Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Reproductive rights and the LGBT community

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae (Latin Of Human Life), an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI in 1968 which explicitly directs the Catholic faithful to rely only on the rhythm method to space and control births in family planning and eschew any artificial means of contraception. A prayer rally on July 25, 2008 was, in fact, organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to commemorate the encyclical, which also condemns abortion, at the Parade Ground of the University of Santo Tomas (UST).

This document is significant because it has figured prominently in the very public feud recently between the CBCP and some members of Philippine Congress over provisions of proposed House Bill (HB) 812 or the Reproductive Health Care Act. The CBCP are against everything about the bill. During media engagements, for example, CBCP members point to the bill’s proposal to make available starting Grade 5 sexuality and reproductive health education in public schools. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that but you can guess that the Church is claiming that it will promote promiscuity. They are also uncomfortable about barangay (local government unit) health centers giving out free contraceptives which the bill ensures if ever it gets passed. A CBCP spokesperson argues that our local government units’ clinics cannot even provide the most basic of medicines, what more contraceptives. These are just a few of the charges being leveled against HB 812. What is more alarming is the framework the Church is using to campaign against it. It’s called Stop D.E.A.T.H. D.E.A.T.H. here stands for Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Total Reproductive Health/Contraception and Homosexuality.

Defenders of the bill are countering that the CBCP is spreading an outright lie. The bill does not allow abortion. I just read it and in fact it contains a provision that re-affirms the illegality and criminality of abortion in this country. The bill, although biased towards heterosexual women, is surprisingly well rounded as it uses a comprehensive framework for reproductive health programs. It contains elements that uphold the principles of informed choice, responsible parenthood, respect for life and birth spacing. Church pundits of course know very well that the only way to kill this bill is to discredit it via baseless propaganda.

How does the reproductive health debate affect LGBT people? Simple. We are as much sexual and gendered beings as we are reproductive ones. Our right to express our sexual orientations and gender identities is tied up with our right to bear offspring. In rights parlance they are called sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR). Theoretically they should be covered by the Constitutional provisions on liberty, equality and privacy. In reality though, we know the flak that LGBT people get when they start exercising their rights over their own bodies. So we hear of lesbians being raped to be cured of their lesbianism, of transgender people being disallowed to be parents to their own children because they are simply not good role models, of gay men being barred from donating sperm, etc. The list goes on and on.

HB 812, as expected, is silent on the reproductive needs, issues and concerns of LGBT people but I am hopeful that somehow it will cover us. It is clear though that we, as a community, should support it. The truth is that choice has already been made for us by the Church by its mere mention of abortion and homosexuality in the same breath. Even if we do not see ourselves as reproductive beings, we have to see this bill through for those among us who will and want to be parents and raise families in the future. At the very least, I am confident that this bill will protect every Filipino’s right to competent reproductive health care and reproductive self-determination. Who doesn’t want that?

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