unequivocally that “contraceptives are not abortifacients.”
However, the proposed law will make pregnancies even more risky for women. It will also remove decision-making during pregnancy complications away from the woman, her loved ones and their health provider who are in the best position to balance the lives at stake and weigh the risks and consequences. It will transfer difficult choices to a distant, cold and inflexible law. In effect, the proposed law will treat women as mere incubating machines to ensure the life of the unborn.
When a life-threatening pregnancy complication occurs and the age of gestation is a long way from fetal viability, timely and aggressive medical intervention to save the mother is warranted. The embryo or fetus may still be growing or have a heartbeat, but attempting to save it at the expense of further risking the mother makes no sense. Both may end up dead. When complications occur near the period of fetal viability, then conservative management may be chosen with the aim of prolonging the pregnancy until the child can survive independent of its mother, thereby saving both lives. The stakes are high, the conditions and risks are complex, and the choices are difficult. The sensible and sensitive policy is to leave these choices to the mother and the people she loves and trusts.
However, the Protection of the Unborn Child Act proposes to classify any “injury, damage … or death of the unborn child” or “interference in the natural development of the fetus” done “intentionally or unintentionally” as elements of criminal abortion. Injury, damage and death are results that can only be known after a medical intervention is done. “Interference in the natural development” is a broad phrase that describes all medicines and medical procedures. The proposed law will result in medical inaction to avoid criminal prosecution. This will kill or maim more mothers. Ironically, medical inaction will probably result in even more perinatal, neonatal and infant deaths and morbidities.
A fertilized egg that implants in a woman’s body other than her uterus (womb) will almost certainly not survive to a live birth. If, as often the case, the Fallopian tube becomes the site of implantation, pressure from the growing embryo can rupture the tube and cause severe internal bleeding that leads to maternal death. In these cases, equal protection should mean that women can have ectopic pregnancies removed without any fear of being prosecuted for criminal abortion.
In fact, current medical practice and policies allow the removal of ectopic pregnancies through chemical means (using methotrexate, a core essential drug in the Philippine National Drug Formulary) and surgical means (using procedures called salpingostomy or salpingectomy, both of which are recognized and reimbursed by PhilHealth). In some cases, “expectant management” or watchful waiting is done with the hope that the ectopic pregnancy resolves spontaneously without therapy. Rarely, ectopic pregnancies not in the confined space of the Fallopian tubes survive after intensive medical management and serious risk-taking by the mothers (e.g., pregnancy in the abdominal cavity). In all these cases, the key principle remains that the choice to risk maternal death belongs first and foremost to the mother. If the Protection of the Unborn Child Act is approved, risk-taking by mothers becomes mandatory and expectant management—until danger becomes imminent or the ectopic pregnancy resolves spontaneously—may become the norm preferred by physicians to avoid criminal prosecution.
It is estimated that even among couples intent on having a child through daily sex on fertile days, only 25% are successful with each ovulation cycle. Many fertilized eggs do not implant at all, or are spontaneously aborted in the early weeks of pregnancy. Chromosomal abnormalities are thought to account for a majority of spontaneous abortions that occur before 10 weeks of gestation.
In some instances, the genetically defective entity implants, continues to grow and threatens the life of the mother. For example, a partial mole (kyawa in Filipino) is a product of fertilization with a genetic make-up distinct from both the mother and the father. Under the Protection of the Unborn Child Act, this growing mass of fetal and placental tissue has fulfilled the definition of a new human life, an unborn child that must now be protected by the State. It may be alive, but it is definitely not human. Surely, equal protection of the mother and unborn under the Constitution must allow for the removal of molar pregnancies with absolutely no threat of criminal prosecution for abortion.
It is unfortunate that the Protection of the Unborn Child Act chose to frame the interests of the mother and the child she bears as diametrically opposed. This is untrue. Medical authorities like the WHO have pointed out that neonatal deaths and stillbirths (fetal deaths)
stem from poor maternal health, inadequate care during pregnancy, inappropriate management of complications during pregnancy and delivery, poor hygiene during delivery and the first critical hours after birth, and lack of newborn care. Several factors such as women’s status in society, their nutritional status at the time of conception, early childbearing, too many closely spaced pregnancies and harmful practices, such as inadequate cord care, letting the baby stay wet and cold, discarding colostrum and feeding other food, are deeply rooted in the cultural fabric of societies and interact in ways that are not always clearly understood.
