Fr. Bernas: Contraceptive devices are not 'anti-life'

Fr. Bernas: Contraceptive devices are not 'anti-life'
09/26/2011 | 01:50 PM

Influential Jesuit priest and constitutional lawyer Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ said that family planning as proposed in the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill is not necessarily "anti-life", putting him at odds with conservative Catholics who oppose the bill.

In a column published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Monday, Bernas sought to clarify what being "anti-life" precisely means, for the term has been used "in the most pejorative way" in current RH bill debates.

"It is used in the sense of being against existing life. Murder, in other words," he said.

However, he said that in the currently toxic debate on contraceptives, "anti-life" could be construed to include people who do not want to add more human life to an already crowded population. He cited for example a married couple who decide to abstain from acts that bring about life, and a man who chooses a celibate life because he feels he can accomplish things without the burden of raising children.

"I would not categorize such a person as being anti-life," Bernas said. "People like him love life so much that they take it upon themselves to contribute in some other ways to the improvement of the quality of life of those who are already born."

His column was shared widely on social media, and was met mostly with approval by supporters of the RH bill.

Bernas, known for his liberal stance on the RH bill, has called the Catholic Church hierarchy "irresponsible" in the past for saying that those who support the RH bill are committing a sin. "I have never held that the RH bill is perfect. But if we have to have an RH law, I intend to contribute to its improvement as much as I can," he has said.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are separately deliberating on the RH bill.

'Before fertilization, there is no life'

He also said it is important to know where life actually begins, as it will finally put to rest the debate on whether artificial contraceptives are abortifacients or not. "Before life begins is beyond the reach of anti-life action," he said.

Bernas, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, said the 1987 Constitution recognizes that life begins "from conception," that is, upon fertilization.

"Before fertilization, there is no life," he said. "This is also the view of the Philippine Medical Society, and this is the view of John Paul II."

"What this means is... the use of contraceptive devices that only prevent fertilization is not anti-life in the sense of being an act of murder," he added. "Abortion, in the sense of expulsion of the fertilized ovum at any time after fertilization is anti-life, and is an act of murder."

He also said that calling contraception devices as abortive devices is "loose talk," as these devices were not scientifically identified by the government's Food and Drug Administration as abortifacient drugs.

CBCP: Contraceptive devices destroy already existing life

However, Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, maintains that the RH bill is "anti-life" and artificial contraceptives are abortifacients.

In a text message to GMA News Online, Castro said most pills and contraceptive devices prevent the implantation of the fertilized ovum, which in effect destroys an already existing life.

The disagreement between Bernas and the CBCP shows that even among priests there is much room for argument on one of the great social debates of our time. Bernas' stature challenges the moral ground of conservatives who oppose the RH bill using church doctrine.

Among those who posted a link to Bernas' column on Facebook was Fr. Eliseo Mercado, a respected Catholic priest in Cotabato City, who commented, "I share the same view as Fr. Bernas..."

Fr. Castro of the CBCP argued that the CBCP's stand on the RH bill does not alienate other religions' views on the controversial measure.

"On the contrary, because the RH bill, when it becomes a law, imposes artificial contraception and the contraceptive mentality on all - Catholics and non-Catholics alike - we are against its legislation," he said. "No need to legislate, contraceptives are already available and legal in the country. Why legislate?"

Meanwhile, Bernas said in his column that as a priest of the Catholic Church, he is not approving of artificial contraception, and he accepts the teachings of the Catholic Church, which only promotes natural forms of contraception.

However, he stressed that not all citizens of the Philippines are Catholics, and many do not consider artificial contraception anti-life or immoral.

"The teaching of my Church is that I must respect the belief of other religions even if I do not agree with them. That is how Catholics and non-Catholics can live together in harmony," he said. — RSJ/HS, GMA News

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