After the Philippines has been blessed by the visit of the much beloved Pope Francis, the supreme pontiff left the Filipinos with so much inspiration for hope and compassion. Included in his message is the call for all Catholic parents to be responsible. The Pope reminded the Filipino Catholics not to breed “like rabbits” and should instead practice “responsible parenting”. Of course, by this, he was defending the Catholic Church’s opposition to artificial birth control as he promoted among the faithful “licit” ways of birth control that are approved by the Church such as the Natural Family Planning method. As much as I admire Pope Francis, I still think that the Church needs to change its stance when it comes to reproductive issues.
Pope Francis states that: “Openness to life is a condition of matrimony”. The Church in the Philippines, as represented by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), opposes the use of artificial contraceptives because such things diminish the probability of new life. The CBCP even claims that many of these artificial contraceptives are abortifacients. Abortifacients are drugs or devices that will cause abortion or terminate the life of the unborn. Of course, as many people are aware, the Church is strongly opposed to abortion. The Church, takes on the “Pro-Life” stance and charges any bills in support of the use of abortifacients to be unconstitutional because Philippine law says that the State “shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception”.
Honestly, even if I were to set aside my personal philosophical agnosticism or colloquial atheism regarding the existence of God, I do not see the point of opposing the use of artificial contraceptives.
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The Church claims to be taking the high moral ground on this because the issue of abortion is of a moral nature. While we can suspend the case for Situational Relativism (i.e. assessment of a moral act depending on the situation one is in) just to entertain the Church’s absolute stand on the immorality of killing a life (born or unborn), it seems to be missing the point that the use of artificial contraceptives is not about abortion but actually about responsible parenthood. In family planning terms it is not about terminating unwanted pregnancies, it is about preventing unwanted pregnancies. Preventing unwanted pregnancies would even render abortions useless in the first place! If one is against abortion, why would one oppose measures that would prevent it?
The problem with the Church’s disagreement on the “morality” of the use of artificial contraceptives is that it seems to be making moral judgments based on non-moral facts. It may be a “moral fact” that killing a life is wrong but there is nothing moral about the status of, say, a condom! Let us say, for argument sake, that the condom can be used as an abortifacient (I don’t see how but I’m suspending my disbelief for now), how can anyone make a moral judgment call on that information alone? The condom having the possibility of being used as an abortifacient is no more immoral than the possibility of knives being used to mortally stab another human being. Should the Church lobby to ban the production of knives too? One may even argue that religion itself has been historically (and continues to be) used to justify atrocities and immoral acts; why can’t religion be deemed unconstitutional as well based on that ground? The thing is, artificial contraceptives, just like religion, are mere tools to be used to reach a moral end. The possibility or factual cases of abuse of such tools do not discredit the tool itself.
The Church claims that “Life begins at conception”. This is a debatable claim but let us grant that claim, for argument sake. Conception is defined as the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism. In other words, this occurs when an ovum (female reproductive cell) fuses with a sperm (male reproductive cell). Since artificial contraceptives prevent the fusion of the two sexual reproductive cells, there really is no conception to begin with! Surely the Church won’t go as far as to make the claim that life begins during the production of the sperm and the ovum, right?
The Church further supports its opposition to artificial contraceptives by invoking what it believes sex is defined as. It believes that sex must be both “Unitive” (express love) and “Procreative” (open to procreation). The Church claims that:
“Contraception is wrong because it’s a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race, often referred to as “natural law.” The natural law purpose of sex is procreation. The pleasure that sexual intercourse provides is an additional blessing from God, intended to offer the possibility of new life while strengthening the bond of intimacy, respect, and love between husband and wife. The loving environment this bond creates is the perfect setting for nurturing children.
But sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation. God’s gift of the sex act, along with its pleasure and intimacy, must not be abused by deliberately frustrating its natural end—procreation.”
Notice that the argument used by the Church stands on the assertion that the purpose of sex is procreation. But if you think about it, the assessment of the purpose of a subject is not a moral issue. What moral judgment can be validly formulated merely on the basis of the purpose of a pen and paper enabling people to write their thoughts? Moral judgments can be formulated based on the assessment of “moral values” and “factual claims”. When the Church says that the purpose of sex is procreation, this is not a moral value statement but merely a factual claim. Factual claims are either true or false and we determine the truth of factual claims through empirical investigation. Now the question is: What is the Church’s basis for their factual claim that the basic purpose of sex is procreation? Invoking what the Bible claims, just by itself, is unacceptable in a non-theocratic State.
The separation of Church and State in Article 2 Section 6 of the Philippine Constitution bars the government from embracing a “State-favored” religion. This means that the law is mandated to consider views about the purpose of sex outside the confines of the Church. This means the law is mandated to consider methods of responsible parenthood outside of Church approval. Yes, as called by Pope Francis, we should not breed like rabbits. I believe that most sensible individuals believe in this call. However, the moral status of the method taken in heeding the call is a separate matter.
Calling a spade, a spade…