Comprehensive reproductive health care—which among others include prenatal care, safe delivery through skilled birth attendance, emergency obstetric and newborn care, the promotion of breastfeeding, family planning and sexuality education to prevent early pregnancies—is a programme that will protect the interests of both the mother and her child.
Birth spacing enhances the survival of both mother and child. A panel of 37 international experts convened by the WHO reviewed the relevant evidence in 2005 and made the following recommendation (underscoring supplied):
Individuals and couples should consider health risks and benefits along with other circumstances such as their age, fecundity, fertility aspirations, access to health services, child-rearing support, social and economic circumstances, and personal preferences in making choices for the timing of the next pregnancy. … After a live birth, the recommended interval before attempting the next pregnancy is at least 24 months in order to reduce the risk of adverse maternal, perinatal and infant outcomes.
One of the Millennium Development Goal targets is to lower the Philippines’ infant mortality rate (IMR) to 19 deaths per one thousand live births by 2015. The National Demographic and Health Survey of 2008 showed that those with previous birth intervals of three years have already met this target with a measured IMR of 18, while those with intervals of less than two years have almost twice the death rate at 35. A 2009 study has also estimated that the current levels of family planning use already prevent 0.3 million miscarriages, 0.9 million induced abortions, and 3,500 maternal deaths. Family planning saves both the mother and her child.
Fertilization occurs outside the womb (in the Fallopian tube, or Petri dish if done through in-vitro fertilization or IVF) while implantation normally occurs in the womb. Thus, the phrase “conceive in your womb” refers to implantation and the start of an intra-uterine pregnancy. Conceive is an old, non-technical word with roots from the Latin concipere which means to “take in and hold; become pregnant”. Conception means pregnancy, and can never occur without a woman conceiving. In contrast, fertilization can be done in a Petri dish, and if one asserts that conception has already occurred, then a puzzling question arises: Who is conceiving?
The FIGO (International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology) Ethics Guidelines clarified these issues in 1988 when it defined pregnancy as follows:
Natural human reproduction is a process which involves the production of male and female gametes and their union at fertilisation. Pregnancy is that part of the process that commences with the implantation of the conceptus in a woman, and ends with either the birth of an infant or an abortion.
The importance of uterine implantation is recognized even by the Civil Code of the Philippines when it set the length of “intra-uterine life” (life inside the womb) in Article 41 as a test for recognizing and registering the live birth and civil personality of an infant.
The Constitution’s use of the imprecise word “conception” reflects the intense debates that occurred on this issue. Lawyers who have studied transcripts of the Constitutional Commission point out that the proposed terminology started from “fertilized ovum”, then “moment of conception” and finally just “conception”. The suggested phrases—all not accepted—evolved as follows:
1. The right to life extends to the fertilized ovum
2. Protection of life should extend to the fertilized ovum
3. The State shall protect human life from the moment of conception
4. The State shall protect the unborn child from conception
5. The State shall protect the unborn from conception
If there was consensus that conception means fertilization, then any one of the first two phrasing should have made it. Both failed. The Protection of the Unborn Child Act is reviving a battle lost 23 years ago.
Treating women as nothing more than incubating machines, and introducing extreme conflicts of interests and inflexible rules in pregnancy fail to serve the Constitutional mandate and the interests of mothers and the unborn. For these reasons, we oppose the passage of the Protection of the Unborn Child Act.
 Golez, R. House of Representatives, 15th Congress. House Bill No. 13, An Act Providing for the Safety and Protection of the Unborn Child and for Other Purposes. Available at http://www.congress.gov.ph/download/comms_related_15/HB%2013.pdf, accessed 1/17/2011.
 UNDP/UNFPA/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP), Department of Reproductive Health and Research, World Health Organization. 7 November 2006. Expert Opinion on House Bill 4643 on Abortive Substances and Devices in the Philippines. Available at http://www.likhaan.org/sites/default/files/pdf/expert_opinion_on_house_bill_4643_on_abortive_substances_and_devices_in_the_philippines_7nov06.pdf, accessed 1/17/2011.
