MANILA, Philippines?Catholics should not be bound by the position taken by their bishops but should follow their conscience when it comes to the proposed reproductive health (RH) bill before the House of Representatives, said a group of 14 professors from Ateneo de Manila University.
The professors have come out with a position paper titled, ?A Call of Conscience: Catholics in Support of the RH Bill,? that looked at the bill through various disciplines -- the social sciences, philosophy and theology.
?After studying the provisions of House Bill No. 5043 in light of the realities of Filipino women, poor families and our youth, we, individual faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University, have come to conclude that the Philippines urgently needs a national policy on reproductive health and population development,? the professors said.
?We further believe it is possible for Catholics like ourselves to support HB 5043 in good conscience even as we recognize, with some anguish, that our view contradicts the position held by some of our fellow Catholics, including our bishops,? they said.
The professors stressed they were speaking on their own behalf and not for the Jesuit university.
HB 5043 seeks a national policy on reproductive health and family planning.
The Catholic Church in the Philippines has strongly opposed the measure for promoting the use of contraceptives and teaching sex education in schools.
The Church policy is natural family planning (NFP) based on a woman?s reproductive cycle.
The Ateneo professors said limiting Catholics to the natural family planning method ?will be a disservice if not a grave injustice to women and couples for whom NFP simply cannot work.?
?We are thinking of women who find it impossible to predict their infertile periods, or couples who see each other on an irregular basis, or women who are trapped in abusive relationships with men who demand sex anytime they want it,? they said.
They said giving women access to other ?medically safe, legal, affordable and quality? family planning methods would prevent ?unwanted, unplanned and mistimed pregnancies, which are the root cause of induced abortions.?
In the paper, the professors pointed out that ?Catholic social teachings recognize the primacy of the well-formed conscience over wooden compliance to directives from political and religious authorities.?
?We respect the consciences of our bishops when they promote natural family planning as the only moral means of contraception. In turn, we ask our bishops to respect the one in three married Filipino women who, in their ?most secret core and sanctuary? or conscience, have decided that their and their family?s interests would best be served by using modern artificial means of contraception,? they said.
Professor Marita Guevara of the Ateneo Department of Interdisciplinary Studies said no one asked them to come up with the paper.
?We started out as a discussion group, but eventually some of us broached the idea of coming out with a position paper on the RH bill, especially when the debates on this escalated in September,? she said in an interview.
The paper?s other authors and their departments were Raymond B. Aguas, Roberto Guevara and Michael Liberatore (Theology), Liane Alampay and Cristina Montiel (Psychology), Fernando Aldaba (Economics), Remmon Barbaza, Manuel Dy Jr. and Agustin Rodriguez (Philosophy), Elizabeth Eviota, Anne Marie Karaos, Liza Lim and Mary Racelis (Sociology-Anthropology).
The position paper urges the immediate passage of the RH bill to address maternal, child health and nutrition problems, especially among the poor.
?The evidence is clear: Our women lack reproductive health care, including information on and access to family planning methods of their choice,? the professors said.
?It is unconscionable that while the richest in our society are able to attain the number of children they desire and can support, the poorest are left struggling to break the chain of intergenerational poverty caused partly by large family size that impairs their capacity to feed, educate and take care of their children,? they said.
They said the inclusion of sex education in the curriculum of public schools would address the findings that Filipino youth engage in unprotected sex at increasingly younger ages.
?It is apparent that much of our youth?s risky sexual behavior stems from their lack of knowledge on sex,? they said.
Church leaders have argued that sex education in schools would encourage young people to try premarital sex.
?While it would certainly be ideal for families and parents to be their children?s most important source of information on sex and sexuality, this is hardly the case,? they said.