Condemning Contraceptive Condoms

Carolina Austria

Despite the Philippine President's lack of support for universal access to contraceptives, an official of the Department of Health recently criticized the Roman Catholic Church's position against condom use.

Despite the Philippine President’s
lack of support for universal access to contraceptives and her stated
opposition to reproductive health policy, an official of the
Department of Health (DOH) recently criticized the Roman Catholic Church’s
condom use.

According to Undersecretary
Mario Villaverde, the opposition against condom use by the Catholic
Church has had detrimental effects on the government campaign to prevent
the spread of HIV AIDS. Alleging that the use of condoms in HIV/AIDS
prevention was an entirely different issue from its use as contraception,
Villaverde stressed that the Department of Health supports natural family
planning, including abstinence.

While he did not really clarify
what he meant by the difference of condom use as a contraceptive and
its uses in HIV/AIDS prevention, it is tempting to infer a lot of things
from Villaverde’s statement. Indeed, the use of condoms to prevent
the spread of sexually transmitted diseases including  HIV/AIDS is not exclusive to heterosexual intercourse. In which case, he was on one level, correct to point out a
difference. On the other hand, what is more probable is confusion within
the DOH, of what their actual position vìs a vìs the condom is. In
this context, however, it is nothing new.

In July, even the local Catholic
Bishops’ Conference indicated a qualified position
on condom use
. Edwin Corros, Executive
Secretary of CBCP’s Episcopal Commission for Pastoral Care for Migrants
and Itinerant People

announced that the use of the condom "as a last resort" by married
couples, to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Corros claimed that
the Church’s position is not to endorse condom use but only to prevent
deaths. He added that married couples ought to practice abstinence and

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On the other hand, the CBCP
is still aggressively blocking the passage of pending legislation on
reproductive health in which both family planning and HIV/AIDS are addressed. Responding to Villaverde’s
and contradicting the qualified position issued by its own Episcopal
Commission, Archbishop Aniceto insisted that: "It is the duty of the
DOH never to propose for general public use any prophylactic that could
increase the incidence of the disease it is supposed to prevent" and
that the "idea of safe sex (by using condoms) lulls women and men
into complacency."

The premise behind this of
course is that "morally upright" lives can only be led through "chastity"
that includes abstinence from sex outside of marriage, a part of Catholic
teaching which even members of the Roman Catholic clergy find difficult
to observe. Ethically, it would, however, be difficult to dismiss
condom use as self-serving since the protection condoms offer, depending
on the context, could be for one’s partner too.

Reported HIV/AIDS cases in
the Philippines remains relatively low compared with its closest neighbours
in the Southeast Asian region at a total of 3,061 since 1984 or less
than one percent of the population. The World Health Organization, however
has warned that the actual number of unreported cases could be higher
and the situation in the Philippine HIV AIDs situation has been described
as "hidden and growing" since 2003. In 2007, the DOH noted an increase
of 29 new cases per month from an average of 20 in the past years.

Thirty-five percent
of new cases come from the ranks of
returning overseas Filipino workers who usually get tested prior to
renewing their permits to work overseas
Noting cases where returning HIV positive overseas workers infected
their wives, Senator Pia Cayetano called the DOH’s attention to the
possibility and dangers of mother to child transmission. Cayetano added
that information on condom use will give the government’s information
campaign on HIV AIDs prevention a big boost.

But the mere mention of condoms
in HIV/AIDs prevention modules and sexuality education materials by
the Department of Education is still controversial in this part of the
world when the Catholic hierarchy proclaims its opposition. In fact,
even the Philippine AIDS Control and Prevention Act of 1998 contains
a curious provision that reflects this apprehension vìs a vìs the
condom. While the law mandates the Department of Education (DepEd) to
provide HIV/AIDS prevention education, it also provides that the modules
on HIV AIDS prevention and control "shall not be used as an excuse
to propagate birth control or the sale or distribution of birth control
devices." Advocates who pushed for the policy in the late nineties
attest to the contested provision of the law as the final "compromise"
to calm the Catholic opposition.

Indeed, the ideal condom given
the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s requirements seems to be the stuff
of science fiction imagination. If such a condom existed, it would only
prevent HIV transmission but not necessarily function as contraception,
and would only work for heterosexual sex between married couples. If
such a condom existed, would the Roman Catholic Church endorse its use?
Probably but consider the irony: in same sex relations, the regular
condom already gives the same amount of protection from HIV/AIDS but
does not function as a contraceptive.

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