Advocates of the Church-opposed Reproductive Health (RH) Law, which was enacted in 2012 to allow government spending on artificial contraceptives, found a contradiction between the Pope’s strong pro-life stance and his call to address poverty.
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, an author of the RH law, said the Pope seemed to be “out of synch” with “the views of majority of Catholic men and women on the issue of family planning.”
“He simply refuses to acknowledge what poor women know firsthand: that inability to control the size of their families is one of the surest routes to perpetuating their children’s poverty,” Bello said in a text message.
He added that Pope Francis failed to recognize that family planning, including contraception, “is central to reducing poverty.”
Throughout his trip to Asia’s bastion of Roman Catholicism, Pope Francis constantly repeated his appeal to politicians, Church leaders and ordinary citizens to help the poor and the marginalized, in a country where a fourth of the population live in poverty.
The Pope also conveyed a strong pro-life stance to a country of over 100 million people. He stressed “the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death” and the value of every child.
The RH Law, approved more than two years ago, allows the government to procure condoms and other methods of artificial birth control.
Filipino bishops led the opposition to the legislation, since the Roman Catholic Church supports only natural ways of contraception.
RH advocate Elizabeth Angsioco, head of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines, said the Pope’s strong pro-life stance is “expected.”
“I did and do not think that the Pope would deviate from the official Chruch line on matters like family planning,” Angsioco said in a separate text message.
She however also found some contradiction in the Pope’s statements on family planning and poverty during his Philippine visit.
“The services in the RH Law, not just family planning, are mostly for the benefit of the economically marginalized, especially women and the youth. Opposing its implementation will work against the interests of the poor,” she said.
While acknowledging that the fight against poverty goes beyond reproductive health and family planning, Angsioco said the government should still implement the RH Law even after the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to it.
She even said that Filipino bishops “will surely capitalize on what the Pope said” regarding family planning.
“At this point, the law is already there for those who want and need to do family planning. It is the mandate of the government, not the Church, to implement it,” Angsioco said.
Heed Pope’s call
GMA News Online contacted the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to get a statement on the Pope’s statements on the family and on poverty, but it has yet to respond as of posting time.
Manila Rep. Amado Bagatsing, who strongly opposed the RH Law in Congress, meanwhile said he hopes the Pope’s messages, particulary those about protecting the family, will have an impact on future legislations in the Philippines.
“That was a very strong message and leaders in both the government and the private sector should heed that call,” Bagatsing said.
Asked if Pope Francis’ pro-life stance is in line with his anti-poverty push, the lawmaker said, “Pro-life is not the cause of poverty!”
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., for his part, said the administration will continue advocating “the promotion of human dignity and improved quality of life.”
“Government allocates the biggest chunk of the national budget to social protection and poverty reduction for the benefit of millions of the poorest families. These programs converge with the Pope’s evangelical advocacy,” Coloma said.
In a speech during Pope Francis’ courtesy call in Malacañang, President Benigno Aquino III stood firm on giving Filipinos “freedom of choice.”
“If we do not intercede to make each person capable of exercising true freedom of choice, then we are not our brother’s keepers,” he said. —KBK, GMA News