Listening to “Filipino Voices” in the FOCA Debate

"Filipino voices" are being
touted as a force to be reckoned with in the anti-choice
opposition against the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA)
. FOCA, a U.S. reproductive choice bill not yet introduced in this congressional session, provides expanded reproductive health care and extends federal
protection to women deciding to have an abortion.

Fr. Jerome Magat, a vicar at
the St. William of York parish in Stafford, Virginia, and chaplain of
the Filipino Family Fund told media that "Filipinos
have a tremendous opportunity to be real players in the cause for human
Filipino-Americans were present at marches last January 23 before Capitol
Hill, to oppose FOCA on the anniversary of Roe v Wade. Magat also stressed
that "Abortion is illegal in the Philippines. We come from a country
where abortion is taboo and we have a culture that values the family.
Filipinos carry all these traits that are so ready-made to be converted
to such strong players in the pro-life movement."

Magat obviously equates being
pro-life/anti-choice with the position supportive of imprisonment for
women who have abortions, as well as engendering a culturally imposed
ban on discussing the subject.

President Barack Obama garnered
a majority of the American Roman Catholic vote during elections last
fall (over 53%), but some reporters have speculated about how Obama got less
overall support from Filipino-Americans in the greater Washington DC
of his "pro-choice" position. Indeed, many Filipinos in the US,
like over 80 percent of us back home in the Philippines, are Roman Catholics.
And while it is not surprising that many Filipino-Americans might have
conservative views about women’s right to choose, it is not altogether
fair or accurate to depict all Filipino-Americans as rabidly anti-choice
either. In a Los Angeles produced talk show on the Filipino Channel,
for instance, Filipino-Americans
are seen here engaged in a lively debate about abortion
, where there were views expressed
for and against defending women’s right to decide.
While the positions and arguments
are familiar, the debate/talk show format is a bit different from what
many of us are perhaps used to back home. In this show, the exchange
gets heated but it’s also quite restrained on both sides.

The problem is, however, when
it comes to drawing the lines for and against women’s right to decide
whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, the old battle-lines of
"life/choice" are inadequate to get a conversation going about the
concerns over the life and health of women who are presumably the common
concern of both pro-choice and pro-life. While both sides stated their
positions calmly, the debate on TFC may as well have been just another
debate in the Philippines where both sides seemed to talk past each
other without directly addressing the other’s concern.

Our best advocates for reproductive
health and women’s rights can dish out all the statistics on maternal
ill-health and mortality, family planning preferences and even the mechanism
of action of contraceptives. These arguments continue to be relevant
and advocates should in no way stop dishing them out. However, those
on the other side who continue to harp on the life of the unborn (some
of them even claiming the sperm has "life") are not easy to dismiss
as unscientific because the stance they take or the argument they pose
is obviously not just being made for the sake of science but sympathy.

One young woman even announced
that if she ended up getting raped and pregnant because of it, she would,
as a Catholic, accept it as God’s will for her. This made a lot of
people uncomfortable because ironically she was not really just talking
about her own hypothetical right to decide but requiring other women
to meet this standard she had set for herself.

Theirs is an appeal to morality
that needs to be challenged and tackled head on. By harping on "life,"
and "fetal rights" the anti-choice makes it appear that the other
side does not want babies to be born and that all women who have abortions
take their decisions lightly. At one point in the TFC discussion, one
woman on the side of choice actually spelled this out and I think made
the most headway in the debate arguing in essence that "being for
choice we do not mean we want each and every pregnant woman to have
an abortion. It’s about not interfering with women who have to make
that decision."

In the end packaging a "Filipino"
and distinctly conservative Roman Catholic view of abortion is many
steps backward. It not only negates the fact of diversity among Filipinos’
views and women’s choices but also of Roman Catholic, Pro-Choice and
even Pro-Life views. 

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  • invalid-0

    Great article! Being Filipina-American myself, I have oftentimes been accused of going against my cultural heritage because I am pro-choice, as if being pro-choice makes one anti-Filipino. I’m really glad that this article expresses the diversity within the Filipino identity which includes the pro-choice voice. While our home country remains predominantly Catholic, I have personally been witness to the pro-choice movement in the Philippines and it is not to be disregarded and ignored. It is true that one can be pro-choice, Filipino, and Catholic.

  • invalid-0

    Your opinion is indicative of a lack of fundamental understanding of what it means to be a woman. Our dignity is not dependent on the right to have an abortion. Characterizing those who do not share your world view as a promotion of imprisoning women in crisis is unfair. Further, it also does not reflect a strong intellect.

    Filipino values of a strong family life and appreciation for children is to be revered. So is the Filipino Constitution and the rights of both the unborn child and the mother .

    FOCA and the Two Child Policy Bill do not at all seek to advance women’s rights, Austria. They seek to undermine them. The resulting religious freedom violations and sex-selected abortions is not at all in accord with Filipino values. Americans, who care, do not want this for our relatives or friends in our country or elsewhere.

    Intl Planned Parenthood and UNFPA affiliates are targeting the Philippines specifically because She is a Catholic nation. Wake up!

    No one is questioning the right to have an intelligent debate. Make no mistake the sponsors (from the U.S.) who are behind FOCA and the Two Child Policy bill (otherwise known as the RH Bill) have no interest in helping the Philippines or to alleviate poverty. Their extreme measures are to keep their funding alive in a time when many families are in crisis. The funding would be better appropriated elsewhere. Instead, what is at stake is the freedom to have a discussion– if we remain silent about the passage of FOCA and the Two Child Policy Bill. Provisions of stiff penalties and upto six month imprisonment will result. You are not sharing the penalty sections of these bills when you falsely claim this will help women.

    Thanks for the dialogue, Austria. Be fair, though, and more thorough.

  • invalid-0

    I have to greatly disagree with this comment, especially with regard to your comment about the RH bill. When you say, “Be fair, though, and more thorough,” I would think one’s own words should be taken to heart. I am wondering if you’ve actually read the exact words written in the provisions of the RH bill because nowhere in the bill does it mandate that families be limited to two children in their household, that sex-selection be encouraged, or that this infringes on religious freedom. I have a copy of the RH bill submitted for review for the congressional hearings and nowhere is that language in the bill found.

    As a reality check though after working directly with indigent women in the Philippines, it was rare for me to see that a woman has happily welcomed ten children into the world. At one community health training I participated in, a young woman, thirty years of age with ten children, exclaimed in Tagalog that she didn’t want any more children, but she didn’t know how to make it stop. With the current state of affairs in the Philippines and having personally worked with these women who have very little education and their only way of life is to mother five or more children, there continues to be no contraceptive funding or contraceptive access (except the natural family planning method which has failed numerous women) at which women from the most indigent and impoverished areas of the Philippines would benefit from the provisions of the RH bill. It is not to be ignored that there is a pro-choice movement that is happening in the Philippines. I would suggest that you thoroughly read through the provisions of the RH bill, and I conclude in return, “Thanks for the dialogue but be fair, though, and more thorough.”

  • invalid-0

    Austria is like alot of people she has to decide to to follow the catholic church with christ died for or indirectly follow Satan and make up her own rules.