Starting September 8, 2012, anonymous comments -- whether for or against the RH bill -- will no longer be permitted on this blog.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On the 14 Ateneo Professors -- an essay in two parts

On the 14 Ateneo Professors (originally a two-part essay) by Wilfredo Jose. This is a continuation of On the 14 Ateneo professors, Conscience, Reality and the Truth.
I think there are many ways that the 14 professors could have expressed their personal opinions without dragging the Ateneo name with it. In the light of Fr Nebres assertion on point #5 — It is also the responsibility of the Ateneo de Manila as a Jesuit and Catholic university to ensure that, in our classes and other fora, we teach Catholic faith and morals in their integrity., these professors must realize that they find themselves in an odd situation (specially the Theology professor) where they may be required to teach something in class that do not conform to their "well-formed conscience". Their position is simply not compatible with the institution they work for. As they search their "well-formed conscience" on how to act in this tricky situation that poses a dilemma to their professional integrity, it certainly must lead them to seriously think of teaching elsewhere, where they won’t cause an embarrassment to themselves and to the school officials.
Put yourself in the shoes of the theology professor. Just look at a likely situation where you are directed by the University to read and explain to your class an official statement that upholds the Church’s opposition to the bill. Refer to item #5 above in Fr Nebres’ statement again. The statement you are supposed to explain and uphold happens to run counter to your "well-formed conscience". Your class is aware about your contrary position. If you read and explain the official position, you compromise your moral and professional integrity. On the other hand if you refuse, you open yourself to a reasonable charge of insubordination, as you realize that you are being paid by the University to teach according to its standards. And before you invoke academic freedom, it must be made clear here that a professor is also an employee. There is a substantial difference between a secular university and a Catholic university. A theology professor in a Catholic school cannot take a position in faith or ethics that is contrary to the magisterial teaching any more than you could espouse as fact in a secular university that one and one is three. Check out Fr Charles Curran’s celebrated case here. Either way, it is embarrassing for the dissenting professors, not because of the opinions they took, but because of the tight fix they put themselves into.
Actually the title of this post should have read: On the 69 Ateneo professors, as it was reported here that 55 Ateneo professors have joined the fray. This post contains the comments of reader TE in the last thread. Here goes...
I was finally able to read the whole paper by the professors. The paper contains a statistic-heavy discussion on the women who had abortions. My understanding of the discussion was that the major cause was economic. Not knowing how to plan pregnancies seems to be a small contributing cause but the major reason is economic. They simply could not afford more children. However, the professors chose to make the conclusion that:
"Thus, for these women, abortion has become a family planning method, in the absence of information on and access to any reliable means to prevent an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. The fact is, our women are having more children than they desire, as seen in the gap between desired fertility (2.5 children) and actual fertility (3.5 children), implying a significant unmet need for reproductive health services (NSO and ORC Macro 2004, 2003 NDHS)."
It seems to me that the conclusion is not consistent with the discussion that went before it. It also seems to me that if we look at this whole thing as a process, abortion comes at the end of the process with pregnancy right before it. The implied solutions seems to focus on the results of the process rather than on the causes of it. The statistics they presented do not bear out the conclusion - they point to a cause much earlier in the process: economics and the faulty decision-making that allowed couples to choose to have sex in the first place. I can't help thinking that if families were economically well off, having more children than the national average would not be a problem, regardless of whether they have access to information and the means to do effective family planning. In later pages, the professors repeat this in the following: "The inability of women in the poorest quintile to achieve the number of children they want stems from their high unmet need for family planning, which, at 26.7 percent, is more than twice as high as the unmet need of women in the richest quintile, at 12.3 percent (ibid.)." And again several pages later "In summary, poor households typically have more children than they aspired to have, as a result of a high unmet need for family planning."
I believe there is a danger here to simplify the problem and jump to an erroneous conclusion. It is all too easy to think that the problem is one of providing information and the know-how to planning. I believe a more fundamental issue lies in the individual value system and the way people make their decisions. You can't teach an old dog new tricks as the Americans would say. You can bombard people with family planning techniques and provide them with tons of information but if their value system, how they set priorities and how they make decisions are still the same, they will still make the same choices they did before. As Socrates said: "If you do what you always did, you get what always got." And the definition of insanity is when you do what always did, over and over, but expect different results.
