The Moral Option of Reproductive Rights

Carolina Austria

Candidates attended a forum on reproductive health issues in the Philippines, despite warnings from the Catholic Church against the "evils" of a reproductive health agenda.

Despite the barrage of warnings read from the pulpit at Sunday mass and "commandments" addressed to the Catholic faithful against candidates with reproductive health agendas, candidates (most of them Catholics) still managed to attend a forum sponsored by the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN) on May 4 at the University of the Philippines.

While actual Partylist candidates from Abanse Pinay, Agham and Aksa actually attended the forum in person, senatorial candidates Panfilo Lacson, Sonia Roco and Vic Magsaysay as well as the Partylist Akbayan, only sent representatives to read prepared speeches.

Honestly, while it was mildly entertaining this late in the elections to watch and hear the hapless representatives of the senatorial candidates dance around the issue of reproductive health, it was gratifying to hear from non-traditional politicians who proved most articulate and prepared on the issues of healthcare, population and reproductive rights. And who else could they have been but the Partylist representatives?

The Philippine Partylist system was adopted beginning 1995 upon the enactment of a law which put into practice the concept of sector representation elected through proportional representation, introduced in the 1987 Constitution, following the famed 1986 EDSA bloodless revolution.

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Patylists, which garner at least two percent of the votes cast for all the listed partylists for an election are entitled to at least one seat in Congress. Widely successful partylists have held as many as three seats since 1998. Since 2004 however, there have been accusations leveled against traditional political parties and politicians who have reportedly been setting up "fake" partylists. These accusations have not been easy to shake given the current Commission on Elections' waning credibility.

Akbayan, a widely popular Partylist with a socialist platform is seeking its fourth term in Congress. Akbayan has a comprehensive political agenda, which pinpoints the basic problems of healthcare in the country rooted in a problematic budget, largely due to debt servicing. They specifically have committed to work for healthcare spending, raising it from the current three to five percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Aksa, a party led by Elizabeth Angsioco (a long time feminist activist) emphasizes the urgency of the issue of "maternal mortality," citing the alarming rate of maternal death in the country as tantamount to the mass murder of Filipino women.

Agham, a newcomer partylist led by the former President of the University of the Philippines, Dr. Emil Javier, spoke of wishing to "raise the IQ" of Congress, even just a little. (And really while we laughed with him, I'm sure everyone realized it was not really a joke.) With a largely scientific and academic community backing, Agham is running on a platform to introduce new ways of doing policy by emphasizing evidence and researched based policy-making.

On the other hand, Abanse Pinay candidate, Kalayaan Pulido was most upfront about Abanse's feminist and women's rights agenda and how specifically, this puts the party on a collision course with the current administration an the President herself who has vowed to veto any reproductive health measure.

But with the Philippine mid-term election just around the corner, candidates, specifically Partylist representatives who attended the forum, couldn't help but speak about their fear of an impending "evil," and it was most assuredly not the "evil" warned against by the conservative sectors of the Catholic hierarchy.

No, the "evil" in question this coming election isn't divorce, reproductive rights or even homosexuality, making their way into political agendas, contrary to the claims of conservative bishops, but rather the imminent evil of cheating at the polls.

Even a recent survey confirms that over forty percent of Filipino voters suspect that there will be cheating in the 2007 polls and that the one who is going to be doing it is the incumbent administration.

This is not surprising given that the 2004 Presidential elections was marred by electoral fraud, the "Hello Garci" scandal which blew wide open in media, following the leakage of recorded telephone conversations between then incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and then COMELEC official, Virgilio Garcellano at the height of counting the 2004 polls.

Actual tracks of the incriminating conversations became widely available through the internet and in the age of "burn and share," became even more accessible to the public, with the particular portion of the President's voice saying "Hello Garci," even becoming popularly downloaded ring tones.

Yet with the majority of Congress behind her, Arroyo foiled two impeachment attempts by the fragmented opposition and even delivered a purported "apology" on public television (without legally admitting culpability) at the impropriety of her acts, leaving what many pundits consider a very "jaded" citizenry at the point of giving up on any hope of clean elections.

The irony of course is that even the official Catholic church, which in the Philippines boasts of a long tradition overlapping with progressive social movements in safeguarding democratic processes and institutions, recognizes that the very same "evil." Indeed, in different parts of the country, a cleric (and former one) have joined the electoral fray, vowing to make changes in politics. One has even presented himself a fourth alternative to the two separate administration-backed gubernatorial candidates and the opposition in the President's home province. Meanwhile Garcellano is running for Congress under the President's party.

