House Bill 5043 on “Reproductive Health and Population Development” has occasioned enormous debate in the Philippines and was recently the subject of a position paper drafted by 14 members of the faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University. In their statement, these faculty stated their belief that the bill adheres “to core principles of Catholic social teaching: the sanctity of human life, the dignity of the human person, the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, integral human development, human rights, and the primacy of conscience.” They believe these conditions of Catholic social teaching are met in Bill 5043. We, the undersigned Catholic academics, assert, however, that these Ateneo faculty are gravely mistaken in their presentation of the Church’s teaching.

The primary reason for these Ateneo Faculty members´ support of the bill seems to stem from their deep commitment to the Church’s long-held “preferential option for the poor.” Their position paper describes, heart-wrenchingly, the situation of the poor in the Philippines. High maternal mortality rates, inadequate and uneven provision of basic health care, lack of birth attendants, and lack of reproductive health information: such situations place an undue burden on the poor, and in particular on women. These women, like all women, desire to determine the number and spacing of their children, and ensure that proper nutrition, health care, and education can be provided for each member of their families. As Catholics, we have a clear obligation to ensure that all persons, particularly the poor, have the ability to exercise these basic freedoms.

As Catholic academics, we agree that we must support civic and governmental initiatives that can aid the poor. Nevertheless, a Catholic cannot support the Reproductive Health and Population Development bill in good conscience, because the primary provisions of the bill not only fail to recognize and support the dignity of the poor, but also stand in direct opposition to Catholic social teaching. The bill focuses primarily on providing services to curb the number of children of the poor, while doing little to remedy their situation, provide necessary health care or establish the grounds for sound economic development.

A few citations will serve to show how clear and unambiguous is the Church’s care for the dignity of the person, and in particular the poor, and how critical it is for us to heed her teachings in addressing the circumstances facing the Philippines today.

Rerum Novarum opens with the powerful reminder that “Man precedes the state” and for that reason should not be subject to the state’s regulation of his private matters. Populorum Progressio reiterates this sentiment, stating: "No solution . . . is acceptable which does violence to man’s essential dignity; those who propose such solutions base them on an utterly materialistic conception of man himself and his life. The only possible solution to this question is one which envisages the social and economic progress both of individuals and of the whole of human society, and which respects and promotes true human values."[1]

Perhaps no document speaks more powerfully in opposition to the main ideas in this bill than Humanae Vitae: “Therefore we base our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when we are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the Magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.”[2]

In reply to the claim that reproductive rights, contraception and sterilization are required in order to help the poor limit their family size and thus aid the poor by reducing the numbers of mouths to feed, Humanae Vitae states: “Others ask on the same point whether it is not reasonable in so many cases to use artificial birth control if by so doing the harmony and peace of a family are better served and more suitable conditions are provided for the education of children already born. To this question we must give a clear reply. The Church is the first to praise and commend the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator. But she affirms that this must be done within the limits of the order of reality established by God.”[3]

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Artificial contraception can never be accepted by the Church as an action in conformity with the dignity of the human person because “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.”[4] Further, it is never valid to argue, “as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one,[5]” as the authors of the position paper seem to suggest. While applauding efforts in the bill to provide information on both artificial and natural forms of family planning, the position paper then asserts that provision of contraceptives as essential medicines and fully covered sterilizations for indigent patients are measures that promote quality of life.[6] This statement directly contradicts Catholic teaching, which recognizes the use and promotion of artificial contraception and sterilization as intrinsically evil. Such actions can never be promoted or justified. “It is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it – in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, or a family or of society in general. Consequently it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.[7]”

The Church does not hold these positions to punish the poor, but rather because she recognizes that the poor have the same inviolable dignity and rights that all human persons share. What the poor need is not contraception and sterilization, but to experience authentic solidarity with those who, in responding to their innate dignity, work with the poor to enable them to develop their skills, improve their circumstances and cultivate lives that are marked by both interior and exterior freedom. This places a much more radical demand on those of us to whom much has been given (Luke 12:48); we must live and work with the poor in order to identify and enable the resources they require to live lives of authentic freedom.

Finally, Humanae Vitae warns us that "[c]areful consideration should be given to the danger of this power[8] passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.”[9]

These statements of the Church and Magisterium have been retained in all subsequent documents and reiterated in documents too numerous to cite here.[10] These few, but clear, passages make it abundantly clear that no Catholic can in good conscience support Bill 5043. This Bill violates the Church’s teachings in the gravest manner.

