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Monday, November 12, 2012

"Against the RH Bill" by Howard Go

From the blog of Pauline Cauton, Catholic by Choice

Against the RH Bill 
by Howard Go

Part 1

A lot of people think the RH Bill is such a practical law, but it isn’t.

Is it easy to teach people to use condoms? It seems like the answer is so obvious, but it isn’t. Improper use of condoms was a big problem before and introducing it to communities that have never been able to afford it will mean that it will be a problem for them, too. Check out: So, someone might say, we’ll spend more to teach them. But here’s the problem, the RH Bill is not just a distribute-condoms-to-those-in-need-and-teach-them-to-use-it law. It is not just about family planning. It is also about providing better health care to pregnant women in areas with poor hospital services (and this aspect is actually the better part of the law). But, let’s try to see how far family planning as an objective in our country can go; in particular, the artificial contraception way.
Let’s assume people learn to use it after our country spends a fortune to teach them. Is the solution to supply them condoms for life? Not realistic (i.e., not practical). At some point, they will have to buy the condoms themselves. Condoms are not cheap. The people who are thought to need it cannot afford the extra expense.

But, let’s pretend the artificial birth control and family planning part of the RH bill work out and people learn all about condoms and we somehow make it available for free or for a peso a pack. What happens?

Do we really need to think this through? How many wealthy, educated children do we know who got pregnant or got someone pregnant in high school or college or during their years as a working adult? AIDS is back in the Philippines and it isn’t happening to the the poor in those areas the RH bill claims to want to help. It’s happening in corporate call centers where people know about condoms, know how to use them, can find of them (just in the convenience store located near almost every call center in our country), and can afford them.

I recall that there are people who were interviewed who would say, “Gee, I wish I knew all about family planning (whether natural or artificial birth control) or could afford it (for the artificial kind).” But, really, do we honestly believe the discipline for family planning will follow for the majority given our current economic situation? The bill on this aspect is just not realistic. In other words, just not practical.

I just want to end with this: Some people might say these families need to control their size. But is family size really the problem? Just one and two generations before mine (and probably long before that), most families would have at least four children with a decent percentage having six or more. And most of these families did well back then. And this was before and during the time our country was developing so well that we were the envy of our Asian neighbors.

The problem now is that inflation has far outpaced the minimum wage (and I won’t even get into how some people are paid less than half of the minimum wage just because they are contractual employees or in desperate need for a job). So, assuming we succeed in having less members in the family of those below the poverty line, do we really solve poverty or just create a stop gap solution (which won’t work, by the way, since it just isn’t realistic)?

Remember the MMDA color-coding number-scheme solution? It was meant to be a temporary solution to our traffic problem until we could fix our roads and have more one-way streets and a better public transportation system and other solutions to fix traffic properly. What happened instead? We’re stuck with a stop gap that isn’t working. We wasted years with a stop gap solution that made the government lazy in solving the real problem of traffic with a real solution.

The money and our time can be put to better use to help fight poverty and hardship than by this very impractical solution of teaching people about and making artificial contraception easily available.

If we and our country truly want to help the poor, then we should work harder to improve our educational system and to create more jobs (with something better than the minimum wage). If you talk to a poor parent, they will often admit that they do not want their kids going to school because they have no promising job waiting for them after. The educational system is terrible and the problem with unemployment and underemployment is depressing. They think their kids can earn more begging or doing some sort of work that will bring in a few pesos a day. And without a better educational system, without appropriate jobs for our graduates, who are we to argue? Even with less children, we know the poverty will continue because there just aren’t enough jobs with decent pay in this country.

That said, and if you are interested, read on to part two where I will defend the stance of our Catholic Church against the RH Bill. A lot of people don’t realize just how right our Church is in standing against it. And, no, I will not be using religious language to defend her stance, but that of a layman with layman reasoning. I hope you will read on.

