Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Not Holding My Breath

Apparently some quixotic soul is trying to pass a reproductive health bill in the Philippines, and I just spent a few minutes reading through the arguments on a Facebook group opposing the measure.

The one big thing that so many people miss is that the government is not the keeper of morality. It has practical problems and must use practical solutions, or things break. Under this umbrella there are a few sub-points:
  • The Philippines may be a "Catholic country", but not all Filipinos are Catholic. Thus, any attempt to write Catholic beliefs into law must be done with the utmost care.
  • Many modern laws may well derive from biblical teachings or law, but not all. For example, most of the Ten Commandments are not law. The first three definitely aren't, and would grossly violate the separation of Church and State. Depending on the country, adultery may be a crime or just a reason to allow divorce. The two last ones about coveting do not generally break laws. In other words, at least half of the Ten Commandments are not civil law! Catholic (and other religious) laws form a higher requirement for human behavior, but is not necessarily appropriate as civil law.
  • The government itself does not follow biblical laws. It does not stone gays to death as prescribed, for instance. It maintains a military whose sole purpose is to kill people. Some countries also have the death penalty.
Thus, it should be quite clear that while Catholic beliefs on key definitions (such as when "life" begins) form an important basis for discussion, they should not be unquestionably accepted. Just because a law doesn't force somebody to become a good Catholic doesn't mean it's a bad law.

The second big thing is letting perfection become the enemy of good. Yes, I think everybody would like a world where all pregnancies are planned and eagerly anticipated by able parents. I don't think even the staunchest defenders of women's rights enjoys hearing about an abortion. The problem is, if not contraception (or abortion), what is the alternative? This is where many "pro-life" people end their discussion and avoid looking you in the eye.

(I particularly enjoyed a certain Charles Francis Decangchon's insane litany, concluding that the woman must have been either too "promiscuous" and deserves the child, or should've turned her husband in for marital rape. The utter idiocy of this view point is actually hard to believe. In the first case, it's almost saying that becoming pregnant is punishment for "promiscuity", which totally ignores what might happen to this poor unwanted child served up as punishment. In the second case, he's suggesting a poor pregnant woman get her husband sent to jail in a country that doesn't even allow divorce. What if the husband is the sole breadwinner? How many women have actually been able to use this legal protection? These are transparently the thoughts of an out-of-touch and decidedly upper-middle-class mind, in which dogma can afford to overlook the actual problems on the ground. A real government can have no such luxury.)

Clearly, what the Philippines or any other real country needs are imperfect laws that strike a balance between the problems it solves and problems it creates, not head-in-the-sand arguments that end up doing nothing. However, only when everybody in the debate is willing to accept these two points above can there really be a discussion on the finer points.