Outside of the completely false pseudoscience, misguided economics, and absurd natural law reasons presented in the Supreme Court, the only argument that the anti-RH side has is that concerning freedom of religion.
We can expect more of the same tired and debunked arguments in the coming Supreme Court sessions challenging the constitutionality of the RH Law. But, let us focus on something that might actually have some substance.
Will the RH Law Limit Freedom of Religion?
On the side of the Filipino public, the complaint that the RH Law curtails religious freedom holds no water. The RH Law coerces no citizen to pursue family planning, let alone use artificial contraceptives. “True” and faithful Catholics who refuse any sort of artificial contraception can continue without concern. Contrary to their fears, they won’t be force-fed estradiol under the RH Law.
On the side, however, of the Filipino medical community, there might be some conflict. The RH Law provides that health workers who are required but refuse to offer RH services on religious grounds must refer the patient to another who would. (Sec. 23(3)) The anti-RH side argues that this would still violate the freedom of conscience of the worker since they would be enabling an act they believe to be immoral.
In his Philippine Daily Inquirer column, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, however questions why a health worker would even remain in a job that violates their own principles, “…considering that this inability to perform a legal duty strikes at the very heart of the purpose for which the health center exists, is it reasonable or even just for the person to cling to the job?”
Religious Freedom to Torture Animals
In a similar case, philosopher Peter Singer has argued for outlawing the ritual slaughter of animals in the Netherlands even if it bans halal and kosher meat, which require killing by slashing the throat of a fully conscious animal. The animal cannot be stunned first and would be completely aware until their blood drains to the killing floor, from their brain through their neck.
Singer explains that Muslims and Jews are not required by their religion to eat halal or kosher meat, only that if they eat meat at all, they must be ritually slaughtered. Jews and Muslims don’t have to eat meat, at all. So, they can opt to be vegetarians under the ban and remain faithful religionists. In this way, the ban does not curtail their freedom of religion. It might make their religion a bit more inconvenient, but when has religion been about convenience?
As a compromise, the Dutch parliament allowed the ritual slaughter methods, provided that the animal loses consciousness forty seconds after its throat is slit. In doing so, the suffering of the animal is reduced (but not by much). A few other nations in the European Union completely ban the cruel practice.
Freedom to Disobey the Law?
Singer’s argument provides a fair test for conflicts between religious freedom and public interest. It is in the nature of faith that beliefs cannot be tested or improved. It is therefore easy to be insincere and abusive of religious freedom, at the expense of a nation’s well-being. We, as a society, must then find a way to respect freedom of religion, while still avoiding becoming victims of abuse.
Further complicating the anti-RH complaint, the majority of Catholics they speak for don’t even agree with them. Surveys show that 71% of Catholics supported the RH Bill’s passing. So, when they argue that the law is against religious freedom, it only refers to 29% of Catholics, or about 23% of the Philippine population.
Even so, religious freedom is a fundamental right that is not subject to majority rule. However, just like ritual slaughter for Jews and Muslims, Catholicism does not require members to work as health care professionals. They can remain faithful “true” Catholics as workers in other professions (such as law or business). Why then, as Bernas questions, would a person choose to be in a job that goes against their religious beliefs? And why should we expect a company to retain a person who cannot do their job effectively?
Seventh-day Adventists do not expect to be employed as Armed Forces members. Vegetarian Buddhists do not expect to work as butchers. Jehova’s Witnesses do not expect to work as med techs at the blood bank. And yet anti-contraceptive Catholics expect to work as obstetricians, nurses, or pharmacists?
There are even other health professions that will not likely encounter the problem of compromising conscience for the law. There’s radiology, dentistry, and so many other fields, if one insists to work in health care. Adventists, Buddhists, and a host of other religions have found balance between their faith and the country’s interests. Why can’t conservative Catholics?
Image Credit: Riad Shehata