Against the RH Bill – Part Two
by Howard Go

(This is part two of a three part work on why I stand against the RH Bill. It is suggested you read the first part before this, but this can stand fairly much on its own, I think.)

I support the Catholic Church and I applaud her for taking her stand against the RH Bill.

I know some people have said the Church should not get involved (claiming the separation of Church and State argument). But think about it: If an organization knew something they believed was bad was about to happen, should that group not do what it can to stop it from happening? Especially if that group can make a difference?
“For evil to triumph, all you need are enough good people to do nothing.” The Church is trying to bring in enough people to stop the RH Bill from happening because it doesn’t want what it knows to be evil to triumph.

I realize that a lot people use artificial birth control and think the Church is so conservative and outdated that it doesn’t realize what real families deal with. Here I turn to CS Lewis. He captured the problem of morality when he saw that people would use terms like “Liberal”, “Open-Minded”, “Practical” against “Conservative”, “Narrow-Minded”, and “Idealistic”, instead of asking if something was ethical, if it was right. Let’s not use terms (what Lewis called “jargon”) that don’t really answer questions that matter and, in most cases, mislead us (if not tempt us) into doing things that we know are morally wrong.

(And, yes, I know I talked about the RH Bill being impractical in part one. But that was a tool. If I went straight to this part about ethics, a reader who supports the RH Bill on the level of it being practical will not read this part anymore or will read it thinking that this is just another article by someone who is not practical and isn’t thinking things through — meaning nothing will be understood fairly. I had to “disarm” that reader from his/her practical way of thinking to bring him/her here.)

Now, here I will walk a thin line. And I know some Catholics might dislike this part, but I recall some priests during my college years saying that the use of artificial birth control can, in certain situations, be accepted. “It depends” was the famous line. And I think many students, who are now faculty members of this school, took it as a go signal to proceed with using artificial birth control. I came from that school and I justified using it with that “it depends” answer. But it wasn’t a go signal. It just meant and, I think, still means that our conscience will dictate what is right in a specific situation. And that’s what ethics is about. It’s about studying a situation carefully. And I am certain that in some truly challenging situations, using artificial birth control might be right. But my situation and, probably, your situation are not those situations.

To discuss the morality (actually, the lack of morality of the RH Bill), I turn to my favorite professor in college. He was once asked how to sum up the course of Ethics in one sentence. His answer to this surprise interview question was this: “It is when, years from now, your son/daughter looks at you and asks, “Dad/Mom, what does it mean to be good?”"

Will we say ethics is about being practical? Will we say it’s okay to be good when it is easy? When the majority agrees? When you will be rewarded and well-liked? But, otherwise, be practical? Is being reasonable the same as being good in our minds? Does being ethical compromise with our worldly concerns and needs?

And what will we say about artificial birth control? Is it a way of controlling problems or was it one of the major causes of the problem in the first place and has now been deftly maneuvered into a position as the solution of the problem it helped create?

Here’s my take on this moral challenge. Moral dilemmas exist because we are already in the middle of a difficult situation. Artificial birth control is so easy to come by now it looks like the norm so it is difficult to say it is wrong to use it. Especially since so many of us have used it. I used it for most of my adult life and only later realized that I shouldn’t and have stopped using it since early this year. And it hasn’t been easy.

In the past, before it became easy to come by (and almost the norm), the Church warned us that artificial birth control would lead to a different lifestyle. Here’s a quote from one of her letters (written in 1968): “Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificially limiting the increase of children. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality. Not much experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that men—especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point—have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”

Before you say this isn’t a realistic view of the world, check out this link to see how things are in America less than 45 years later:

I think it is painfully accurate to say that our country is close to considering premarital sex and teenage pregnancy as common or the norm and, probably in one more generation, “morally acceptable”. And, on this note, do we really mean “morally acceptable” or do we actually mean we lowered our standards so much that our moral compass has broken and now fails to point us towards Ethical North? Is the world becoming more “liberal” at the risk of becoming less “moral”? That was rhetorical, I apologize for that; it’s the teacher in me.

