Saturday, February 05, 2011

Know, choose, live

THANK you, Father, for your text last Thursday. I didn’t know today, Feb. 6, is Pro-Life Sunday.

Your invitation to read the Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), “Choosing Life, Rejecting the RH Bill,” was just in time. I had seen the CBCP full-page ad in a national daily, but had skipped it.

Rather than download the Pastoral Letter from, I retrieved the Feb. 3 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer to hear the side of the bishops, as expressed by Nereo P. Odchimar, D.D., Bishop of Tandag and CBCP president.

Scanning the Pastoral Letter, I found shoals of assertions I can rest on after floundering in the reproductive health (RH) controversies that divide this country. “The conclusion is unavoidable: for our country to escape from poverty, we have to address the real causes of poverty…”.

The three words that complete this sentence, though—“… and not population”—pushed me off my ledge and back into the deep where I will have to tread water until I decide to become part of “the great multitude of lay people all over the country… (who) defend and promote our position”.

For while I agree with the bishops that we should uproot the evils aborting our development—“misguided economic policies, greed, corruption, social inequities, lack of access to education, poor economic and social services, poor infrastructures (sic)…”— I am stumped by the assertion that “contraceptives are hazardous to a woman’s health”.

The CBCP asserts that contraceptives are “anti-life”. These “may cause cancer”. “Condoms provide a false sense of security”. “’Safe sex’ to prevent HIV/AIDS is false propaganda.”

The quoted assertions are refutable through science and logic. However, these are nearly impregnable as a miasma of blame and contempt preventing the vulnerable from seeking the medical information and services that could protect or save them.

How many unmarried women resort to tight bindings to prevent their baby bumps from revealing their “shame”? How many children have their physical, mental and emotional growth compromised because their mothers were cowed by conventions: good girls don’t learn about sexuality; good girls trust their partners to know and do what’s best; good girls don’t get pregnant without a ring on their finger?

Nothing threatens life more than ignorance. The ignorance that blinds a person into stumbling on the consequences of acts by trial-and-error. Or damns someone for precisely seeking to avoid this comedy of errors.

I remember being struck by the contrasts after a young woman told me she was expecting a child. My first impulse was to congratulate her. Both of us, though, were somber, far from celebratory. Had she been older and “settled down,” I imagined we would have sat down and swapped stories and tips about infanticipating, giggling how we mustn’t do this over coffee as caffeine would have to go for the baby’s sake.

As it was, we were weighed down by the unexpected and unresolved. She and her partner had not foreseen the pregnancy. She would keep the baby, but was unsure about her partner’s role in the future awaiting “the two of them”. Not three but two: hard wisdom bought by a few weeks of menstrual delay.

My second impulse was to urge this young mother to go for prenatal check-ups at a health center or government hospital. She had not told her parents; her confidante was a younger sister who would know even less on what to do with maternal exigencies.

Please get a doctor to prescribe supplements, I asked. The baby will draw on your calcium reserves. You don’t want to lose your teeth.

From a great distance, the child-with-child looked at me: I cannot afford to buy vitamins. I’ll do my best for my baby, but I can’t afford to think now of myself.

Choose life, preach the bishops. I agree: Know. Choose. Live.

( 0917322631)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 6, 2011 issue of the Sunday column, “Matamata”

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