Maternal and Ob-Gyn health

Finally, it must be emphasized that there are two sections in the bill that should be applauded and expanded. Both Section 6 and Section 7 call for the expansion of midwives and birth attendants, as well as greater access to obstetric care. Such measures are critical to reducing maternal mortality and making progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, particularly MDG 5 (maternal health) and MDG 4 (infant health). Healthy mothers are the critical factor in assuring infant and child health.[11]

Unfortunately, these two sections are the weakest in the bill. Most of the reproductive health proposals of the bill are mandatory and supported through financial means, as well as through the creation of new government agencies to assure implementation. Sections 6 and 7 of the Bill, which provide the only concrete health care and services to prevent or eliminate maternal mortality, are not mandatory, and the bill earmarks neither institutional support systems nor finances for their implementation. The POPCOM, which is established in Section 5 to implement and oversee the commitments outlined in the bill, has nine specific areas related to reproductive health and reproductive health services, yet no explicit mention of any responsibility in the area of maternal and ObGyn care. This most important section of the bill – and the only section actually consistent with Catholic social teaching – has been entirely neglected in the allocation of responsibilities to the agency established to oversee its implementation.

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A bill that responds to the situation of the poor requires us to respond to their full range of needs in order to facilitate integral improvement in their quality of life. This necessitates the creation of laws that guarantee the adoption of measures, at the national and local levels, that will lead to improved access to authentic development including the provision of basic health care and access to quality education. It is measures such as these that will enable the poor to develop and thrive, and that will affirm and respect the dignity of each and every human person. This bill stops short of assuring implementation of needed medical care, while emphasizing the adoption of measures that deny the dignity and freedom of the poor. As Catholics we have a moral duty to defend and support the poor; we must demand more from our legislators and from ourselves, placing ourselves at the service of poor, ready to commit to the necessary work, sacrifice and solidarity needed to establish and build societies that will respond to authentic needs while respecting the dignity and freedom of every human person.

November 4, 2008

[1] Encyclical letter Populorum Progressio, nos. 48-55: AAS 59 (1967), 281-284

[2] Encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, nos 14-15, (1968)

[3] Ibid, no. 16

[4] Ibid, no. 12

[5] Ibid, no. 14

[6] “Catholics can Support the RH Bill in Good Conscience”, Position paper on the Reproductive Health Bill by individual faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University, pp. 2-7, 15 October, 2008

[7] Humane Vitae, no 14

[8] Paul VI is referring to the control of reproduction and artificial contraception when he talks of “this power” being put in the hands of the state. This passage follows directly on a passage in which he discusses the problems artificial contraception poses within the marital union, and then expands to the consideration of problems that will result if the state is given the authority to regulate conception and birth.

[9] Humanae Vitae, no 17

[10] The Church’s teaching on marriage and human procreation affirms the "inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning. Indeed, by its intimate structure, the conjugal act, while most closely uniting husband and wife, capacitates them for the generation of new lives, according to laws inscribed in the very being of man and of woman."(38) This principle, which is based upon the nature of marriage and the intimate connection of the goods of marriage, has well-known consequences on the level of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. "By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination towards man’s exalted vocation to parenthood."(39) The same doctrine concerning the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and between the goods of marriage throws light on the moral problem of homologous artificial fertilization, since "it is never permitted to separate these different aspects to such a degree as positively to exclude either the procreative intention or the conjugal relation." (40) Contraception deliberately deprives the conjugal act of its openness to procreation and in this way brings about a voluntary dissociation of the ends of marriage." The Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith quoting Humanae Vitae and Pope Pius XII in its "Instruction on the respect for Human Life and on the Dignity of Procreation" Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, February 22, 1987

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[11] As cited in the Ateneo position paper, page 2.