So, we now have this problem. Sexual openness is so common that it is easy to say, “use a condom” or “as long as you are careful”. We go back to jargon that it is not “cool” or “modern” to say we should wait until marriage before experiencing sexual intercourse. Once using artificial birth control is the norm, how easy is it to avoid it? How normal does it look once we’re married?

But really, I think any person who takes the time to think about it will acknowledge that sleeping around with various partners (regardless of one’s civil status and age) is a lot more common now than the previous one or two generations, not because it is right today and wrong before, but simply because it is that much easier. It becomes common, the norm, because it is so easy that the majority ends up doing it.

Which leads me to the next part. A challenge of sorts while better understanding how artificial birth control and, in effect, the RH Bill, isn’t the way to make us better people. Which I will discuss in part three. I hope you will read on.

Part 3: 

(This is part three of a three part work on why I stand against the RH Bill. It is suggested you read the first two parts part before this, but this can stand fairly much on its own, I think.)

Artificial birth control is so common. Condoms have been made so attractive that they almost look like candy and bubblegum packages on some counters and shelves. Flavored to let you know how else to use it, ribbed and with extra add-ons to supposedly enhance the pleasure to an already pleasurable activity. Birth control pills can even improve skin tone and make some women more womanly according to some reports. And all these products allow us to enjoy the joys of sex practically anytime we want to with only a small percentage chance of pregnancy or catching a disease of some sort.
It’s convenient.

But it has a catch.

It’s like cigarettes or junk food. It’s like a number of things that have changed our lives. It’s about, to use terminology by Al Gore, an inconvenient truth.

Think about wireless technology and work. Years ago, people worked hard and seldom took work home, but even with take home work, certain days were kept untouched by work. Now, because of technology, we can end up working on weekends and dead of the night evenings, at home, on vacation, during special quality time dates and family moments. We’re professionally more efficient and effective. But at what cost? It has become so normal we have accepted this work-style (not lifestyle since it isn’t much of a life anymore) so much that it is now so hard to break away from it. Some of us may remember days when we said we wouldn’t need (insert technology here) or that we wouldn’t be a slave to (insert technology here). Until the convenience becomes a center in our life. In the same way, artificial birth control has entered our way of life so much that it looks like the norm rather than the foreign object that entered our life and changed how we lived sexually.

But think of the days when we are able to beat this wireless technology and spend a day without it. Or a week. We actually feel better, don’t we? On some level, we know we want to be free from it, despite all the usefulness it provides. Artificial birth control is similar to this, but less clearly so because we enjoy the pleasure of using it too much that not having it causes discomfort, unlike how wireless technology is empowering in work, yet can be constricting at the same time to our personal pursuit for pleasure.

And just like we hope for better technology to make work easier or more efficient, we forget that it is technology that has invaded our lives so much that personal space is lost. Yes, we have gone so far. But at what cost? We long for escapes more. We can afford more expensive escapes and lifestyles, but only because we complicated our lives so much that pleasurable lifestyles reach higher and higher levels. But wasn’t it just about discipline before? To balance work and life? Business and pleasure?

Yes, contraceptives allow for a more fun sexual lifestyle. And now we need it to control that lifestyle from leading to more teenage pregnancies and unwanted sexually transmitted diseases. But wasn’t it really just about discipline before.

(A short note here: there are a lot more teenage pregnancies and single mothers today than 25 years ago. And the age of girls with teenage pregnancies is dropping. In my college years, one 18 year-old teenager getting pregnant a year was considered common (as something that will happen, not something that is right). Now that yearly expectation is happening in high schools and even grade schools (a 13 year-old girl getting pregnant every school year will soon be expected at this rate); which wasn’t the case back then. And, yes, artificial contraception helps lead to this because sex being treated as something casual instead of intimate is a way of life aided by artificial contraception.)