But notably, no other President has ever most single-handedly ensured the adoption of policies so in line with Catholic church teaching on sexual morality as Gloria Macpagal Arroyo. This makes her an invaluable ally to the Catholic hierarchy.

At this point, it is obvious that the official Catholic church does not quite have a monopoly on advising Filipino voters (or for that matter, Catholic Filipino voters) about the moral option and that is putting it very politely.

Perhaps it would be better (for a change) to take heed from feminists and human rights advocates. Atty. Claire Luczon, Executive Director of Womenlead Foundation and RHAN Legal Committee Chairperson warned against "demonizing" candidates supportive of divorce, modern contraceptives, sex education and gay rights, pointing out that "those who demonize such candidates dehumanize the people whose lives will be greatly improved by such advocacies."

We do not need elected officials who will use their position and power to impose their own religious beliefs upon others, even upon those who are not of the same religion or belief. A government leader serves Catholics and non-Catholics alike and has no right to violate the rights and freedoms of others in the guise of religion and belief. To do so would be undemocratic, unjust and oppressive.

Caption: The Heart of the Matter: Abanse Pinay candidate Kalayaan Pulido shares how easily Filipino voters relate to issues of reproductive health and family planning.

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Sen. Tim Kaine Focuses on Reproductive Rights Amid Clinton’s Looming Decision on Vice President

Ally Boguhn

Last week, the senator and former Virginia governor argued in favor of giving Planned Parenthood access to funding in order to fight Zika. "The uniform focus for members of Congress should be, 'Let's solve the problem,'" Kaine reportedly said at a meeting in Richmond, according to Roll Call.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) appears to be rebranding himself as a more staunch pro-choice advocate after news that the senator was one of at least three potential candidates being vetted by presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign to join her presidential ticket.

Last week, the senator and former Virginia governor argued in favor of giving Planned Parenthood access to funding in order to fight the Zika virus. “The uniform focus for members of Congress should be, ‘Let’s solve the problem,'” Kaine reportedly said at a meeting in Richmond, according to Roll Call. “That is [the] challenge right now between the Senate and House.”

Kaine went on to add that “Planned Parenthood is a primary health provider. This is really at the core of dealing with the population that has been most at risk of Zika,” he continued.

As Laura Bassett and Ryan Grim reported for the Huffington Post Tuesday, “now that Clinton … is vetting him for vice president, Kaine needs to bring his record more in line with hers” when it comes to reproductive rights. While on the campaign trail this election cycle, Clinton has repeatedly spoken out against restrictions on abortion access and funding—though she has stated that she still supports some restrictions, such as a ban on later abortions, as long as they have exceptions.

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In what is seemingly an effort to address the issue, as Bassett and Grim suggested, Kaine signed on last week as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services. As previously reported by Rewire, the measure would effectively stop “TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion provider) laws, forced ultrasounds, waiting periods, or restrictions on medication abortion.” TRAP laws have led to unprecedented barriers in access to abortion care.

Just one day before endorsing the legislation, Kaine issued a statement explicitly expressing his support for abortion rights after the Supreme Court struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law HB 2.

“I applaud the Supreme Court for seeing the Texas law for what it is—an attempt to effectively ban abortion and undermine a woman’s right to make her own health care choices,” said Kaine in the press release. “This ruling is a major win for women and families across the country, as well as the fight to expand reproductive freedom for all.”

The Virginia senator went on to use the opportunity to frame himself as a defender of those rights during his tenure as governor of his state. “The Texas law is quite similar to arbitrary and unnecessary rules that were imposed on Virginia women after I left office as Governor,” said Kaine. “I’m proud that we were able to successfully fight off such ‘TRAP’ regulations during my time in state office. I have always believed these sort of rules are an unwarranted effort to deprive women of their constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.”

Kaine also spoke out during his run for the Senate in 2012 when then-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed a law requiring those who seek abortions to undergo an ultrasound prior to receiving care, calling the law “bad for Virginia’s image, bad for Virginia’s businesses and bad for Virginia’s women.”

Kaine’s record on abortion has of late been a hot topic among those speculating he could be a contender for vice president on the Clinton ticket. While Kaine’s website says that he “support[s] the right of women to make their own health and reproductive decisions” and that he opposes efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the senator recently spoke out about his personal opposition to abortion.

