By Christine F. Herrera
Manila Standard Today
GOING against an admonition from Catholic bishops, at least 55 professors from the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University have joined 14 of their colleagues who last week urged the passage of the reproductive health bill.
The Ateneo teachers not only refused to toe the Church line to reject the bill, but urged the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to reconsider its position and take into account the lives of 473,400 women who resorted to abortion because they lacked an effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
The 69 Catholic educators wrote to the 240 members of the House of Representatives and the 23-member Senate and attached to their letter an 11-page Declaration of Support for the Immediate Passage of House Bill 5043, which seeks to establish a national policy on family planning.
The bill supports the use of contraceptives such as condoms, and age-appropriate sex education in schools, both of which the Church opposes.
The Ateneo professors, including those from the Department of Theology, the Ateneo Law School and the Ateneo School of Medicine, also furnished the Catholic bishops and Ateneo president Bienvenido Nebres a copy of their declaration of support.
Nebres, who was prompted to issue a memo to the Ateneo community last week after CBCP president Angel Lagdameo made him explain the 20-page position paper of the original 14 Ateneo professors, went on a week-long retreat and could not be reached for comment.
Asked if she feared dismissal for defying the bishops, professor Mary Racelis of the Department of Sociology-Anthropology said: “Ateneo is an academic institution. I hope it will not come to that.
“We want the bishops to look at our position and to read the reproductive health bill so that the clergy will understand that contrary to their long-held belief, the RH bill is pro-poor, anti-abortion, pro-women and pro-life,” said Racelis, who has been with Ateneo since 1960 and now teaches graduate school.
The professors said they were alarmed that an estimated 473,400 Filipino women had abortions in 2000, and that some 79,000 of them wound up in hospitals with complications.
“We consider it our guilt and our shame that so many of our women should be driven to such dire straits as to make abortion a family planning method, for want of information on and access to an effective means to prevent an unplanned pregnancy,” their declaration of support said.
“We believe in the sanctity and dignity of human life, whether that life is the mother’s or the unborn child’s,” the professors said.
As Catholic educators, Racelis said it was incumbent upon them to teach their students that the RH bill was not “immoral” as the Church claims.
“We respect the consciences of our bishops when they promote natural family planning as the only moral means of contraception. In turn, we ask our bishops to respect the one in three [35.6 percent] married Filipino women who, in their most secret core and sanctuary or conscience, have decided that their and their family’s interests would best be served by using a modern artificial means of contraception,” they said.
They asked the bishops and their fellow Catholics not to block the passage of HB 5043, which, they said, promoted women’s and couples’ access to the full range of safe, legal and effective modern natural and artificial family planning methods, from which they can choose the one most suitable to their needs and personal and religious convictions.
“We call on our legislators in Congress and in the Senate to pass the RH bill. Doing so upholds the constitutional right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions; honors our commitments to international covenants and promotes the reproductive health and reproductive rights of Filipinos, especially of those who are most marginalized on this issue—our women, poor families, and youth,” the professors said.
Aware that the RH bill will be taken up by the House plenary on second reading starting on Nov. 10, when Congress resumes its sessions, the professors said they hope their expression of support could help enrich and broaden the discussions and debates on the issue of reproductive health and population development.
They told the House and Senate that the declaration of support was an alternative view coming from Catholic academics and educators.
“We further believe that it is possible for Catholics like ourselves to support HB 5043 in good conscience, even as we recognize, with some anguish, that our view contradicts the position held by some of our fellow Catholics, including our bishops.
“The RH bill is pro-life and pro-women. HB 5043 categorically rejects abortion. What it, in fact, wants to do is prevent abortions by offering couples an array of medically safe, legal, affordable and quality family planning methods, from which they can choose the one that will work best for them,” they said.