Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Column: I am pro-life," Manila Standard, July 25, 2008.

[A lot of the abortion "debate" is a re-hash of the same tired old cliches. This editorial from the Philippines re-frames the issue as one about access to information, and asks some candid questions. -jlt]

...from the PUSH Journal

What's the difference between not doing it and putting a condom on? In both cases, the sperm is prevented from getting into the woman at a time when she was most ready for it. If the Church genuinely believed that every act of love must be for procreation, then withdrawal should not be allowed either.

There's been a lot written about population recently, much of it biased and far too much of it emotional without caring much for the facts, or even for taking a reasonable approach. So let me try to do that.

I always become suspicious when someone tries to suppress knowledge and I immediately presume guilt. Why cover up or hide full review of an issue if you're innocent or confident of your position.

Whether you agree with the Church's position or not, I cannot agree to its stance to deny information. People have a basic, inherent, constitutional right to know. Because you know what a condom is and what it's used for does not make you promiscuous, or desirous of using one--if your Church has told you it's sinful to do so. Maybe the Church thinks its arguments are not strong enough, and so it is scared that once people are informed, they'll move away from its teaching. In which case, they need to learn to be more persuasive, to have strong reasons people will accept.

To suppress knowledge is an admission of a weak case, and is a deprivation of a human right.

And I get quite upset when someone deliberately distorts the truth to influence those that are less informed. And I'm afraid that's what the Church and some of its adherents are doing. They are saying that modern methods of contraception are abortifacients.

Most are not. That is a scientific fact. If there are pills or injectables that have abortifacient qualities, they can be banned. You just don't have a blanket ban on everything because one or two are unacceptable. You target.

Science has proven that life does not begin until about two days after the fertilized ovum attaches to the womb.

Most contraceptives either prevent the sperm reaching the ovum (condoms, diaphragms, etc.), or prevent ovulation (pills or injectables). Bishop Ted Bacani, in his column on July 19, seems to accept artificial contraception as long as all it does is prevent the sperm from reaching the ovum. Condoms, diaphragms and some pills do this. His objection is to pills that prevent a fertilized ovum from embedding itself in the womb or, worse, dislodging the ovum from the womb. I'll go along with that, even though science has proven there's about a two-day leeway.

So if a bishop thinks anything that prevents fertilizing the ovum is acceptable, why are so many natural method-only advocates rejecting these out of hand? And if abstinence or counting beads is OK, isn't that also interfering with God's intent?

To argue that contraceptives encourage abortion flies in the face of logic and of statistics--you don't have any need to abort if no baby was started in the first place. This is confirmed by a study by the John Hopkins University that found that the abortion rate in Central Asia decreased between 13 percent and 20 percent for every 10-percent increase in contraceptive prevalence. The Philippines has about 400,000 abortions every year, or about 27 per 1,000 women between 15 to 44 years old (childbearing age). This figure is certainly grossly understated. By its very nature, many women will hide that they've had an abortion. So it's maybe double, triple that number. Who knows?

Take the case of Mexico wherein, like here, 90 percent of its population is Roman Catholic. Before 1975, the population of Mexico was increasing at about 3.5 percent per annum but the government seemed to believe that it was not really a problem as long as the economic development rate could be kept ahead of the population growth rate. But mortality rate then was at 9.6 per 1,000, average number of children to women of fertile age was three per mother, 24 percent of the population was illiterate, there were about 37 abortions per 1,000 women, and only 14 percent used contraception. But President Echevarria, till then a traditional pro-natalist, reversed his pro-natalist policy and announced in 1972 the creation of a national family planning program.

The Mexican government embarked on programs of mass communication and sex education to make the population receptive to its new attitudes. The plan worked--by mid-1970s, population growth rate decreased to 2.9 percent per annum, within the sight of the 2.5 percent target set for 1982 by the new President Lopez Portillo. Mexico's population growth rate from 1975 to 2005 records an average of 1.8 percent per annum. And with the ability to use contraceptives, abortions fell to one per 10,000 women. Do you need any better example than that?