List of Signatories

  1. Prof Janet E. Smith
    Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics
    Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, MI.
  2. Robert G Kennedy, PhD
    Professor and Chair,
    Department of Catholic Studies
    Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy
    University of St Thomas
    St Paul, MN 55105
  3. Richard S. Myers
    Professor of Law,
    Ave Maria School of Law
    3475 Plymouth Road
    Ann Arbor, MI 48105-2550
  4. Romanus Cessario, O.P.
    Professor of Theology,
    Saint John’s Seminary
    Boston, Massachusetts
  5. Rev. Joseph W. Koterski, S.J.
    Department of Philosophy,
    Fordham University
    Bronx, NY 10458 USA
  6. Theresa Notare, PhD
    Assistant Director,
    Natural Family Planning Program
    Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth
    United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
    3211 4th St., N.E., Washington, DC 20017
  7. Fr. Basil Cole, O.P.
    Dominican House of Studies
    487 Michigan Ave NE
    Washington DC 20017
  8. E. Christian Brugger, D.Phil.
    Associate Professor of Moral Theology,
    Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary
    Denver, Colorado 80210, USA
  9. SC Selner-Wright, PhD
    Acting Chair, Philosophy Department
    Acting Director, Pre-Theology Cycle
    St. John Vianney Theological Seminary
    Denver, Colorado USA
  10. Dr. Mary Healy
    Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture,
    Sacred Heart Major Seminary
    2701 Chicago Boulevard
    Detroit, MI 48206
  11. Ångela Aparisi Miralles
    Philosophy of Law Professor
    Directora – Instituto de Derechos Humanos
    Universidad de Navarra
  12. Michael Rota
    Assistant Professor of Philosophy
    University of St. Thomas
    St. Paul, MN
  13. Michael Scaperlanda
    Associate Dean for Research
    Edwards Family Chair in Law
    University of Oklahoma College of Law
  14. Richard Stith J.D.(Yale), Ph.D.(Yale)
    Professor of Law,
    Valparaiso University School of Law
    656 South Greenwich St.
    Valparaiso, IN 46383-4945
  15. Patrick Quirk
    Associate Professor,
    Ave Maria School of Law
    3475 Plymouth Road
    Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105-2550
  16. Fr. Earl Muller, S.J.
    Kevin M. Britt Chair in Theology/Christology
    Sacred Heart Major Seminary
    Detroit, MI, USA
  17. Professor David Paton
    Chair of Industrial Economics
    Nottingham University Business School –
    Jubilee Campus
    Wollaton Road,
    Nottingham NG8 1BB
    United Kingdom
  18. Dr. Eduardo J. Echeverria
    Professor of Philosophy,
    Sacred Heart Major Seminary
    2701 Chicago Blvd,
    Detroit, MI 48206
  19. Jane Adolphe
    Associate Professor of Law,
    Ave Maria School of Law
    Ann Arbor, Michigan
    USA, 48105
  20. Teresa S. Collett
    Professor of Law,
    University of St. Thomas School of Law
    MSL 400, 1000 LaSalle Avenue
    Minneapolis, MN 55403-2015
  21. David Braine,
    Honorary Research Fellow,
    Department of Philosophy,
    University of Aberdeen, UK.
  22. Dr. Helen Watt
    Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics
  23. Ligia M. De Jesus
    Assistant Professor of Law,
    Ave Maria School of Law
    3475 Plymouth Road
    Ann Arbor, MI 48105-2550
  24. Jacqueline M. Nolan-Haley
    Professor of Law
    Director, ADR & Conflict Resolution Program
    Fordham Law School
    140 W. 62nd Street
    New York, New York 10023
  25. William E. May
    Michael J.McGivney Professor of Moral Theology
    John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family
    Washington DC
  26. Evelyn (Timmie) Birge Vitz
    Professor of French, New York University
    Affiliated Professor of Comparative Literature, Medieval
    and Renaissance Studies, and Religious Studies
    19 University Place, #623, New York, NY 10003
  27. Mary M. Keys
    Associate Professor,
    Department of Political Science
    University of Notre Dame
    Notre Dame, IN 46556
  28. Mark E. Ginter, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor of Moral Theology,
    Saint Meinrad School of Theology
    200 Hill Drive,
    St. Meinrad, IN 47577
  29. Father Daniel J. Trapp
    Professor of Sacramental Theology,
    Sacred Heart Major Seminary
    2701 Chicago Boulevard
    Detroit, MI 48206
  30. Maria Fedoryka
    Philosophy Department of Ave Maria University
    Ave Maria, FL.
  31. Dr Dermot Grenham
    Graduate Teaching Assistant
    London School of Economics,
  32. Dr. Michael Pakaluk
    Professor of Philosophy,
    Institute for the Psychological Sciences
    Arlington, VA 22101
  33. Timothy Flanigan MD
    Professor of Medicine
    Brown University Medical School
  34. Gerard Bradley
    School of Law,
    Notre Dame University
  35. Adrian J. Reimers
    Adjunct Assistant Professor of Philosophy
    208 Malloy Hall
    Notre Dame, Indiana 46556
  36. Daniel Philpott
    Associate Professor, Political Science and Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies
    University of Notre Dame
  37. Aneta Gawkowska
    Assistant Professor, Sociology
    University of Warsaw
  38. Tom D’Andrea
    Cambridge University
  39. Peter Kreeft
    Boston College
  40. J. Budziszewski
    Departments of Government and Philosophy
    University of Texas at Austin
  41. Habib Malik
    Department of History, Lebanese American University
  42. Nicholas Eberstadt
    Political Economy,
    American Enterprise Institute
    Washington, D.C.


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