By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The debate over the proposed Reproductive Health Bill is raging in Congress. The most vocal opposition to the RH bill comes from the Catholic Church. It has been using the pulpit and has rallied church organizations to block the passage of the bill. On the other side is the Aquino government, which is pushing for the RH bill because of pressure from international agencies such as the IMF-WB, the UN, the US among others, to institute population control measures. But both these groups have been using myths and misconceptions to promote their respective positions.
Here are some of the myths and misconceptions:
1. The RH bill will promote abortion and therefore, take the life of the unborn because life begins at conception. – This is carrying the argument too far. There is no provision in the RH bill that allows abortion although it mandates the provision of services to those who suffered miscarriages. What is wrong with this? Even women who suffered miscarriages, whether unintentional or not, are entitled to services. No one should be condemned and denied health care and services because of one’s acts. Isn’t the Catholic Church a forgiving church? Otherwise what is the sacrament of confession and penance for?
2. The use of artificial contraception such as condoms is tantamount to abortion. Well, this is debatable. But people are entitled to their own beliefs and this should not be imposed on all, whether they believe in it or not. Neither should people be denied of choices just because a segment of the population, no matter how powerful or large it is, believe that it to be wrong based on their own set of morals.
3. Sex education will encourage promiscuity and loose morals. The practice of promiscuity, premarital sex, sexual taboos and perversions are happening with or without the RH bill. In fact, even the Catholic Church is not exempt from this as it is, time and again, being rocked by scandals because of allegations of sexual perversions involving priests and bishops. Contrary to the Catholic Church’s assertions, sex education will even encourage responsible behavior because young people will be informed of the consequences of their actions thereby, discouraging experimentation based on curiosity and ignorance about sex.
4. Sex education should not be mistaken for encouraging protected fornication.
Overpopulation is the cause of poverty and the consequent competition over scarce resources will result in social unrest. Overpopulation is not the problem, it is social inequities. Think about it: Why is it acceptable for the rich to have many children while for the poor it is frowned upon? If we are to distribute all the food being produced in the world, not on the basis of capacity to pay but based on need, it would be more than enough. Poverty is being caused by oppression and exploitation of the poor majority – who have to make do with a meager income, hunger and scarce resources – by the elite few who have more than enough to last them more than a lifetime. This is the cause of social unrest.
Beyond its protestations, what is the Catholic hierarchy offering as an alternative to the bill in terms of providing maternal and child health care especially for the poor women majority? The Catholic hierarchy recognizes that overpopulation is not the cause of poverty, what then is it doing to address poverty and marginalization of the poor majority? Why is it allowing the Aquino government to privatize or corporatize government hospitals and the provision of basic health services? Why is it silent on the worsening state of the government’s health delivery infrastructure and the abandonment of the state’s responsibility to provide basic social services?
As for the government, if the bill is passed into law, what would it do beyond promoting artificial birth control methods? What is it doing for maternal and child health care? Will it be willing to fund the maternal and child care services provided for in the proposed bill? Will it be willing to reverse its direction of corporatizing government hospitals and privatizing the delivery of health care services?
Gabriela is right in saying that the Reproductive Health Bill should not be simplistically reduced to a population control program. It should provide women, especially the poor majority, with access to maternal and child health care services. It should promote their right to take control over their lives. And it should provide them with the awareness and the knowledge to make informed choices. Only then would the Reproductive Health Bill promote women’s rights and benefit those whose lives are the most affected by the lack in reproductive health care services, in the first place. It is ironic that those who have no stake in the absence of maternal and child health care services have the strong voices in the whole debate over the reproductive health bill. Let women’s voices be heard.