Family planning as a human right: Way to go PNoy!

By Harry Roque

Posted at Oct 09 2010 07:57 PM | Updated as of Oct 10 2010 03:57 AM

President Aquino’s pronouncement in the United States that he would have family planning devices available to those who cannot otherwise afford them ushered in a storm probably surpassing the intensity of Ondoy that hit us last year.

On the one hand is the Catholic Church that has traditionally taken the view that artificial contraception is contrary to the teachings of the bible. It teaches its flock thus that spouses who want to plan the size of their families are limited either to natural family planning called the “rhythm method,” which, unfortunately, has largely proven to be ineffective and rather messy; or to abstinence, which, to many Filipinos, is like telling the sun not to rise.

On the other hand are advocates of the pending reproductive health bill, which mandates that government, both national and local, should provide family planning devices for free so that those who badly need to plan the size of their families can have access to them.

Thus far, the debate has taken religious undertones, with the church fulfilling its role as the guardian of morality, while RH-bill supporters, in turn, highlight the separation between church and state.

And yes, while both the church and the RH supporters differ in the methods by which spouses should plan the size of their families, both sides to the debate nonetheless somehow acknowledge, save perhaps for the very conservatives in the Church, that uncontrolled population growth will in fact lead to economic debacle given very limited resources available to an ever-growing population.

Thus far though, the debate has ignored the human rights dimension of family planning.

This perspective finds its origin in a decision rendered by the United States Supreme Court in the famous case of Griswold v. Connecticut. While this is a foreign judgment and is, at most, persuasive in our jurisdiction, our own Supreme Court has adopted its ratio decidendi as part of our very own jurisprudence.

Griswold involved the criminal prosecution of a doctor and a couple who were accused of violating a Connecticut statute that made it illegal for doctors to prescribed artificial family planning devices to couples. Here, the petitioners were all convicted of violating the statute, which prompted all of them to appeal their conviction by challenging the constitutionality of the criminal statute.

While the petitioners could have questioned the constitutionality of the statute for violating the separation between church and state, and without doubt, the prohibition was largely influenced by the teachings of both the early Calvinist and the Roman Catholic Church, the petitioners instead focused on what they said was a right implied in the due process clause of the US Bill of Rights.

We have adopted en toto the due process clause in our own Constitution. While there was literally no provision in the Bill of Rights that recognized the right to “privacy,” petitioners nonetheless argued that there are decisions that only spouses can make from themselves and which decisions should not be hampered either by the church or the state.

Thus includes the right to determine the size of one’s family or the right to choose the number of children that couples would want. According to the petitioners, this is a right which is a “penumbra” or arising from the right to due process that protects both life and liberty against arbitrariness.

In other words, while petitioners could have subjected their criminal conviction to the exact same debate that we are again having, they opted to altogether to skirt the debate by arguing that as a matter of human right, spouses have the absolute right to determine the number of siblings free from any interference from an anybody or any institution, full stop.

The arguments persuaded the US Supreme Court and hence, the rise of the right to “privacy.” This right is separate and distinct form the right to privacy in one’s communication and correspondence that is separately protected by the bill of rights.

The Griswold type of privacy is the right to literally be “left alone” to make very personal decisions that only individuals can make for themselves. While it was originally applied in declaring the Connecticut statute imposing criminal sanctions to doctors and patients who will resort to artificial birth control methods as being unconstitutional, it has since also been made to apply in equally personal decision’s such as whom to spend the rest of one’s life with, and even in declaring criminal statutes prohibiting same-sex sexual encounters as being unconstitutional.

My point is this: the debate on reproductive heath, if conducted as one involving morality and separation between church and state, would be an endless and unproductive debate. This is why despite the fact that we are literally suffering from an unsustainable population growth, the debate continues.

Perhaps, both the church and state, and their respective supporters, should cease to view this issue purely in terns of morality, which, in the end, is subjective.

Instead, they should focus on the right of individuals to make very personal decisions for themselves. In this manner, the debate should cease as in lieu thereof, both church and state should defer to decisions to be made by people for themselves.

Ultimately, this would mean empowering the people since it gives them the right to decide freely on matters that they should be the sole judges of.

Kudos and congratulations are in order for P-Noy for remaining steadfast on this issue. Previous controversies notwithstanding, his handling of this most sensitive issue has proven that he can rise up to the challenge and actually rule and lead this very troubled land of ours. Way to go, P-Noy!