It’s about convenience and inconvenience. Many things in life have brought convenience. If we truly believe in preserving the environment, we have to be ready to be inconvenienced. If we believe in valuing what sexual intimacy is, what intercourse is about, then we have to be ready to be inconvenienced by what it entails.

Think about it for a while. Are any of us looking forward to teaching our children how to use a condom? Or do we see the condom as a tool that is needed to hopefully limit the consequences that follow for living a sexually active life outside of marriage?

Some of us probably used our first condom that way when we were younger. Until sex became so easy, so convenient, that it changed our lifestyle. That’s how I was. When I realized (I mean really read their works on the matter and thought about it) what the Church was teaching about artificial birth control, I knew what I ought to do. And I was greatly inconvenienced by the change in lifestyle. But I am better for it. It wasn’t easy and I can’t say I succeeded right away, but I am better for it.

If you don’t want to be inconvenienced, then don’t say you are right, just say you are comfortable and don’t want to leave your comfort zone. I don’t, for example, give up riding in a car for the sake of the environment. But I do try to take care of it in other ways. And I do not try to get in the way of those who do more than I do in taking care of it. I even try to help them in a manner that is, yes, convenient for me. But I do not complain about or stand against their good work.

When I one day meet the man dating my daughter and somehow discover him carrying a condom or if I one day see my daughter with a condom, I will certainly not first think, “Good, they’re careful.” I may think that later on, not as a positive note but only as a small, small consolation. I am fairly certain my first thought will be in the line of “Nooooooooo!!!” or “Not now. Please, not yet now.” And I may even think where have I gone wrong that they are engaging in this now. I may even blame the media and her peers. Then I may later hope they are “practical”. But I will first hope they know what is right and I will wonder why they don’t live by what is right.

The condom and the media (so, yes, I do blame them even now) has changed how we view sex. Our view of sex has changed because of the convenience brought by artificial birth control and how the media has made parenting that much harder by making practically every hero/heroine in every show have some sexual act with one or more characters in that same show. And it becomes common and normal and cool and desirable. And, worse, chastity somehow becomes embarrassing and wrong in their eyes.

We can call it progress. But do we want to? We know it brings something else with it that we can call modern, liberal, practical, open, and many other things. But, really, don’t we use these terms when we know it’s a little bit wrong and we want to feel a little less uncomfortable about it?

There is a better way than artificial birth control. A way that will teach us discipline. A way that will help us value the sexual act in all its beautiful decency and glory. Don’t you miss the times when decency and innocence and inner goodness was more beautiful than what is vulgar and illusory and only good outside? It is not easy. But I believe it is right. And, with plenty of inconvenient effort (and over a span of years) to make it work: very, very beneficial for us as humans and as a nation.

After all I’ve said, I want to end with just two more points:

One: I believe arguing on the practical level is a dangerous way of thinking. Because it can be so deceptive as inconvenience can make us think something is practical when it is not. I think we will find, looking back at our practical decisions in life that it is not really practical to be practical in many cases, but because “practical” is really a very subjective and vague concept, it becomes very easy to trick ourselves into thinking we are or were being practical.

Two: I do, however, also believe that, if one really thinks carefully, and considers long term benefits and considers moral values and preserving human decency, then what is truly practical about living will come to light as the same thing as what The Church tells us to do because this is what God wants for us: a better life.

(If I have been able to help you rethink the value of artificial birth control, that maybe we should try to temper our use of it or how we make it available to people, then I think I have done a good thing. Because, just like an activist for the environment can help move some of us to segregate waste or carpool or use less electricity or avoid environmentally damaging products, I may just have been able to help you stand against the RH Bill or support the Church or allow the Church to do what I believe it does so well. And that is: to guide us. If you want to know more about the options the Church teaches check out this site which is one among many out there or read the letter I quoted before. she has much literature to share. Some of the things here might not be to your taste, so I am putting myself on the line here, if you want to know more send me a message or place a comment.)

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