Capax Virtutis

In the July 29, 2013 issue of the Inquirer Ms. Mary Racelis wrote a commentary on the anti-Reproductive Health Law stance of the Catholic Bishops. She made certain claims following certain assumptions and lines of reasoning. I would like to explore them more carefully.

Almost at the beginning of her article she wrote: “these attempts at using Catholic principles to reject the RH Law falter in the light of contrary empirical evidence”. She repeated the idea in the middle of the article: “Pro-RH Catholics who take exception to Church leaders’ interpretations rely on empirical evidence based on the current scientific consensus and their own lived experience.” These assertions would seem to me gratuitous statements because the author did not specify what empirical evidence she was referring to. This evidence might be clear to the author and her allies but I think it is necessary to state them for the sake of coherence in her argument.

She did make reference to some data. Might this be the evidence she was talking about? Here it is: “By August 6, the third session convened by the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on the RH Law, an estimated 2,000 Filipino women will have died in the 140 days since its suspension. This is the tragic consequence of the unrelenting opposition to reproductive health of its diehard critics.” This is a loaded statement and we will need to sift through the claims to clarify the issues.

Racelis made a cause and effect relationship between the opposition to the RH Law (cause) and the death of 2000 women (effect) by saying “this is the tragic consequence…” It seems to me this is a conclusion she drew from certain premises that are really assumptions from the logical viewpoint. The premises are: 1) 2,000 Filipino women died in 140 days. We are presuming here that they died out of complications due to childbirth, a datum Racelis did not provide. She just implied this point when she wrote these women “die when their exhausted bodies finally surrender after giving birth year after year”. 2) The RH Law will provide contraceptives to the poor Filipino women so that they will not conceive. The logical conclusion from these premises is that these Filipino women will not die. The secondary conclusion is that by opposing the RH Law you cause the death of these women.

I am a man of science and judging from what I know, from the scientific point of view the above reasoning is not scientific despite claims to be based on empirical evidence. Science demands data that is clear and that comes from controlled conditions so that we can isolate the real causes and effects. Racelis claims that 2000 women die in 140 days because their bodies finally get exhausted. This observation is vague. A good scientist would ask: what’s the proximate cause of their deaths? Exsanguination? High-blood pressure? Anemia? Diabetes? Malnutrition? To say that the cause of death is childbirth is not honest from the scientific viewpoint. Of course she can argue: if the women did not get pregnant they would not have died. My question: how can you know that? Can’t they still die of high blood pressure or of diabetes?

Furthermore, Racelis is assuming that if the RH Law were in effect, contraceptives would flow freely and the women will not get pregnant and so we will not have deaths due to childbirth. Once more, I contend that this assumption is not scientifically proven simply because we do not have experience of an RH Law in effect. What she is making up is a hypothesis or conjecture based on further assumptions. But the hypothesis still has to be proven.

She can claim, though, that the other developed countries already have an RH Law and the effects are patent. She seems to imply this when she wrote that the number of maternal deaths in the Philippines is “far higher than the rest of Southeast Asia”. Careful thought will reveal that even with RH Laws in place in the other countries there are still women conceiving and there are still maternal deaths. Wasn’t the law supposed to prevent this? Moreover, one can suspect that the low level of maternal deaths in the other countries might be due to better maternal care rather than the absence of conception. So why not make the RH Law focus on maternal care rather than contraception?

I felt a bit sorry to read Racelis implying that Church and Catholics “virtually ignore the plight of over 5000 Filipino women who die annually during pregnancy or childbirth”. This is a strong statement and rather unjust. If there is any institution in the world that has done much work for the poor and sick people, it is the Catholic Church. By teaching that contraception is evil, the Church is treating people as persons with dignity, capable of doing what is right and of practicing virtue. If the Church gave away contraceptives, that would be tantamount to treating people as beings of instinct, incapable of virtue, which would be degrading them.

Racelis also explicitly connected opposition to the RH Law and contributing to abortion: “One can only conclude that those who refuse to accord couples the right to opt for contraception as part of modern family planning in effect contribute to a woman’s choosing abortion as her only suitable alternative.” The reasoning behind this conclusion seems to be as follows: with the RH Law in effect, contraceptives will be available; there will be no conceptions; therefore, no abortions. Or in the negative: without the RH Law, contraceptives will not be available, there will be conceptions and so there will be abortions. These lines of reasoning are also hypotheses and ones which are not support by empirical evidence as claimed by Racelis. If her reasoning were true and correct, then there should be no more abortion clinics in the United States, a country awash with contraceptives and yet with abortion on demand.

In the mind of Racelis, the RH Law is “a law that is pro-poor and pro-women”. This affirmation seems ironic to me. How can a law that will inhibit poor people having children be pro-poor? How can a law that will make women even more vulnerable to becoming objects of sexual pleasure be pro-women?

To end my comments, I would like to bring up what Racelis claims as the close mindedness of the people opposing the RH Law: “these remnants of the opposition continue to insist on their way as the only way”. My question: is not the camp of the pro-RH Law also insisting that their way is the only way? When the Church teaches that contraception is evil it is teaching a matter about which another stance is not possible. The problem, as I see it, is this: many people do not agree with this teaching because they do not “see” it. But by not accepting this position on the evil of contraception, one is in effect adopting the view that the person is incapable of practicing virtue, which is why natural family planning is not acceptable to the pro-contraception people.

But are we giving up the fight and just say: poor Filipinos — they just a bunch of mediocre people? I would rather that we Filipinos think we are people of worth and character.

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