What leads to abortion is desperate women unable to accept a child (for whatever reason) and no other option in their minds that they can take. It's ineffably sad. It would happen far less if women could prevent that unwanted child at the very beginning. Statistics bear this out. According to the World Health Organization, 36 percent of Filipino women become pregnant before marriage and 45 percent of all pregnancies are either unwanted or ill-timed, 70 percent of unwanted pregnancies end up in abortion.

If those that insist natural methods are all that's allowed, then they are not pro-life. I refuse, vehemently refuse, to call them pro-lifers. I'm pro-life too, but a decent respectable life (not one mired in poverty and squalor) are OK, then isn't that too interfering in God's intent by not making love at the very time God intended--when the woman is most ready to be fertilized. Luddites better describes them, and Luddites is what I'll call them (The Luddites were a group of people in England at the beginning of the 19th century who protested--often by destroying machinery--against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt threatened their livelihood).

What's the difference between not doing it and putting a condom on? In both cases, the sperm is prevented from getting into the woman at a time when she was most ready for it. If the Church genuinely believed that every act of love must be for procreation, then withdrawal should not be allowed either. Nor should making love when the woman is between fertile periods, or is over 40. Are we old people to stop making love to our wives because there's no longer any chance of a baby?

One of the thorniest issues is that of the impact on the economy of population growth. It is true you need a growing population to produce a growing economy, but they must be in reasonable balance. The Philippines has a population growing faster than the economy can support--as 8.5 million Filipinos overseas can attest to. As 33 percent of the population mired in abject poverty can affirm. Today there are 28 million Filipinos in poverty (government figure); 30 years ago 18 million were.

Also about 30 years ago, Thailand had the same population as the Philippines-- 43 million. Today Thailand has 63 million, so if the Philippines had this same population level the gross domestic product per capita would be P21,500, not the 40 percent less P15,400 it actually is.

Thailand's GDP grew an average of 6.1 percent per annum, here it was 3.3 percent, so that faster population growth didn't similarly grow the economy faster, there's no obvious link.

The Church's manifesto on the subject pays homage to migrant workers as a pay-off of high fertility in the past. Is it saying that separating husband and wife, depriving children of a mom and dad, is a desirable social and/or economic goal? The sacrifice Filipinos make to support their families at such great cost can earn only admiration and sympathy for what they must go through. To laud it as a benefit of uncontrolled population growth (yes, uncontrolled because that's exactly what the Church is espousing) is cruel.

If the Church insists on uncontrolled population growth, then I insist the Church educate them and provide jobs for them. They should take responsibility for their actions.

Incidentally, I suggested ages ago the Church open its churches as classrooms during the week to help alleviate the desperate shortfall in places to teach our kids. They've not even done this.

The world 2000 years ago was slightly different from what it is now, to put it mildly.

How can you possibly ascribe statements made then to where we are today. Go out and multiply makes good sense when there are 200 million people in the world and you want to grow a Church. It makes no sense when there are 6.7 billion, 34 times the number. And a huge proportion of them leading a sub-human life.

Man is unique in the world: He has a brain. Animals have one but only sufficient to ensure day-to-day survival. Ours went way beyond that. It allows us to think of the consequences of what we do. On this issue of population it gives us the ability to think if I have a baby, can I give it a decent life (because that surely is what God wanted).

I just simply refuse to accept that a human can be brought into the world without any thought for what kind of life they'll live. Like you who read my column, I'm immensely proud of my kids who've done well. Done well because I could afford to give them a good education, a good upbringing. Then I look at those under the bridges in Manila in Tondo and must question did God really want that? I don't think so, do you?

Earth is not meant to be purgatory, that's an interim station on the way to hell that so many corrupting this country are heading for.

But the emaciated child knocking on my car window on Ayala says it all.

This is not an economy that is doing well until she's in school instead.

Quality, not quantity of life, is what it's all about.

For me it boils down to one overwhelming right, and that is the right to information. In today's modern world no one should be denied access to information. They need to be informed so they can make an informed decision.

Comments to my columns can be sent to or text to 0920.929.2929

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