it’s easy to get lost in the mudslinging that goes into debates about any bill that touches on reproductive health and its contingent issues (contraceptive use, family planning) in this country. what with the notions of morality and rights, the Church and the State, religion versus the law, that get thrown in for good measure. talaga naman, the weak at heart would rather not say anything. baka nga namang matawag ka pang imoral (which, given the Church’s definition isn’t a bad thing at all), o demonyo.
minsan, mas madaling pagtawanan, the things that are revealed about our institutions in the midst of issues like this. one can’t help but laugh, for example, at the outmoded ways in which the Church views its devotees as: (a) living sexless lives or (b) responsible, compassionate and intelligent adults, who aren’t wont to give in to sexual needs. anyone who does research on this issue will also be brought to sites like this one, where Pro-Life people insist on keeping families smaller by what they call the “mucus method” – where women will keep track of their vaginal discharge, (maybe even touching it and smelling it for good measure, you can never be sure after all), so that they know when they can have sex (which is of course dependent on whether or not they want to have children).
recently though, the laughter has been a pained one. the kind that’s premised on a fear of the Church and its ability to insist on things political using their notion of morality. particularly given the ways in which GMA has tried her best to keep this institution happy – even if only through her silences and wry smiles. it’s even harder to be hopeful when all we hear from her comes from Gov. Joey Salceda, who has the gall to reduce the issue and the government’s stand to this: “There’s very little pressure for drastic change in the policy, which the President says she wants to be consistent,” he said. He added partly in jest, “Apparently, there are no people going out on the streets calling for less sex because it is sinfully delightful.” what a pointless thing to say.
along with the silence, or stupid soundbites, from GMA’s camp, there’s the Church and its believers, coming out in droves, talking about immorality and death, and all the possible evils that a reproductive health bill will bring on. where we talk about population control, they’ll say but the population’s fine, what we need are economic policies to take care of our admittedly growing number. where we talk about impoverished families with too many children, they say but i have eight children, and i’m perfectly happy! where we talk about parents’ right to choose how many children to have, when to stop having children, and how to keep from having children; they’ll point a finger and scream: a culture of sin, a culture of evil! anti-life advocates!
but this is not, cannot simply be, a debate that’s about pro-life versus pro-choice. that debate, to begin with, is premised on an abortion law, not a reproductive health bill. a bill, that in its current version continues to insist that abortion is illegal in this country. when the Church and its cohorts say otherwise, they are lying.
what this bill does call for is medical attention for the half a million women who go through illegal abortions every year, in some godforsaken dirty room in the bowels of our urban spaces. what it does insist on, is the right of every woman to choose for herselfwhat kind of method to use, if she wants to have less children, or none at all, given the sexual relationship she’s embroiled in, within or outside of marriage.
what the Consolidated Reproductive Health Bill knows is that while it would be great to imagine that all Pinoy husbands will not insist on sex when their wives don’t want it, or when their wives say it’s a “bad time” (because you know, my mucus isn’t right); while it’s fantastic and ideal to imagine that the youth aren’t sexually active too early for their age; while it would be great if all single Pinoy adults were sexually responsible; in reality, in truth, these ideals aren’t what we’re working with.
it only takes a more intelligent assessment of the ideologies that surround relationships and marriage in this country to see that this can’t simply be about couples deciding privately how they can grow their families. here, in the land of poverty and miseducation, marriage and patriarchy, couples living in shanties and unable to afford basic services, have 8, 9, 10, 11! children; women die at childbirth, children die before they turn one, more before they turn five; and the women who do want and need to control their pregnancies can’t afford the choices available.
what this highlights, and which discussions on pro-(culture-of-)life forget, is that ultimately, a reproductive health bill is about women and their right to their bodies.
and it is when we speak of women that we must acknowledge their diversity: not all women want children, or want many of them, and some women just enjoy having a husband/lover and the sexual relationship that allows; not all women want to focus on their mucus or the calendar, and risk getting pregnant given the uncertainty of these methods; a majority of women in this country are poor, uneducated or miseducated about their rights and the roles within the family, and don’t know any better than to accede to their husband’s sexual whims and demands; and while their lives seem to be made of the same cloth as your daily soap opera, these women’s lives are real and painfully true.
even when it’s not you or me, na nakakapit na sa patalim, stuck between a rock and a hard place, we must be able to imagine that woman. she who’s more than willing to batter the body and risk one’s life, instead of bringing out another unfed, malnourished baby into the world, and make life more difficult than it already is.
to forget that this is about women’s choices, their bodies and their lives, is to gloss over the fact that women – as much as the children- are victims of the current state of things, too. to forget the woman who is central to the reproductive health bill, is to imagine that we are all the same, that our bodies aren’t our own, that the Church can decide on our bodies for us.
anti-reproductive-health-bill advocates conveniently forget that some women have the luxury of choice and the capacity to spend on these choices. others can only imagine their choice to be among stealing formula milk for another newborn, throwing their pregnant selves down a flight of stairs, or leaving their newborns in a trashcan somewhere in the metro. at least give these women the choice to keep from getting pregnant to begin with. then we can truly say that we promote a culture of life. that we respect life – the child’s, the man’s and the woman’s. regardless of whether they’re rich or poor.