Listening to “Filipino Voices” in the FOCA Debate

Carolina Austria

While it is not surprising that many Filipino-Americans have conservative views about women's right to choose, it is not fair or accurate to depict all Filipino-Americans as rabidly anti-choice.

"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.

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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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