What Filipino Catholics Say About Abortion

When President
Barack Obama made his now-famous speech
before the graduating class of Notre Dame University
, everybody noticed the
group of Pro-Life Catholics who opted to boycott the historic address. Without avoiding
the controversy, President Obama went into the heart of the matter. He talked
about abortion, but instead of defending one position and criticizing another,
he spoke about what he felt has gone wrong with the way advocates on either
side of the fence have been conducting the debate. 

In the pre-framed
"Pro-Choice/Pro-Life" debate, each side has the tendency to portray the other
as morally wrong and this often leaves
little room for any presumption of good faith
. When this happens, the
discussion fails and the debate comes to a grinding halt. All we are left with
is empty, vitriolic rhetoric and few visions of moving forward. 

As difficult as it
has become in the US context
to manage discussions exploring common ground in the abortion debate, in other
places like the Philippines,
even mustering a public discussion about contraception has become increasingly
difficult in recent years. 

To be clear, it’s
really not because Filipino Catholics (around 80 percent of the population) are
different from the majority of Catholics in other countries worldwide. Countless public polls each year confirm that Filipino Catholics share similar views: Filipino
Catholics, for example, respect contraceptive choice as a matter of conscience.

But abortion is
a whole other issue. The number of clandestine abortions in the Philippines
is over 373,000 annually, despite the age-old penal prohibition. 

Until recently,
even advocates for women’s health usually steered clear of the topic of
religion when it came to conducting discussions about abortion, and stuck to
public health frameworks. This strategy has proven effective in clearing up misconceptions
about contraception, abortion and women’s health in general. It also provides
an ideal frame for articulating state mandates around health services, but it
does avoid many issues that women face. 

Recognizing the
conservative position of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy on most issues
about women’s rights and not just abortion makes "opting out" of the discussion
about Catholic faith easier.  Sr. Helen Graham, a theology professor and human
rights advocate since the martial law period in the Philippines, assured RH
advocates the feeling of "hanging by a thread" when it comes to being Catholic
and supporting social change is something with which she is familiar. 

Sr. Helen spoke
before RH advocates including health providers and organizers from the rural
and urban poor sectors in a conference organized by Linangan ng Kababaihan (LIKHAAN) and noted that it’s not just the
Church hierarchy’s conservatism that makes things difficult, but there is also
the danger of talking out of turn when it comes to challenging religion.  She
called on advocates engaging the issue of religion to study the history of the
Catholic Church and be open to the complexity of Catholic thought. Citing the
work of feminist theologians like Rosemary Rathford Ruther and Margaret Farley,
Sr. Helen pointed out that despite the seeming contradiction, Catholic thought
(particularly reforms introduced during the Second Vatican Council) can also
provide a means to articulate issues in sexual ethics. 

Professor Mary
Racelis from the Jesuit-run Ateneo de
Manila led a public statement in support of reproductive health legislation,
and welcomed the voices of poor women in the discussion.  She lamented how the
most vociferous among those opposed to RH legislation always turn out to be the
upper class women of the Catholic Women’s League (CWL) and the (presumably)
celibate men of the cloth.  She pointed out the irony in the situation when rich
women and celibate men monopolize the discussion about women’s sexuality and
reproductive health. 

Poor women and
their families who have the most to lose when there is no reproductive health
care, have yet to be heard.  Prof. Racelis recalled how aghast she was when a
priest carelessly made a categorical statement during mass contrary to Catholic
teaching, calling "contraceptive use" as a "mortal sin," instead of it being a
matter of conscience.  After mass, she made sure to have a conversation with him
about the matter.  He turned out to be one of her former students and she thinks
perhaps this was why he listened to her. 

In the end, both
Prof. Racelis and Sr. Helen agreed that having been the teachers of those who
later became priests, the need for more education, reflection and open
mindedness about Catholicism is definitely not just for lay people and RH
advocates.  The Catholic clergy definitely needs huge doses of it.

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  • http://www.bridegroompress.com invalid-0

    Always has been. It’s condemned by nearly every Father of the Church, in nearly every writing on the subject, from the Didache forward.

    Any “theologian” who pretends that contraception is NOT a mortal sin is simply a liar.

  • invalid-0

    Contraception is a sin and it is NOT a matter of conscience. The same goes for abortion and those who say otherwise jepordize their own soul and the souls of those who believe them. Pope Paul VI forseen how contraception is a slippery slope that leads to abortion and infanticide. This is what has happened in the USA.

  • http://blog.calumnist.com/ invalid-0

    Could you please give references for this statement:

    “It’s condemned by nearly every Father of the Church, in nearly every writing on the subject, from the Didache forward.”