Statistics-wise the program would look good - hospitals for every 500,000 people, mobile vans to spread the news, thousands of training programs. But the key to behavioural change remains the same: the internal value systems and decision makig process in people. How does the RH bill propose to legislate this? Punishing conscientious objectors will not do it.
A few pages later the professors came up with this: "the right to choose is meaningful only if women have real power to choose." They present a very good case for choice. And indeed, the right to choose is meaningful only when one has the power to do it. But does this mean the professors do not consider the unborn child to have any such rights because they obviously cannot voice their choice? In fact, the whole paper does not have a single sentence anywhere on the rights of the unborn.
This next one struck me as a bit weird. I have highlighted the "offending phrase" below. "Poverty is a multi-faceted phenomenon caused by inter-related factors: the weak and boom-and-bust cycle of economic growth; inequities in the distribution of income and assets and in the access to social services; bad governance and corruption; the lack of priority accorded to agriculture including agrarian reform; the limited coverage of safety nets and targeted poverty reduction programs; and armed conflict." How does unequal access to social services cause poverty?
The professors proclaim their stand thus: "We therefore support the RH Bill because we believe that it will help the poor develop and expand their capabilities, so as to lead more worthwhile lives befitting their dignity and destiny as human beings...To recapitulate, the RH Bill does not only safeguard life by seeking to avert abortions and maternal and infant deaths. It also promotes quality of life, by enabling couples, especially the poor, to bring into the world only the number of children they believe they can care for and nurture to become healthy and productive members of our society." The highighting is mine. I do not discount the possibility that the thread of logic has completely escaped me but how does the bill DO all that? It seems to me that the capabilities to lead a more worthwhile life means more than just being able to plan families, use contraceptives and know a hell of a lot about sex, STIs and reproductive hygiene. It takes more than hospitals and vans and adult education. It also takes the cultivation of life-affirming values, discipline and a spiritually guided belief system. Or do they know something I don't?
Will the bill really enable couples to limit their children? My read of the whole thing is that the most the bill can do is help to create the conditions for couples to make an informed choice. The enablement comes from an internal change in priorities and values. It seems to me the sentences above claim benefits of the bill that MAY result IF the bill is effective. Given the government's record, I have grave doubts on how effective the bill will be implemented.
Serious professors they may be but I found a bit of humor in this one: "Comparatively, protection was higher among the males (27.5%) than the females (14.8%), rendering the latter extremely vulnerable to unplanned pregnancy (Raymundo and Cruz 2003, citing the 2002 YAFSS 3)." Do you any idea what kind of males they're talking about?
To be fair, I think parts of the bill are beneficial. I think the Church opposes only certain provisions of the bill NOT ALL of it. Problem is you can't pass some parts and not pass others. I also believe the bill proposes solutions that address the results while making only provisions to address the causes. It does not address at all the economic causes. It does not address the fundamental problem of values formation and the correction of internal process such as decision making and priority setting. I personally know some poor people, former tenant farmers, who did not go beyond the 3rd grade but were able to keep their family small. They didn't know whit what family planning is and haven't encountered the word contraceptive their entire lives. But they have good heads on their shoulders and exhibit a probably higher discipline. I suspect the method they used is simple abstinence and are now in their sixties with 2 grown children.On the whole the professors did not convince me that as a Catholic I can support the bill in GOOD CONSCIENCE. There are open issues which still impinge on the conscience such the rights of the unborn, the curtailment of freedom and the discriminatory provisions regarding conscientious objectors. By giving their support the professors are saying they are accepting these limits on our freedoms. Given the track record of the government, they will probably be more effective in enforcing these limits than in implementing the "benificial" provisions of the bill. Values are ignored. The bill would rather train a couple how to avoid a pregnancy than to instill in them the values of discipline and responsibility. Its like closing the barn when all the horses have gone. This impinge on my conscience because I can see that the bill proposes for us to pay with our freedoms a solution that addresses an effect, a result while the causes are ignored. Would you sacrifice your freedom to pay for alleviating a symptom?
My postscript: Ever wonder how much its going to cost us taxpayers? TE does the math here.

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