 National Formulary Committee, National Drug Policy – Pharmaceutical Management Unit 50, Department of Health. 2008. Philippine National Drug Formulary: Essential Medicines List, p. 58. Volume 1, 7th Edition. Available at http://www.philhealth.gov.ph/providers/download/PNDFvol1ed7_2008.pdf, accessed 1/17/2011.
 Philippine Health Insurance Corp. Circular No. 10 s-2009, p. 16. Revised Value Scale for 2009 with Additional Procedures. Available at http://www.philhealth.gov.ph/circulars/2009/circ10_2009.pdf, accessed 1/17/2011.
 Barnhart K. 23 July 2009. Ectopic Pregnancy. New England Journal of Medicine 2009; 361:379-387. Available at http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMcp0810384, accessed 1/17/2011.
 Wilcox A, Weinberg C and Baird D. 7 December 1995. Timing of Sexual Intercourse in Relation to Ovulation — Effects on the Probability of Conception, Survival of the Pregnancy, and Sex of the Baby. New England Journal of Medicine; 1995; 333:1517-1521. Available at http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199512073332301#t=articleResults, accessed 1/17/2011.
 Branch D, Gibson M and Silver R. 28 October 2010. Recurrent Miscarriage. New England Journal of Medicine 2010; 363:1740-1747. Available at http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMcp1005330, accessed 1/17/2011.
 Berkowitz R. 16 April 2009. Molar Pregnancy. New England Journal of Medicine 2009; 360:1639-1645. Available at http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMcp0900696, accessed 1/17/2011.
 The “unborn” is defined in HB 13 as “a child at any stage of existence and development beginning from the union of the sperm and the egg until the birth stage”, and conception/fertilization is said to be “the precise moment that the sperm fertilizes the egg, which is when new life is formed distinct in his/her existence and genetic make-up from both the father and the mother.”
 World Health Organization. 2006. Neonatal and perinatal mortality: country, regional and global estimates. Available at http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2006/9241563206_eng.pdf, accessed 1/17/2011.
 Department of Making Pregnancy Safer (MPS) and the Department of Reproductive Health and Research (RHR), World Health Organization. 2006. Report of a WHO Technical Consultation on Birth Spacing. Available at http://www.who.int/making_pregnancy_safer/documents/birth_spacing.pdf, accessed 1/17/2011.
 Darroch JE et al. 2009. Meeting women’s contraceptive needs in the Philippines, In Brief, New York: Guttmacher Institute, No. 1. Available at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/2009/04/15/IB_MWCNP.pdf, accessed 1/17/2011.
 Van Voorhis B. 25 January 2007. In Vitro Fertilization. N Engl J Med 2007; 356:379-386. Available at http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMcp065743, accessed 1/17/2011.
 Online Etymology Dictionary, available at http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=conceive&searchmode=none, accessed 1/17/2011.
 FIGO Committee for the Study of Ethical Aspects of Human Reproduction and Women’s Health, FIGO. October 2009. Ethical Issues in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Available at http://www.figo.org/files/figo-corp/Ethical%20Issues%20-%20English.pdf, accessed 1/17/2011.
 Ruiz-Austria C, Avellano A, Luczon C and Vargas F., Womenlead Foundation, Inc. Position Paper: Withdrawal of Registration and prohibition of importation and distribution of Postinor through Memorandum Circular No. 18 series of 7 December 2001.
This is the official position paper of Likhaan Center for Women’s Health submitted to the House of Representatives, which started on 18 January 2011 its public hearings on House Bill No. 13 – “Protection of Unborn Child Act of 2010 by Rep. Roilo Golez”. There are two counterpart bills in the Senate: SB 2497 by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and SB 2584 by Sen. Ralph Recto.
Posted in SocietyComments (10)
Posted on 06 November 2010.
