Conscience and Contraception

Carolina Austria

In the Philippines, organizations who counter the Catholic Church's opposition to contraception run the risk of being called population-control advocates.

When the official Catholic hierarchy's views about contraception clashes with a variety of other views in the Philippines, media covers the clash as a controversy.

More often than not, local media portrays the conflict as one being between the "Catholic church" and the so-called "population control advocates."

Admittedly there are still many "population-control" advocates of the Malthusian variety out here, convinced as ever that the surest way to address the impact of burgeoning populations is for unilateral state programs that leave little room for personal decision-making and rights, ignores serious social justice issues such as inequitable distribution of wealth and instead puts a premium on permanent methods (sterilization) and other draconian measures, usually directed at the poor.

Unfortunately, even with the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994, and the infusion of rights-based frames into the discourse of "population and development," local media still lumps a variety of views which come into conflict with the Catholic position (e.g. feminists, environmentalists and family planning advocates) as the "population control other."

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Little progress seems to have been made by many in media in making the distinction between "population control" (or sometimes called population management) frames and people-centered rights frameworks.

Hogging a fair share of the local headlines in Manila's national dailies lately has been the much-publicized row (which eventually resulted in a split) between two factions of a very influential Lay Filipino Catholic organization boasting worldwide membership: "The Couples for Christ."

In 2000, CFC Founding member, Antonio Meloto led "Gawad Kalinga," the organization's social arm in conceptualizing a housing program for the poor. The original idea was simple enough: to recruit more members via the housing and livelihood assistance program.

Years later, the success story of Gawad Kalinga has been likened to the "Grameen Bank," in success. Its leader even received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2006.

While there doesn't seem to be any actual (nor profound) differences between the factions on Catholic Church teaching against "contraception," an issue about the acceptance of donations from corporations supportive of so-called "population control" programs has been hurled against the "Gawad Kalinga" proponent.

Professor of Anthropology and Columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Michael Tan shared an interesting bit of information:

"One example they've been citing is Gawad Kalinga's acceptance of money from corporations that are in favor of "population control." Although he didn't name the corporations, I think Padilla was referring to Pfizer, which is supporting Meloto's health projects. Pfizer produces the injectable contraceptive, Depo Provera."

Yet the accusation on being too "soft" in terms of pushing the "official church teaching" against contraception was also leveled against Gawad Kalinga's Meloto in the context of Meloto's alleged "pluralism," in respecting varying views and even religions. Newsbreak reports that even impoverished Muslims in Mindanao have benefited from Gawad Kalinga. Meloto's staunchest critique, Frank Padilla even expressed fears that Gawad Kalinga beneficiaries would be massively recruited by the Mormons.

As it turns out, the core issue it seems is not even Catholic church teaching on contraception per se (not even the condom conundrum) but what "good Catholics" are supposed to do about it.

Is it more Catholic to aggressively push (even require) obedience regarding this teaching (i.e. make it a pre-condition for poverty alleviation?) or to let, as Catholic teaching also provides, individuals and couples make the decision according to the dictates of their conscience? Indeed, over the years, different catholic views have been expressed over this outside of the CFC.

Another columnist noted that couples and families were turned away by overzealous CFC members who, despite the non-existence of rules imposing such requirements, wanted to screen applicants on the basis of marriage licenses and contracts.

In similar cases encountered by reproductive health advocates, the condition in many other instances was in fact not only confined to "marriage" but even included a commitment not to use contraception in exchange for the benefits of the housing program.

The irony is that such a condition, if it is truly imposed (even on such a well meaning and laudable housing and poverty alleviation project) echoes the familiar "population control" incentives propounded in the past by politicians and Malthusian economists that is, in the reverse. Neither position places any respect on individual rights and human dignity – let alone conscience.

Topics and Tags:

population control, Religion

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