Having borne two children of my own and having struggled to do my part in raising a family while practicing my profession in the field of public health and avidly pursuing my social and political causes, I submit that I may have something worthwhile to say on the controversy over the reproductive health bill.
Ill health, debilitation and untimely deaths due to preventable and curable diseases are undoubtedly an added bane on the masses, men and women alike. Women, however, by virtue of their reproductive functions, their traditional role as the family’s main caregiver and, more and more, as breadwinners themselves, carry distinct and additional burdens.
Central to the concern is the question of family planning or, technically speaking, fertility control. A woman of reproductive age who is ignorant about her body, how she can get pregnant, or choose not to get pregnant, and how to balance the role of giving life and rearing the young with being a productive member of society, as well as pursuing other aspirations and dreams for herself and for others – is a woman who is shackled and doomed to suffer unnecessarily.
Progressives cannot but be on the side of championing RH for women most especially for poor, exploited and oppressed women who are most disadvantaged and worst affected.
But this is not to agree blindly with the supposition that having many children dooms a woman and her family to a life of poverty or conversely, prosperity comes from having only a few. There are exceptions to this observation even in a backward, maldeveloped economy such as ours where poverty is endemic. The key of course lies in the woman’s economic class and social standing.
Those who carry this line easily slide to the proposition that countries and peoples are poor and backward because they are not managing their population growth.
The fear of the teeming multitude derives from an acceptance of the status quo with the overwhelming majority of the peoples of the world mired in a seemingly unending cycle of destitution, ignorance, disease and early death, pointing to overpopulation as the culprit while denying that a tiny minority appropriates the wealth of the world.
(Yes Virginia, US imperialism has elevated the Malthusian theory about unchecked population growth as the ultimate cause of poverty and the depletion of the world’s resources to the level of an international crusade.)
Progressives and genuine people’s organizations must be wary of, expose and contend with imperialist propaganda and programs disguised as pro-people but in truth serve anti-people purposes.
We can agree with the Catholic Church on the basic assumption that people per se should not be considered burdens to society. A people who are productive, not exploited and oppressed, are able to meet their basic needs as well as enjoy a sufficiently stimulating cultural life and are free to pursue their dreams and aspirations – such people are the limitless source of society’s wealth and constitute humanity’s future.
But while progressives can agree with some of the principles underlying the arguments raised by the opponents of the RH bill, the Catholic Church, in particular, there is no gainsaying that we are definitely on the opposing side on this one.
The Church is raising the bogey of abortion (in the process imposing its dogma on when conception takes place) and of alleged coercive means of undertaking RH education and imposing fertility control in opposing the bill. Some fan fears of a rise in promiscuous sexual behavior, sexually-transmitted disease, and moral and social degradation with the passage of the RH bill.
But the consolidated bill being considered has clear-cut provisions against these or at least reasonable safeguards.
Notwithstanding their good intentions, the CBCP cannot be taken to be an infallible judge of spiritual, much less secular issues, even by Catholic Church doctrine. More than once before, the church hierarchy had succeeded in imposing its collective views on matters that are more secular than spiritual, only to reverse itself after some time. We recall, for example, how for many years the teaching of Rizal's Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo was banned by legislation pushed by the Catholic Church on the grounds that these patriotic novels depicted it in a bad light.
Rather than attempt to impose its views and will on Congress, the Catholic Church would do well to undertake mass education campaigns to promote its views on family planning methods together with the concrete programs to match, among the people, especially the poor who have most need of them.
This way they can better utilize the Church’s formidable persuasive powers and clout rather than act as an adversary to the laudable aim of raising the level of the health and wellbeing of women and their families in this country.
A word of caution on the RH bill. There are several questionable and even objectionable provisions still. GABRIELA, the country’s premier alliance of progressive women, points to “vestiges of neomalthusianism” in the bills’s “Guiding Principles”, to wit, “The limited resources of the country cannot be suffered to be spread so thinly to service a burgeoning multitude making allocations grossly inadequate and effectively meaningless.”
Also in Section 25 on the “Implementing Mechanism”, GABRIELA asks why the Population Commission is designated as the coordinating body in the implementation of the RH bill when it is primarily a bill on women’s health.
It is clear that some of the proponents and a significant number of supporters of the RH bill are equally or even more impelled by considerations of population control and management than anything else. Thus we can expect them to persist in their tunnel vision and put the lid on discourse about the underlying, more fundamental causes of poverty and underdevelopment.
Consequently the rechanneling of more substantial government resources to RH aka family planning aka population control must be closely monitored to make sure it is more of the first and second which is the objective rather than purely and erroneously, the latter.
The abuses of past USAID-funded population control programs that pushed artificial contraception methods to the detriment of general and women’s health programs, gave rise to opportunities for undue influence by donor agencies and population control hawkers in public health policy-making, as well as for graft and corruption in richly-endowed population control programs must be prevented.
Enlightened legislation on women’s reproductive health is a step in the right direction. Whether it will achieve its intended purpose depends ultimately on women and their families relentlessly fighting for the full implementation of its positive provisions and taking a vigilant stance vis a vis its more questionable ones.
At the end of the day, only a people in charge of their own destinies - whose political leadership represents and carries the interests of the overwhelming majority - can ensure a population management policy which is pro-people and rationally designed to contribute to national development goals geared towards social justice, equity, freedom and prosperity. #
Published in Business World
27-28 May 2011