Church, Constitution, and the RH Bill

By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted on 10/13/2008

The debate on the reproductive health bill in Congress is by no means over. It should surprise no one that this is happening; after all, religion and the Constitution, both of which are involved in any evaluation of the bill, are very much at the heart of the life of our people.

I am not about to critique the entire bill nor am I going to say that we should not have a law which seeks to protect the health of women. What I want to do is simply to point out some areas that need further discussion.

Let me begin with the Constitution in so far as it is related to the right to life. We have in our Constitution a provision that assures protection for life. It says that the State “shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

Is this provision completely satisfied by the prohibition of abortion which the reproductive health bill reaffirms? It is true that the provision was discussed at a time when many were aware of the US Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade which liberalized abortion laws up to the sixth month of pregnancy. The prevention of the adoption of the doctrine in Roe v. Wade was certainly one of the purposes of the provision. But Commission deliberations indicate that the provision goes beyond Roe v. Wade.

Abortion is usually defined as the termination of a pregnancy by the removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus from the uterus. Pregnancy for its part is the period of reproduction during which a female carries one or more live offspring from implantation in the uterus through gestation. Pregnancy begins when a fertilized zygote implants in the female’s uterus and ends once it leaves the uterus.

The unborn’s entitlement to protection begins “from conception,” that is, from the moment of conception. The intention is to protect life from its beginning, and the assumption is that human life begins at conception and that conception takes place at fertilization of the zygote. Although the constitutional provision does not assert with certainty when human life precisely begins, it reflects the view that, in dealing with the protection of life, it is necessary to take the safer approach. For this reason the Constitution commands that protection be given from conception, that is, from the fertilization of the zygote.

This is reflected in one of the exchanges during the debate. Since the protection of the unborn was to begin from conception, Reverend Cirilo Rigos asked when the “moment of conception” was. Commissioner Bernardo Villegas, who was the principal sponsor of the provision, answered that the conception took place with fertilization since “it is when the ovum is fertilized by the sperm that there is human life.” When Commissioner Fely Aquino observed that at that point there would only be biological life, Bishop Teodoro Bacani did not contradict her but said that there would already be biological human life even if there was as yet no “person.”

From this it can be seen that the intention is to protect the “life” even before implantation in the uterus, that is, from the moment biological life begins. The constitutional intent, in other words, is to play it safe lest human life be destroyed and to impose the protection even before implantation in the uterus.

This brings us to the question whether the reproductive bill allows or even prescribes the use of birth control methods which have the effect of blocking a fertilized zygote from being implanted in the uterus or of expelling a fertilized zygote before implantation. This is a question which, while it has constitutional, religious and moral implications, must first be answered by medical science. Has this question been sufficiently explored in the course of the debates over the reproductive health bill? My impression is that it has not. And if the law is passed as proposed, the question will most certainly reach the Supreme Court.

Another important element in the debate is the freedom of religious belief. The free exercise of religion guaranteed by the Constitution means more than just the freedom to believe. It also means the freedom to act or not to act according to what one believes. And this freedom is violated when one is compelled to act against one’s belief or is prevented from acting according to one’s belief.

In our society, while people of good faith may find near unanimity on the matter of abortion, there clearly is a sharp division in the matter of contraception. The division is drawn along religious lines. The law as proposed will require people of good faith to act or not to act contrary to what they believe. Concessions must be made so that religious liberty will not be violated. The law must allow for the conscientious objector.

I would make special mention of the requirement of sex education. Sex education is a matter closely related to religious morality. Our Constitution allows the teaching of religion to children in public schools, but it requires that it be done only with the written consent of parents. A similar respect for the desire of parents should be provided for in the law. Our Constitution says: “The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.” As for sex education in private schools, any law on this should respect academic freedom which is also protected by the Constitution.

I have also scanned the penal provisions of the proposed law. My initial impression is that, if passed, they will encounter problems in implementation along lines of criminal due process.


Natural Family Planning, Contraception, & Cancer

Natural Family Planning vs. Contraception

How "The Pill" Works As An Abortifacient


Birth Control Pills Raises Breast Cancer Risk
By Pam Stephan
Breast Cancer Blog

In 2003, the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) sought to reassure women that using birth control pills would not raise their risk for breast cancer. NCI also told women that having an abortion was not a risk factor for breast cancer. Now it turns out that a study published in April 2009 by Jessica Dolle and other researchers of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center appears to show just the opposite: oral contraception (OCs) is linked with an increased risk for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) in women who are 45 years old and younger. The research paper, "Risk factors for triple-negative breast cancer in women under the age of 45 years," was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. This research paper features a table of risk factors, which includes oral contraception use, tobacco and alcohol consumption, number of births, breastfeeding, and induced abortion.

Dolle's research shows that if you started taking birth control pills before age 18, your risk for TNBC is increased by 3.7 times. If you've been using The Pill within the last one to five years, your TBNC risk is raised 4.2 times. Triple-negative breast cancer is aggressive and strikes women who are under 40, and many victims are African Americans. Survival odds for TBNC are lower than average, compared to other types of breast cancer.