    While I am willing to grant that there has been a long history of condemnation of abortion in the church, it is usually not a blanket statement (that is, it allows for some exceptions). Also, I’d like to read the church fathers’ justification for their anti-abortion position. Thanks!

  • invalid-0

    As the daughter of a Filipino mother who was born and raised in the Philippines and is a devout Filipino Catholic, I don’t believe my mother commits a mortal sin for having exercised contraception during her younger years. My mother is in her sixties now and underwent a tubal ligation after the birth of her fourth child as she and my father did not desire anymore children. I am saddened that women in the Philippines, particularly in Manila where the contraceptive ban reigns supreme, are being denied the option to use contraception. After working in the Philippines with reproductive health workers where women seeking contraception already have five children and don’t desire any more children, it saddens me that women, primarily poor women, in the Philippines today are denied contraception while my mother had not been denied the option. As I see it, tubal ligation is a form of contraception, of birth control, where I don’t see my mother’s decision as a sin and I don’t see my mother as a mortal sinner for exercising what she and my father felt was right. The previous comments really hurt and sadden me as I see these comments as a very personal attack against my own mother and the rest of the women in my family to be so callously lumped into a category of sinners simply because they choose to use contraception. My mother and the women in my family are not morally corrupt for using contraception and I don’t believe it is ever right to talk so generally about all women in this way who use contraception.

  • invalid-0

    To those die hard catholic believers of anti contraception:

    To begin with, I don’t support abortion (unless its a result of rape or definite fetal deformity). I believe if people can’t ensure the basic needs of a baby can be met they don’t deserve or should have children. But you can’t stop people from having sex, God made us to have sexual desires and to go against it is wrong and can have terrible consequences (I’m not even going into the whole preist/nun thing). Also there are tons of STD and oh yeah, HIV/AIDS.

    So how do responsible people avoid them? by using various contraceptive methods. If dumb people did as they told and got unwanted pregnancy or STDS/HIV/AIDS then can they knock on your doorstep to make you somehow responsible and resolve their problems (by request a miracle to cure diseases and give life long financial support?)

    I think its double standard a catch 22: You can’t have contraception and you can’t have abortion if you got unwanted pregnancy.

    Did anyone noticed that our earth is already overpopulated, too many poor neglected childrens, HIV orphans…. Can you imagin what it will be like if nobody use contraception?

  • invalid-0

    Carolina seems to confuse a lot of ideas here as if the Church could change its teachings on contraception or abortion. Despite what some “liberal” theologians say, there really is no possibility of that happening.
    Danny, the fathers of the Church are quite consistent on the subject. You can find the answer here:

    Read Humanae Vitae. Everything Paul VI predicted has come true, i.e., women treated as sex objects, etc. Go back to the early proponents of contraception. They promised us that contracption would stabilize family life and every child would be a “wanted child”. Instead we have seen soaring rates of child abuse, neglect, etc. When we seek to gratify ourselves and don’t do God’s will we will pay for it and we are.

  • crowepps

    "Everything Paul VI predicted has come true, i.e., women treated as sex objects, etc. … Instead we have seen soaring rates of child abuse, neglect, etc."

    Three points:

    Women have historically been treated as sex objects and nothing about contraception could possibly have made this any worse since it was ubiquitous – see "Bathsheba"


    The current rates of child abuse, neglect, etc. cannot possibly be compared to historical rates because until quite recently neither was even against the law.  The first "child abuse" case was brought in 1874 in New York City, where in rescuing Mary Ellen Wilson reformers cause a huge scandal about "invading the sanctity of the family" because there were no laws covering children.



    In addition, the common ‘solution’ to illegitimate births and excess children was to send the infants to a ‘foundling home’ where the mortality rates reached 70% before the first birthday.


    Third, your religious objections to birth control may be compelling to you and to others who share your religious beliefs but they do not convince the majority of Catholics and they are totally irrelevant to people of other religious faiths.  In a country with freedom of religion, they therefore fail to qualify politically as an ‘argument’.  Political arguments are Constitutionally precluded from being based on ‘my religious beliefs should be imposed on everyone else’.

  • invalid-0

    Three points:

    Crowepps, you knocked it out of the park. Thank you so much for hanging around these boards and sweeping out the stupid.

  • crowepps

    Aside from the problem of so many people wanting to base our laws on Romantic Ideals about what people ‘should be like’, the repetition of failed arguments makes ‘sweeping out the stupid’ like housework – it has to be done over and over and over.


    While I have the greatest sympathy for those who have been convinced that Mankind is base and vile and human behavior needs constant outside regulation, their insistence that the correct regulation should be based in religion fails to take into account that religion FAILS as a regulator unless its precepts are voluntarily accepted by individuals.  Efforts to mandate morality by using civil laws and civil punishments to IMPOSE religious precepts always have and always will fail.