Upon the completion of the first draft of the Human Genome Project in 2000, United States President Bill Clinton called the three billion letters that compose the human genome “the language in which God created life.” Indeed, the head of the HGP, current director of the National Institutes of Health, and devout Christian Francis Collins alludes to genetics as the “language of God”—the same title of his book-length presentation of supposed evidence for Christianity—and “God’s instruction book”.1
If there was any branch of science that could have ever vindicated the doctrine of vitalism (the belief that something nonphysical is the force behind the phenomenon of life), it would have been molecular biology and its study of the genetic and chemical underpinnings of life. It would also have been the prime candidate for debunking On the Origin of Species, which was published a hundred years before Avery, McLeod, and McCarty provided Darwin’s theory with DNA as the hereditary unit of life2 and Watson and Crick discovered its double helical structure3. A failure of molecular biology to reflect the wastefulness of natural selection and its reliance on ad hoc solutions for survival would have been proof positive that a physical description of the basis of life is intrinsically impossible. If genes were found to be too complex to have been the product of simpler parents, materialism would instantly cease to be a viable perspective. Scientists would then be forced to let go of their naturalistic premises. And yet, with junk DNA4 and genes co-opted for other functions5, we clearly see the fingerprints not of an intelligent God that deftly sculpted life, but of random chance whittled down by billions of years of natural selection.
Unfortunately for the religious intelligentsia, materialistic biology has only brought the hammer down more strongly against metaphysical and supernatural conceptions of life and consciousness. This is not to say that the religious have not tried to put on the white coat and the credibility of science in a counterintuitive attempt at showing that their beliefs are based on evidence and not on faith claims. Science is currently being assailed by unscrupulous hucksters and obscurantists trying to peddle the Bronze Age hokum of the Bible as scientific—thinly disguised as nondenominational under “Intelligent Design.” Less delusional believers adeptly see through this canard and rely on the self-refuting “theistic evolution” to ease their doubts about Adam and Eve while paying lip service to scientific consensus.6 Today, the claim that life and the human mind has no basis on physical events and the neurophysiology of the brain, respectively, is on par with the belief that demons are the generative cause of epilepsy. In this stage of human scientific progress, it is safe to announce that vitalism and its variants are intellectually indefensible and thoroughly deserve the muffled laughs they elicit. Despite its use by respectable scientists such as Dr. Collins, the “language of God” metaphor used for DNA is no less ridiculous. And, as we shall see after an inventory of genes and genetic disorders, believers may want to refrain from implicating God as the writer of the mess we call the human genome.
After the sperm and egg meet
The development of a human embryo involves a complex interplay between the genes it inherits from the much obsessed about union of the 23 chromosomes of the father’s sperm and the 23 chromosomes of the mother’s egg.7 These genes direct the development of embryonic structures at specific points in time and in specific amounts. Any error in the process will derail the entire endeavor and will have catastrophic consequences. Now, it often escapes the religious mind how such an intricate crosstalk between genes could ever have arisen by itself without the forethought of a designer. Of course, as the watchmaker argument goes, this failure of imagination necessitates that God must have carefully designed each gene to turn on at the right time and at the right amounts in order to produce each one of God’s precious little children. As Rick Warren says, “[God] carefully mixed the DNA cocktail that created you.”8 However, a moment’s additional thinking will reveal the vacuity of such an argument. Alternatively, what will be revealed by a little critical thinking is that God is either inept or cruel.
Once the embryo develops into a child, is born, and the doctor hands off the child to the mother, the next step, after a well-deserved embrace, is to look over the child for obvious defects. The parents check if the child has all its toes, if its head is round, and if its face possesses all the standard features. Once inspection confirms a healthy child, the parents breathe a sigh of relief over their little bundle of joy. This image is the best-case scenario for expectant parents. This is what happens when everything goes well with the 46 chromosomes of the child. However, in spite of the omnipotence and goodness of God, the alternative happens a little too often for someone who doesn’t make mistakes.
As much as 20% of all recognized conceptions result in spontaneous abortion—also known as miscarriages.9 This number does not include women who never even knew they were pregnant. Miscarriages occur for many reasons. Some of these reasons are embryonic developmental problems such as those involving errors in the inheritance of parental DNA (e.g., missing chromosomes, embryonic fatal genetic mutations, etc.). These problems arise by sheer chance because of the nature of DNA. Right at the get go, God’s perfect design seems to fail at least 20% of the time, without discrimination. And since the Catholic Church claims that the soul enters the embryo at the point of conception, then the Church must concede that God is the most prolific mass murderer of all.
