Last November 20, my friends from the Filipino Freethinkers organization were bullied by Catholic faithfuls at the Manila Cathedral. For a backgrounder on what happened, please have a look at the following links first:
As you may already know, there is a huge debate going on in the Philippines regarding the passing of a law (dubbed as the RH bill, which stands for “Reproductive Health”) that would mandate the State to uphold and promote:
- Responsible parenthood, informed choice, birth spacing and respect for life in conformity with internationally recognized human rights standards.
- The right of the people, particularly women and their organizations, to effective and reasonable participation in the formulation and implementation of the declared policy.
- A guarantee for universal access to medically-safe, legal, affordable and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices, supplies and relevant information.
The bill is anchored on the rationale that sustainable human development is better assured with a manageable population of healthy, educated and productive citizens. For more details about the bill, please refer to this link:
The biggest opposition to the bill is from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), represented by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). The Church opposes the bill because it claims that many artificial contraceptives are abortifacients. Abortifacients are drugs or devices that will cause abortion or terminate the life of the unborn.1
Of course, as many people are aware, the Church is strongly opposed to abortion. The Church, takes on the “Pro-Life” stance and charges the bill as unconstitutional because the law says that the State “shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception”.2 Since the Church claims that artificial contraceptives are “abortifacients”, the mandates of the RH bill are then, acording to the Church, a violation of the Constitution.
Honestly, even if I were to set aside my personal philosophical agnosticism or colloquial atheism regarding the existence of God, I do not see the point of opposing the bill if we are to look at things on objective grounds.
The Church claims to be taking the high moral ground on this because the issue of abortion is of a moral nature. While we can suspend the case for Situational Relativism (i.e. assessment of a moral act depending on the situation one is in) just to entertain the Church’s absolute stand on the immorality of killing a life (born or unborn), it seems to be missing the point that the RH bill is not about abortion.
The bill is about providing the people with informed choices on responsible parenthood. In family planning terms, it is not about terminating unwanted pregnancies, it is about preventing unwanted pregnancies. Preventing unwanted pregnancies would even render abortions useless in the first place. If one is against abortion, why would one oppose measures that would prevent it?
The problem with the Church’s disagreement on the “morality” of the use of artificial contraceptives is that it seems to be making moral judgments based on non-moral facts. It may be a “moral fact” that killing a life is wrong but there is nothing moral about the status of, say, a condom!
Let us say, for argument sake, that the condom can be used as an abortifacient (I don’t see how but I’m suspending my disbelief for now), how can anyone make a moral judgment call on that information alone? The condom having the possibility of being used as an abortifacient is no more immoral than the possibility of knives being used to mortally stab another human being.
Should the Church lobby to ban the production of knives too?
One may even argue that religion itself has been historically (and continues to be) used to justify atrocities and immoral acts, why can’t religion be deemed unconstitutional as well based on that ground? The thing is, artificial contraceptives, just like religion, are mere tools to be used to reach a moral end. The possibility or factual cases of abuse of such tools do not discredit the tool itself.
The Church claims that “Life begins at conception”. This is a debatable claim but let us grant that claim, for argument sake. Conception is defined as the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism.3
In other words, this occurs when an ovum (female reproductive cell) fuses with a sperm (male reproductive cell). Since artificial contraceptives prevent the fusion of the two sexual reproductive cells, there really is no conception to begin with! Surely the Church won’t go as far as to make the claim that life begins during the production of the sperm and the ovum, right?
The Church further supports its opposition to artificial contraceptives by invoking what it believes sex is defined as. It believes that sex must be both “Unitive” (express love) and “Procreative” (open to procreation).4 The Church claims that:
“Contraception is wrong because it’s a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race, often referred to as “natural law.” The natural law purpose of sex is procreation. The pleasure that sexual intercourse provides is an additional blessing from God, intended to offer the possibility of new life while strengthening the bond of intimacy, respect, and love between husband and wife. The loving environment this bond creates is the perfect setting for nurturing children.
But sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation. God’s gift of the sex act, along with its pleasure and intimacy, must not be abused by deliberately frustrating its natural end—procreation.”5
Notice that the argument used by the Church stands on the assertion that the purpose of sex is procreation. But if you think about it, the assessment of the purpose of a subject is not a moral issue. What moral judgment can be validly formulated merely on the basis of the purpose of a pen and paper enabling people to write their thoughts?
Moral judgments can be formulated based on the assessment of “moral values” and “factual claims”.6 When the Church says that the purpose of sex is procreation, this is not a moral value statement but merely a factual claim.
Factual claims are either true or false and we determine the truth of factual claims through empirical investigation.6 Now the question is: What is the Church’s basis for their factual claim that the basic purpose of sex is procreation? Invoking what the Bible claims, just by itself, is unacceptable in a non-theocratic State.
The thing is, this is not really new for religious faithfuls. History has repeatedly shown us that religious zealotry has resisted many scientific (including medical) breakthroughs because they’ve been deemed to diminish God’s power, or is an outright attack on the divine capacity to control life and the day-to-day affairs of human beings.7
Timothy Dwight IV (1752-1817), an American academic and educator, a Congregationalist minister, theologian, and author, held that the then newly introduced practice of vaccination thwarted God’s will (a relatively common belief at the time), saying:
“If God had decreed from all eternity that a certain person should die of smallpox, it would be a frightful sin to avoid and annul that decree by the trick of vaccination.”8
The separation of Church and State in Article 2 Section 6 of the Philippine Constitution bars the government from embracing a “State-favored” religion. This means that the law is mandated to consider views about the purpose of sex outside the confines of the Church. 9,10 While we can grant that the separation of Church and State does not mean outright silencing of the Church on government affairs, the Church ought to be reminded that just like anyone else, it is just one of the many interest groups out there trying to lobby for their values.
Just like anyone else, they need to prove their arguments using objective reason that applies to every citizen, not just the Catholic (or even nominal Christian) faithful. Surely they are free to excommunicate or impose penalties on dissenting members of its congregation, and surely they are free to promote their preferred methods for responsible parenthood to its fold. However, it is absurd for the Church to validly claim the high moral ground when dealing with the entire citizenry especially when its arguments are just standing on non-moral facts or mere factual claims that are yet to be proven objectively.
7 “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” (paperback edition), John Shelby Spong, page 7-8, 31-32