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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bernardo Villegas on the RH Bill and the Contraceptive Mentality

(Better posted late than never!)

August 12, 2010, 5:37pm

A reader wrote me asking for a fuller discussion of what I called in a previous article the "contraceptive mentality." In general, it is an attitude ingrained especially in women who are afraid of conceiving a baby and do everything possible to avoid being pregnant. They may actually get married or have a live-in partner and resort to artificial or natural means of contraception in order not to have a baby. Or they never get married because of their fear of becoming pregnant.

This mentality is usually a result of years of mind-conditioning from the government and other sectors of society presenting the alleged evils of overpopulation, as in the case of Singapore in the 1960s and 1970s when there was a systematic government campaign to influence married couples to "stop at two." After some time, this conditioning from society is replaced by a materialistic and consumerist culture in which the reason for not having a baby is no longer the threat of poverty but the inconvenience of a child. Some educated women find having children as an obstacle to pursuing their careers or living a fuller though egotistic life. This is what has happened actually to Singapore which has the highest per capita income in Southeast Asia but is now facing depopulation because of the very low fertility rate. Attempts to reverse the trend have generally failed, despite very generous economic incentives for women to have children.

Ironically, a contraceptive mentality among some sectors of the population can actually lead to higher rates of abortion. It is frequently asserted that contraception, if made safe and available to all, is the most effective remedy against abortion. The facts speak for themselves in countries like the United States. Contraceptives like pills and condoms are freely available in stores and dispensers. What may seem baffling is that there are millions of abortions every year in the US. Upon closer scrutiny, however, this should not be surprising. A widespread contraceptive mentality easily leads to abortion when an unwanted life is conceived. The RH Bill being discussed in Congress may not be promoting abortion.

It, however, can easily promote a contraceptive mentality, especially with the constant reference to poverty as a major reason for passing the bill. As can be gleaned from the experiences of other countries, the widespread availability of contraception has the perverse effect of increasing abortion when there is a failure of contraception.

A contraceptive mentality — a general unwillingness to have children — could actually be prevalent in individuals even before they marry or before they actually use contraceptive drugs or devices. The contraceptive or anti-conception "mentality" is in the mind (the intention of preventing conception), while contraceptive "use" is in the action (the actual use of contraception). The contraceptive mentality is an attitude — whether or not it is followed by actual contraceptive use. The mentality can victimize all persons, whether married or not. Children and adolescents who, for selfish reasons, do not want to have siblings are showing early signs of a contraceptive mentality, even without the knowledge of contraceptives.

Following the definition of a contraceptive mentality as a "state of mind unreasonably closed to having children," married couples can have a contraceptive mentality even if they do not actually use contraceptives.

In their minds, they do not want to raise children, even if they have the resources to do so. Among those who are single, a contraceptive mentality can exist if they harbor in their minds the wrong reasons for not having children. There are dedicated celibates whose reason for not having children is noble, i.e., to give themselves completely to God or to be at the complete service of their dependent parents and siblings. But in not a few cases, the deliberate decision to avoid sex and marriage may be based on unsound reasons, i.e., "marriage is hell," "having a spouse is an onerous burden," "children are a hindrance to personal fulfillment," etc. Persons whose decision to remain unmarried is founded on reasons derogatory to child-bearing already have a contraceptive mentality.

In many of the developed countries that are suffering from the extinction of their population because of very low fertility rates, this mentality among the unmarried can actually be considered unpatriotic. I have heard not a few leaders of aging societies like Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore appealing to their women to have children for love of country.

The only country I know that has succeeded in reversing a fertility rate from as low as 1.3 or 1.4 children per fertile woman to close to replacement of 2.1 children is France, which was one of the first European countries to suffer from very low fertility rates early in the last century. In the last decade or so, government incentives for women to bear children have succeeded because of the characteristic pragmatism of the French. Instead of trying to convince women who still have no children and who may be victimized by the contraceptive mentality, the government targeted women who already have children, say one or two, and offered very generous incentives (financial rewards, very long maternity leaves, paternity leaves, etc.) for them to have additional children. It seems it is much easier to convince couples who have already children to have a few more than to try to change the minds of those may already be suffering from a contraceptive mentality.

All these considerations should serve as a warning to the legislators who are dead set on trying to resuscitate what should already be a dead issue, the Reproductive Health Bill. The RHB is shot through and through with a contraceptive mentality.

Even if arguably it may address some short-run problems of shortage of resources, it will definitely endanger future generations of Filipinos who may have to contend with the so-called demographic winter. Sustainable development requires that we look for solutions to the problems of the present generation that do not harm future generations. Clearly the RHB will not lead to sustainable development.

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