Divinely mandated seclusion
While miscarriages are horrifying for expectant mothers, there is at least a modicum of comfort to be had in knowing that the fetus, lacking the neurological structures, did not suffer its own death. If a random mutation is lucky (or unlucky, as the case may be) enough to cross the threshold of birth, a human child with a functioning capacity for suffering will be involved in its ravages.
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) is a genetic disease that is caused by various mutations, one of which involves the mutation of a gene on the X chromosome that codes for a protein that recognizes cell signals.10 Having this variant of SCID means that mothers that carry this mutation will pass it on to 50% of their offspring, since females carry two X chromosomes. Because of the two X chromosomes of females, they are unaffected by the disease since the defective copy on one X is compensated for by a working copy on the other. Therefore, the mutation is recessive, which means that since males only carry one X chromosome, males will have no functioning copy of the gene and will absolutely have the disease, regardless of environmental situation. The result is that the child with these genetic errors will have such a crippled immune system that he will need to live in an aseptic plastic bubble for all of his brief years on God’s green Earth. He will never even feel the touch of his mother’s uncovered skin until his body begins to fail catastrophically due to a chance infection and the sterile equipment that protects him is discarded as it will be of no use in a few minutes.
The curse of Huntington
Some genetic diseases remain benign until a certain point in adulthood. While many of these are largely environmentally determined such as heart disease and certain forms of cancer, some are completely deterministic. If you happen to have inherited a particular mutation in your huntingtin gene from your parents, there is no amount of vitamin C or exercise that will prevent you from becoming a quivering and demented shadow of your former self. This is Huntington’s chorea, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects adults at around 35 years of age. If it sounds familiar, it may be because the character Olivia Wilde plays on House has it. Huntington’s is caused by several repetitions of a DNA base triplet of CAG in the huntingtin gene. The more CAG repeats in your copy of huntingtin, the earlier the devastating effects of Huntington’s will be for you.11 You just need one disordered copy of the gene since the disease is dominant. This means that carriers of the mutated gene have a 50/50 chance of passing on their dreadful disease to their children. Many people who have a history of Huntington’s in the family opt not to be tested for the gene. Since there is no cure for the disease, many people would rather not have a ticking time bomb alert them of their guaranteed dementia and prefer to live in ignorance until the symptoms finally kick in.
This is but a sampling of the horrific genetic mishaps that follow the indifferent laws of statistics. They affect the lives of conscious creatures through no fault of anyone but chance. There are about 25,000 genes in the human genome.12 All of them are subject to mutation and failure. Most mutations are fatal; a tiny few are beneficial. This is the raw material in which evolution works. This is how cruel natural selection is. The facts can’t be ignored by anyone defending the Christian idea of God. It takes a colossal amount of callousness to square evolution with a benevolent Creator. It takes an even greater amount of doublethink to use genetics as evidence for a loving God.
1 Collins, F. S. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. 109 (Free Press, 2006).
2 Avery, O. T., MacLeod, C. M. & McCarty, M. Studies on the Chemical Nature of the Substance Inducing Transformation of Pneumococcal Types: Induction of Transformation by a Desoxyribonucleic Acid Fraction Isolated from Pneumococcus Type III. Journal of Experimental Medicine 79, 137-158 (1944).
3 Watson, J. D. & Crick, F. A structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature 171, 737-738 (1954).
4 Ohno, S. So much ‘junk’ DNA in our genome. Evolution of Genetic Systems 23, 366-370 (1972).
5 Fraser, G. J. et al. An Ancient Gene Network Is Co-opted for Teeth on Old and New Jaws. PLoS Biology 7, e1000031 (2009).
6 Trese, L. J. The Faith Explained. 50-52 (Sinag-Tala Publishers, Inc., 2003).
7 Gilbert, S. F. Developmental Biology. (Sinauer Associates, 2000).
8 Warren, R. The Purpose-Driven Life. 235 (OMF Literature Inc., 2001).
9 Griebel, C. P., Halvorsen, J., Golemon, T. B. & Day, A. A. Management of spontaneous abortion. American Family Physician 72, 1243-1250 (2005).
10 Davis, J. & Puck, J. X-Linked Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/bookshelf/br.fcgi?book=gene&part=x-scid> (2003).
11 Watson, J. D. DNA: The Secret of Life. 323-324 (Arrow Books, 2003).
12 ibid., p. 201
Posted on 29 October 2010.
