By: Juan L. Mercado
“IF EVERYONE helps to hold up the sky, then a person does not tire.” This Ghanaian proverb describes a paradox that undergirds today’s fractious debate over the Reproductive Health Bill. Seemingly intractable differences blur deep rooted agreements.
In the public “quarrel” over the RH bill, Archbishop Socrates Villegas fretted that youth “might be left on the fringes, as usual, to be voiceless spectators…(They may) grow cynical because we adults cannot agree.”
Yet, supporters and critics do agree on major issues. Both spurn abortion, for example. Section 3 (j) of RH 4244 declares: “Abortion is illegal and punishable by law.” All welcome this provision: “All women needing care for post-abortion complications shall be treated and counseled in a humane, non-judgmental and compassionate manner.”
We’re not a monochromatic nation, like North Korea. Filipinos freely hold diverse creeds. Surf religious affiliation data. Catholic make up 80.9% of the population, Muslim 5%, Evangelical 2.8%, Iglesia ni Kristo 2.3%, Aglipayan 2%, other Christians 4.5%, other 1.8%, unspecified 0.6%, none 0.1%.
To maintain unity amid diversity, the Constitution mandates respect for religious liberty – within a structure that divides church and state, Joaquin Bernas of Ateneo Law School notes.“(All seek) a government free from religious dictation but not hostile to religion…Legislating values that come from religion, but are not commonly held, will divide the nation.”
Catholics may, therefore, heed “Humanae Vitae”. But they cannot impose that encyclical on, say Aglipayans. Muslims can hew to the Koran and Hadith. They’ve no right to clamp that on a Buddhist or an Iglesia ni Kristo follower.
“Those responsible for government are required to interpret the common good of their country,” states Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church Compendium. Not merely for the majority though. It must seek “the effective good of all the members of the community, including the minority.”
Both advocates and critics of the RH bill concur on curbing soonest the scandal of rising but preventable maternal deaths. Indeed, “the issue on maternal deaths is a serious concern,” Catholic Bishops’ Conference Jose Palma stressed. But “the solution does not lie in suppressing births as provided in the RH Bill.”
“Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur,” responded 30 UP economists in their paper: “Population, Poverty, Politics and RH Bill”. “What is freely asserted may be freely denied.” Look instead at the hard data documenting a tragic U-turn in death rates for mothers.
Flabby responsible parenthood programs whittled down maternal deaths too slowly here. In 1990, deaths of mothers stood at 209 for every 100,000 live births. That dwindled to 162 deaths in 2006 – more than quadruple that of Thailand or Malaysia.
In Scandinavian countries, the risk of a woman dying during or following pregnancy is 1 in 4,300. Our Swedish daughter-in-law’s eyes widened when we told her: “It is 1 in 31 here.” Yet, responding to unmet need for family planning could slash maternal deaths by almost a third.”
More can be done to save mothers from premature graves or kids being orphaned. “We are each other’s harvest ….each other’s magnitude and bond.” Ironically, more mothers die today.
Maternal mortality ratio surged to 221 per 100,000 live births, Sociologist Mary Racelis noted. Since 2011, the National Statistics Office found 15 mothers die everyday due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth – up from 11 three years back.
Underground abortionists account for 12 percent of maternal deaths, UP Population Institute estimates. Roughly, 560,000 abortions are induced yearly. Only 90,000 mothers get post abortion care. In 2008, about half of 3.4 million pregnancies were unintended. One in four of uneducated teenagers begin childbearing compared with only 3 percent of those who have attended college or higher. “Pregnancy rate among teen-aged girls rose from 39 per 1,000 women in 2006 to 54 more recently.”
Finger-pointing of the past is futile, both pro and anti RH bill advocates agree. No one need be cast into the exterior darkness. There is good will on all sides.
“When deeds speak, words are nothing,” the African proverb says. “Look at Misamis Oriental and Camiguin. There, government agencies and church cooperate in population programs that respect each other’s sphere.
"Ninety percent of 58 parishes and chaplaincies here trained more than 2,000 natural family planning volunteer counselors, wrote Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ. Over 22,000 couples were served. On request from government, the archdiocese made available NFP trainors, training manuals which include values formation. LGUs issued executive orders and set aside their own budgets for the promotion solely of NFP."
Assisting local governments is engagement, Ledesma wrote. We keep the church’s NFP program separate, not dependent on LGUs which trained 721 NFP service providers in 62 barangays. To help couples reach responsible choice “is a pastoral imperative."
The language evokes the Good Shepherd image. Church and government in Cagayan de Oro exemplify unity in service and fidelity to values. Does that shared cooperation point a way out of today’s policy dead end? That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us,” the Master prayed on the night before his death.