When host Chuck Todd asked Kaine during a recent interview on NBC’s Meet the Press about Kaine previously being “classified as a pro-life Democrat” while lieutenant governor of Virginia, Kaine described himself as a “traditional Catholic” who is “opposed to abortion.”

Kaine went on to affirm that he nonetheless still believed that the government should not intrude on the matter. “I deeply believe, and not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm,” Kaine continued. “They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As the Hill noted in a profile on Kaine’s abortion stance, as a senator Kaine has “a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood’s scorecard, and has consistently voted against measures like defunding Planned Parenthood and a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.”

While running for governor of Virginia in 2005, however, Kaine promised that if elected he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

After taking office, Kaine supported some existing restrictions on abortion, such as Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law, which in 2008 he claimed gave “women information about a whole series of things, the health consequences, et cetera, and information about adoption.” In truth, the information such laws mandate giving out is often “irrelevant or misleading,” according to the the Guttmacher Institute.

In 2009 he also signed a measure that allowed the state to create “Choose Life” license plates and give a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network, though such organizations routinely lie to women to persuade them not to have an abortion.

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Clinton in Friday Speech: ‘Fight Back Against the Erosion of Reproductive Rights’

Ally Boguhn

Just after the former secretary of state ended her speech, the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump took the stage at another event and struck a different tone.

Hillary Clinton defended reproductive rights in a Friday speech, following the news that the former secretary of state had become the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee. Soon after Clinton’s comments, Donald Trump took the stage at a different event and vowed to protect “the sanctity and dignity of life.” 

In her speech, Clinton detailed her support of access to safe and affordable abortion and contraceptive care.

“It’s been a big week, and there’s nowhere I’d rather end it,” Clinton told the crowd while speaking at an event for Planned Parenthood Action Fund in Washington, D.C. Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of Planned Parenthood, endorsed Clinton in January, offering the Democratic candidate “its first endorsement in a presidential primary in the nonprofit’s 100-year existence,” according to the New York Times.

“Today, I want to start by saying something you don’t hear often enough: Thank you,” she said, offering her gratitude to the organization for caring for its patients “no matter their race, sexual orientation, or immigration status.”

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Clinton continued: “Thank you for being there for every woman, in every state, who has to miss work, drive hundreds of miles sometimes, endure cruel medically unnecessary waiting periods, walk past angry protesters to exercise her constitutional right to safe and legal abortion. I’ve been proud to stand with Planned Parenthood for a long time, and as president I will always have your back.”

Clinton then pivoted to discussing presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

“When Donald Trump says, ‘Let’s make America great again,’ that is code for ‘Let’s take America backward,’” she said. “Back to a time when opportunity and dignity were reserved for some, not all. Back to the days when abortion was illegal, women had far fewer options, and life for too many women and girls was limited. Well, Donald, those days are over.”

Citing the upcoming Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt as proof of the importance of nominating a new justice to the Court’s vacant seat, Clinton called on Congress to “give Judge [Merrick] Garland the hearing he deserves.”

Clinton went on to outline her vision for reproductive rights in the country should she be elected, noting: “If right-wing politicians actually cared as much about protecting women’s health as much as they say they do, they’d join me in calling for more federal funding for Planned Parenthood.”

Calling to “fight back against the erosion of reproductive rights at the federal, state, and local levels,” Clinton pushed for a host of related priorities, such as ensuring clinic patients and staff can safely access clinics; investing in long-lasting reversible contraception; acting to combat the Zika virus; and repealing the Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal funding for abortion care.

Just after Clinton ended her speech, Trump addressed the Road to Majority conference, hosted by the Faith & Freedom Coalition and Concerned Women for America, and struck a very different tone. “Here are the goals … and I wanted it to come from me, from my heart. We want to uphold the sanctity and dignity of life,” Trump told the crowd.

The Republican went on to reiterate his promise to nominate only “pro-life” justices to the Supreme Court should he be elected, before turning to attack Clinton. “She will appoint radical judges who will legislate from the bench, overriding Congress, and the will of the people will mean nothing,” said Trump before claiming Clinton “will push for federal funding of abortion on demand until the moment of birth.”

Though Clinton has championed reproductive rights during her presidential campaign, she told Fox News in March that she would be “in favor of a late-pregnancy regulation that would have exceptions for the life and health of the mother.”