Thursday, December 9, 2010
My HR-RH Dilemma
It is International Human Rights Day today and it’s been 62 years since the United Nations (UN) passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). With all honesty, time came when I cannot grasp anymore and I am so confused about some human rights questions in my mind. This pertains to current discussions related to “reproductive health” in Philippine RH Bill. This is what I call then as my “HR-RH” dilemma. There was no such animal called “Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2010” or HB No. 96 during my days in human rights (HR) movements. When I talk of HR, I had only cases of violations in mind,- arrest and detention, summary execution, torture, involuntary disappearance, etc. Based on my recent experience, HR discussions now became broad and some are even wayward and that’s not unexpected.
I am fully convinced, then and now, that religion of whatever origin, Christians or not, cannot be taken away or excluded in any institution or instrument, like the UN and UDHR, which are aimed at establishing a social order respecting rights and dignity of the human person. This vision of life in this world can gradually be achieved if believers anchor it firmly into religious deep.
It is unlucky that the debate on the RH Bill, has focused only on whether it should be passed or rejected in its present form. To pass or to reject it would not be good for us as a nation, as some sectors would claim. The Catholic Church is firm in saying that the proposed bill has serious flaws that can lead to violations of human rights and freedom of conscience. So it must be rejected totally. On the other hand, pro-RH advocates want it passed also in its totality on the very same ground that through this legislation, human rights - particularly the right to maternal health - is enacted by the State. But here are questions that need to be settled the moment the discussion starts:
As it was in the beginning, the Church insists that protection of life must start from fertilization, is the State hold to same position regarding protection of human life? (It is not specified in the Constitution whether conception means fertilization or the implantation of an embryo in the womb.) For the Church, using contraceptive medications and devices prevent the implantation of an embryo. If the State take this similar stand, is it willing to conduct scientific evaluation and studies of medicines and devices provided by the bill and those with abortifacient effects be banned, regardless if the bill is passed or not?
For the purpose of protecting academic freedom and respecting religious traditions, should not the right of religious schools to write and implement their own sex education curriculum consonant to their religious traditions be respected? The Constitution allows religious instruction in public schools only if the parents consent in writing. Should a similar provision be enacted relative to sexuality education? Is the State amenable to respect the conscientious objection of individual teacher who refuse to teach subject on sex education that violates her/his religious beliefs?
Assuming that HB No.96 is already enacted into law as it is and you are a doctor in a public hospital; since this particular law prohibits the refusal of health care services and information based on a patient’s marital status, gender or sexual orientation, age, religion, personal circumstances, and nature of work; would you continue to administer an IUD to a minor who requested for it?
These are just three examples. The bottom line: Both the pro and anti RH Bill should initiate constructive and respectful dialogue leading to concrete actions that would correct it and somewhat soften their hard-line positions and make room for an open dialogue. This is a more positive move towards working for the good of our people, with special concerns for the unborn, the youth, women and families in problematic situations. The merit of the bill itself should be highlighted and not just distinct moral or legal rhetorical persuasions. Without totally surrendering what we believe in.
These are the main points of the authors of "Towards Critical and Constructive Engagement (Talking Points for Dialogue on the RH Bill)" a proposal issued jointly by Loyola School of Theology and the John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues few months back that can be read here.
As what the proposal observed,total rejection of the bill, however, will not change the present high rates of lack of health care among women, infant mortality, maternal deaths, and abortions. “Does the Catholic hierarchy want these dehumanizing conditions to continue?” pro-RH advocates rightfully ask. It is imperative that both the proponents and opponents of the bill sit and talk together to amend its objectionable provisions and retain those that can make a contribution to protection of the dignity of Filipinos, improve their quality of life and promote, protect and defend their human rights. Not without considering the importance of rich global experiences, references, views and trends related to it. Be it pro or con, to expand each other’s horizon. But of course we cannot be neutral in situations detrimental to human dignity and human rights of our neighbors.
Some years ago, reportedly many western human rights NGO have tried to insert into the UNDHR the term “reproductive rights” in order to export contraception and abortion globally and tie it to international aid poured into governments in the Third World or developing countries like the Philippines. Here at home, RH supporters insist that the bill is the solution to women’s rights and economic development for the poor and not primarily about population control or, as the HB No.96 terms it, “population management”. Using such language in international instruments can persuade and attract growing number of various feminist and women liberation movements and women rights advocates from all over the world. And it apparently did.
In his address to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly commemorating the 60th anniversary of the UDHR, Pope Benedict XVI challenged the UN and the rest of the world leaders: “This is all the more necessary at a time when we experience the obvious paradox of a multilateral consensus that continues to be in crisis because it is still subordinated to the decisions of a few, whereas the world’s problems call for interventions in the form of collective action by the international community.” The UDHR, according to Benedict, cannot be applied piecemeal “according to trends or selective choices” that actually compromise universal human rights. I am sure that these words of the Pope are rooted in human dignity that is usually subjected to the decisions of the few global elites, both in private and public spheres, of different ideological leanings.
Anna Halpine, founder of the World Youth Alliance - a worldwide coalition of young people committed to promoting the dignity of the person - wrote in an article entitled, “Philippines’ Population Bill Speak With Forked Tongue”: “Population control or population management relies on the assumption that government can and should curb population growth in order to provide the goods necessary for economic development: education, opportunity, housing, protection and stewardship of natural resources. But if the government priority is managing the population according to a schedule of targets and goals, what of the dignity and rights of the persons being “managed”?” She observed further that: “It is obvious to anyone who bothers to actually read the Philippines bill that population management tops the hierarchy of principles. The idea that it is primarily concerned with the promotion of human rights, or women’s rights is an illusion.”
If our legislators including concerned groups are bound to re-open the issue of reproductive health in different forum and venue, it must take-off from the bill’s terms and merits. In such a dialogue, aside from Church and government leaders, leading economists might be engaged and the data available from countless national population policies in the past, especially during the Marcos government, should be re-visited and scrutinized.
To summarize, what I want to emphasize is this: A population management bill should not be offered to citizens only if it is sugar-coated with necessary maternal health reforms or increased women’s health and rights. Women’s maternal capabilities and women’s rights are not only women’s true essence but liberating tool in this patriarchal world. Not merely icings on a legislative cake in the hands of neo-Malthusian bakers.
Why not call HB 96 plainly and simply by what it intends to do: “Population Control” Act? …
(Photo from Google images)