MANILA, Oct. 14, 2011–Considering that the Reproductive Health (RH) bill threatens different sectors of society with monetary fines or imprisonment should they choose to remain true to their pro-life convictions, AKBAYAN Rep. Walden Bello’s claim that the measure is rooted on freedom of choice during recent plenary debates with Palawan Rep. Dennis Socrates is incoherent.
Based on the RH bill or House Bill 4244, all health care service providers, employers, public officials and private citizens will be punished with monetary fines or imprisonment—or both—if they stand pat on their moral convictions and refuse to comply with the bill’s objectionable provisions.
“It makes me wonder whether there is lack of freedom at present that warrants a new controversial measure that is HB 4244 just to give people a choice that they already enjoy. Certainly it is not prohibited to practice natural family planning or to abstain from sex altogether, nor is it prohibited at present to use contraceptives,” Socrates pointed out.
The Palawan solon was reacting to statements by Bello that the “Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011? was crafted to promote free and informed choice, an oft-repeated point by the bill’s proponents despite provisions in the measure that indicate otherwise.
“The essence of the bill is free choice, free will. The essence of the bill is informed choice as to the mechanism, the ways that one would want to pursue reproductive health and responsible parenthood,” Bello said.
Ingraining a contraceptive mentality
Socrates, however, swiftly brought up the notion of contraceptive mentality, driving home the point that what the legislative measure espouses and is meant to promote — as RH laws on the international level have shown and successfully ingrained in other nations — is precisely this kind of attitude among the Filipino people.
“What the bill would like to do—a different, a new thing that this bill would introduce—[and] to alter… is to make contraceptives a duty on the part of the State to promote and to push, and to indoctrinate our population to contracept, which is, in the final analysis, precisely what ‘contraceptive mentality’ means,” the Palawan congressman pointed out.
The AKBAYAN solon denied the assertion, calling contraceptive mentality “a very loaded term” and insisting that what the measure would aim “to promote is the reproductive health of women and children.”
He reiterated his earlier point that the bill “institutionalizes, promotes and strengthens the practice of free choice.”
“On the surface it would appear to be so,” Socrates interjected. “[But] it would compel the government … and Catholics—even those who are strongly opposed to contraception because it is immoral—to support, to finance distributing contraceptives and indoctrinating our people that they ‘need’ contraceptives.”
In a separate interview, Atty. Ma. Concepcion Noche, Alliance for the Family Inc. (ALFI) president, commented on the floor debate in which Bello seemed to imply that without the RH bill, Filipinos are deprived of the freedom to choose.
“Is there any existing law that prevents us from exercising freedom of choice on matters of contraception and abstinence? There is none and I’m not aware of any,” she said.
As for the notion that the bill supposedly provides freedom of choice to poor women as regards their family planning options, Noche emphasized that freedom of choice “should be for everyone, rich and poor, Catholic or not, Christian or not.
You do not exercise that in isolation but with due regard not only to your personal well-being but to the well-being of the community. In other words, it involves and requires a deep sense of responsibility and charity.”
“Moreover, it goes hand in hand with informed choice which is made possible only when the correct, accurate, complete and truthful information is given and made widely and readily accessible to everyone,” she explained further.
“What the State is trying to do here has been in fact to provide the grounds for freedom of choice,” Bello repeated yet once more in the course of last week’s plenary debate with the congressman from Palawan.
Noche, however, pointed out a distinction between personal choices as regards family planning and making it public policy.
“Choosing the method of family planning is one side of it, and making contraception and contraceptive method a matter of national policy—which the RH Bill does—is another,” the ALFI president emphasized.
“Making it a matter of national policy or institutionalizing contraception via [an RH law] and allocating billions of our scarce resources will deprive us of our choice because the government will effectively have made that choice for the Filipino families.” (CBCP for Life)