As if that news were not alarming enough, a statement in this paper refers to induced abortion as a factor that is associated with an increased breast cancer risk. One of the study co-authors, Louise Brinton, spearheaded the 2003 NCI workshop about the abortion-breast cancer link (referred to as ABC). That workshop made every effort to assure women that having an induced abortion was not linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, and that research did not support an ABC link. Keep in mind that this paper discusses only one study.

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2002, I took birth control pills for about 5 years. They prevented conception, made me a little queasy, but seemed otherwise harmless. In those days, the hormones in The Pill were lower than contraceptives that were produced in the 1980's, so I thought they were safe. After all, a doctor prescribed them for me - so no health risk, right? Maybe they were wrong! As soon as my breast lump was detected on a mammogram, when I was 46 years old, I was told to stop taking The Pill. That was one year before NCI told us that The Pill would not raise my risk for breast cancer. Now, I wish I'd never taken it. Perhaps one's risk is not as simple as taking The Pill, or eating a healthy diet, or having a genetic mutation - but if my risk is lower now because of being off contraceptives and never having had an abortion, I'm glad there's something I can do. I just wish we could have as much information as possible, to reduce our risk of breast cancer.


When Does Life Begin?


When does life begin?

This question has taken on major proportions of debate and controversy, between supporters of Pro-life and groups of Pro-choice. To most, the answer is distinctly clear about when life begins. It begins at conception, when the sperm fertilizes the egg.

Dr. Landrum Shettles, sometimes called the "Father of in vitro fertilization" notes about life's beginnings: "Conception confers life and makes that life one of a kind." Continuing on his comments about the Supreme Court ruling on Roe vs. Wade he says, "To deny a truth (about when life begins) should not be made a basis for legalizing abortion."

Dr. Albert Liley, the renowned physiologist known as the "Father of Fetology" has stated, "Biologically, at no stage of development can we subscribe to the view that the unborn child is a mere appendage of the mother. Genetically, the mother and baby are separate individuals from conception."

The baby is autonomous of the mother and has been demonstrated successfully since the introduction of test tube babies. The ovum or the egg is fertilized with the sperm inside a laboratory facility. The zygote, a fertilized egg, begins to divide and grow looking like a bag of marbles even though it may be countries away from the mother.

This halts the viewpoint that the fertilized egg (or pregnancy tissue, as Planned Parenthood calls it) is an appendage of the mother. If any other part of the mother's anatomy is removed, such as an appendix, it will not continue to live. But the fertilized egg has shown its autonomy in survival outside the mother's body, and has further shown its autonomy implanted into another woman. The fertilized egg does not take on the surrogate mother's characteristics, but develops according to its own DNA make up.

Within four days of fertilization, the sex of the zygote can be determined through microscopic techniques. Soon after one week of fertilization, the zygote contains the beginning of all major body structures. Fetal circulation occurs by three weeks - complete with heart and major blood vessels coursing through its quarter-inch frame. And at five weeks, all basic body systems are developing, including the brain and nervous system enabling the fetus to feel pain.

When the zygote reaches the eighth week, it is called a fetus for the remaining of the fetal development. The fetus at twelve weeks of growth shows tooth buds, nail beds, and genitals. By thirteen to sixteen weeks, the arms and legs are complete. There is air on the head, the skeletal system shows up on x-ray film and has breathing movements. By the twentieth week, the baby has eyebrows, tiny nipples, sucks its thumb, and holds its own umbilical cord.

If the sexual gender of a fertilized egg can be determined within four days of conception, then this pregnancy tissue is more than an appendage of the mother. It is the beginning of a life.

Read also this resource material from Princeton University: Life Begins At Fertilization

"Before I formed you in the belly I knew you, and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you." (Jeremiah 1:5)

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope in your latter end. You shall call on me, and you shall go and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

"I will give thanks to you O Lord, For I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. My soul knows that very well." (Psalms 139:14)


"Reproductive Health includes access to abortion" -- Hillary Clinton


How can we be sure that our own country's proposed RH Bill will someday not lead to the granting of access to abortion? Mr. President, is this part of the deal of the $343M grant the United States government has granted the Philippines during your first foreign mission with the world leaders at the United Nations?

See also: The Hijacked U.N. General Assembly Agenda


Japan suffers nurse shortage


More than 15,000 nurses are needed in Japan, as the country faces a growing aging population.

In addition, the turnover among Japanese nurses in hospitals is high, as working conditions are very demanding that even death from overwork has been reported.

Hiring foreigners has been a challenge for the country as most of them failed to pass the standard Japanese nursing examination.

Is it possible to somehow incorporate into our country's nursing curriculum what the Japanese government required of the foreign nurses who wish to work in their country? Or perhaps some schools would open special courses that teach nursing standards required by the Japanese government or any other target country?

Like Singapore, because of Japan's rapidly declining manual workforce population, maybe in less than 30 to 50 years, whether they like it or not, Japan will be needing more and more foreign workers to keep their country running and globally competitive. In the field of health care, compared with other countries in the region, our country has the better edge to fill the lack.