In the battle against contraceptives and the RH Bill, the CBCP keeps saying big words like “contraceptive mentality” and the “culture of death”, but do we know what they really mean? For example, let’s take a look at what Jaro archbishop and then CBCP president Angel Lagdameo said in 2007:
Since the Church objects to the use of artificial contraception, the church likewise objects to their dissemination, creating thereby a contraceptive mentality towards a culture of death.
Or what San Fernando, Pampanga archbishop Panciano Aniceto wrote in late 2009:
Textbooks consistently using the term “reproduction” instead of “procreation,” even if intended for Catholic schools, should be thoroughly checked for the contraceptive mentality.
It seems those phrases were popularized if not coined by Pope John Paul II in his 1995 enclyclical Evangelium Vitae, where he wrote:
It may be that many people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation of abortion. But the negative values inherent in the “contraceptive mentality”—which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act—are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected.
That last sentence reminds me of the Christian Courier writer Wayne Jackson’s comment on Human Life International founder Dr. Paul Marx’s argument that “widespread contraception always leads to abortion”:
In reality, his argument is a non-argument. He might as well contend that people who engage in sexual activity are more likely to procure abortions than those who do not! This is a truism. But sexual activity per se does not always lead to abortion.
So even assuming that “the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected”, do we now condemn contraception, a lawful act, based on its tendency to increase the probability of acceptance or even desensitization towards abortion, a procedure deemed illegal in our country?
And how do we differentiate between “contraceptive mentality” and “responsible parenthood”? Pope John Paul mentioned “respect for the full truth of the conjugal act” with regards to responsible parenthood, and if by “full truth” he meant the inviolable inclusion of procreation in every sexual act, why does the Church allow natural family planning methods where the act is deliberately timed during the wife’s sterile period, or sex between couples who, because of sickness or age, can no longer bear a child?
Let’s see what else Pope John Paul had to say:
…despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree…in very many other instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment…
Does the use of contraceptives exemplify a “hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility”, which probably means engaging in sex solely for pleasure without regard for the consequences? Hardly. The mere act of wearing a condom, for instance, shows concern for the woman’s health – at the cost of decreased pleasure. Does that reflect a “self-centered concept of freedom”?
…The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception.
Now that sentence is made of two parts existing in different tenses, but taken as a whole it seems to make sense. So let’s try to break it down. The first part talks about a potential (future) pregnancy which should be avoided at all costs, but in the second part that pregnancy has already occurred (present) due to failed contraception, and yet it assumes that the great effort spent to prevent the former automatically dictates a similar degree of proclivity to end the latter. No, being pro-contraception does not necessarily mean pro-abortion.
While it is true that the taking of life not yet born or in its final stages is sometimes marked by a mistaken sense of altruism and human compassion, it cannot be denied that such a culture of death, taken as a whole, betrays a completely individualistic concept of freedom, which ends up by becoming the freedom of “the strong” against the weak who have no choice but to submit.
Did Pope John Paul (or Archbishop Lagdameo) just associate contraception with euthanasia on top of abortion? I hope not, because in contraception there is no life “not yet born” or “in its final stages” – there is simply no life at all! So it isn’t really a freedom of the strong against the weak, because in contraception the weak hasn’t existed yet. It’s just personal freedom.
But contraception is not all about freedom. It’s about health, and of using our human intellect to maintain a healthy, happy life without killing the “weak”. As Wayne Jackson said:
Frequently a woman’s health is an issue relative to the number of children she should bear. Shall a woman be forced to jeopardize her physical welfare simply to satisfy the demands of a conclave of bachelors in Rome?
The Catholic clergy makes much ado about the use of “artificial” devices to facilitate birth control. But by what spiritual criterion does one determine that the use of some artificial devices to accommodate physical needs are permissible (e.g., eye glasses, hearing aids, etc.), and yet, the use of other material devices (to assist with physical needs) are prohibited? It is a manifestation of arrogance to set oneself up as a pontificator of such matters.
And that is where the Church is good at, as a self-appointed pontificator, expressing not opinions but judgments – authoritative, arrogant assertions of what is right and wrong – on matters which lifelong bachelors should have no business to begin with.
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