Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Noynoy and the RH bill

I am terribly disappointed that Noynoy, my promising presidential candidate of choice, turns out to be an active supporter of the RH bill.
Church leaders put pressure on Aquino

Cebu archbishop 'dismayed' with Noynoy

Noynoy anti-life, group claims
My good friend C.D. now poses the question:

"Do we blacklist the only candidate who offers a ray of hope just because he supports the RH Bill?"

The question might be rephrased this way:

Is it morally permissible, considering proportionately good reasons, to vote for a candidate who actively supports the RH bill?

First of all, the RH bill (I have read it in its entirety) contains morally objectionable items from the Catholic Church's point of view. Among these, the active promotion of contraceptive use, conscience violation clauses, and mandatory sex education stand out. To be sure, not ALL items in the RH bill are objectionable. For example, the provisions on maternal health and child care may be considered as positive clauses. However, the bill's sponsors stand pat and do not have any intention of weeding out those objectionable items. Therefore, the current RH bill being pushed in Congress, in its present form, is unacceptable.

To actively support the RH bill is tantamount to going against core Catholic teaching. Noynoy is on record as not only supporting the bill but of actually standing as one of its sponsors early on. Thus, to vote for Noynoy, knowing that he supports a bill that goes against Catholic teaching, could be considered equivalent to indirect complicity in the approval of the RH bill. Yet since politics cannot be reduced to single-issue factors, an argument might be proposed that voting for Noynoy would bring about a proportionately intended good that overcomes foreseen evil. Assuming then that there are no other likely candidates that fit the bill of the perfect ideal, is the "proportionately intended good" enough justification to vote for Noynoy?

We must understand that the justification of "proportionate good" cannot be applied whenever non-negotiables are involved. From the Catholic perspective, these non-negotiables are: the protection of life in all its stages; recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family; and the protection of the right of parents to educate their children. In the public sphere these non-negotiables translate to hot-button issues such as abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), cloning, gay-marriage, and the parents' rights. Note that these issues are *directly* against the non-negotiables. Here is where it gets tricky. While the RH bill does not explicitly promote abortion, it promotes the full range of contraceptives (including IUD's, pills, injectibles) that are considered as "chemical abortion" or "abortifacients" by the Church. The main contention of RH bill opponents is that such devices prevent the implantation of the fertilized egg (life, in other words) in the womb. I agree. This means that by promoting these types of contraceptives, the RH bill might be considered in violation of the the first non-negotiable: the protection of life in all its stages. The RH bill proponents sidetrack the issue of contraceptives being abortifacients, and instead refer to them as "legal, safe", "essential medicines". So, it is not only a moral debate, but a medical and scientific one as well. Separately, the mandatory sex education clause of the RH bill would also run into problems with the third non-negotiable: the protection of the right of parents to educate their children. Again, this is a contentious issue, as the RH bill supporters claim that the bill only mandates age-appropriate RH education that espouses informed, responsible choices. From whose perspective, one might ask. The definite thing here though, is that there is no opt-out provision in the bill's mandatory sex education proposal which definitely treads on the right of parents to educate their children as they see fit.

Let me clarify that I am merely offering an opinion here and would stand correction. The RH bill itself violates the first and third non-negotiables, albeit indirectly as may be argued. Indirect because abortifacient contraceptives may be considered as indirect abortion, while the elements and guidelines of mandatory sex education is still subject to deliberation. At any rate, directly and actively supporting this bill (as Noynoy does) constitutes direct material cooperation in evil. On the other hand, *voting* for Noynoy in this case would constitute remote, indirect material cooperation on the part of the voter, and if coupled with serious proportionate reasons, may be considered morally licit. Let me emphasize here that if the bill were explicitly pro-abortion, voting for its sponsor/active supporter would be flat-out morally illicit, period. That is why in the U.S., voting for McCain would be considered by many conservative Catholics as morally acceptable as opposed to voting for Obama, although McCain is not really purely Prolife because of his support for ESCR and restricted abortion.

In simple layman's terms the moral position would find the RH bill unacceptable (and it must continually be opposed), but it would be acceptable and pragmatic to vote for Noynoy IF - by voting for him the intention is to prevent a foreseen greater evil from transpiring. God knows we've had more than enough. By all means we should pressure Noynoy into reconsidering his position on the RH bill. Also, we could always oppose the RH bill even if it passes (God forbid!) the legislature and GMA by challenging its constitutionality all the way to the Supreme Court.

This position must not be taken as a condemnation of Noynoy being a proponent of the RH bill. After all, when a person assumes a position with the right motivations with full integrity, it makes the person good, yet it does not guarantee that his resulting actions are objectively good. An examination of conscience though, is in order.

Lastly, it can be said that a conscientious vote should strive for the best candidate that would bring about the greater moral good, as long as the non-negotiables are not violated. Is Noynoy "the only candidate that offers a ray of hope"? No offense meant but this is a presumption that is still open for debate. Besides, it is too early to rule out further developments because the platforms as well as the candidacy landscape are still to be finally cut. Going forward, it is plausible that there may be one, two, or even zero alternative, ideal candidates to speak of. In this regard while it is a Christian responsibility not to shirk away from the responsibility of voting, when there are no viable options for grave reasons, abstaining from voting may well be considered also as a conscientious choice. Maybe not pragmatic, but still conscientious. As for me, there's still time to wait and see.

Either way, it's going to be a tough call for Noynoy. This early, he has already chosen Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, a staunch RH bill endorser, for his senatorial slate. If he backs off from the RH-bill, he would alienate his close colleagues and liberal supporters. On the other hand if he does otherwise, he would alienate the bishops and the conservative pro-life bloc. This would be a litmus test of his statesmanship, but more importantly, this would be a litmus test of his faith. Let us pray for him.

(update - 9/28)
Aquino defies Church, backs controversial bill


aeisiel said...

Hi Willy, it is really too early to choose a candidate, though like you I also got my sights trained on Noynoy. However if there is no other alternative I wouldn’t advise to abstain from voting and would still exercise my right to vote but would blank or cross-out the president slot.

WillyJ said...

Hi aeisiel,

Yes, lets see when the smoke settles down. I understand the candidacies have yet to be finalized by November this year. Also, we have yet to see the platforms. Anyway, what do you think of the the common notion of voting based on the criteria of "winnability" and "lesser evil"? This is the way most voters here in the Philippines think. I am trying to reconcile this thinking with the words of Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae. “…when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.” . Many say that it follows from these words of the Pope that a voter may likewise vote for that candidate who will most likely limit the evils of abortion or any other moral evil at issue. Of course I believe that tolerating the "lesser evil" has its limits (the non-negotiables), in which case if all candidates violate the non-negotiables, then leaving the presidential vote blank/crossed-out may be the only conscientious option.

aeisiel said...

I would point you to a confidential 2004 memorandum entitled Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles, wherein Pope Benedict XVI, who was then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:
"A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons."

Contrary to many reactions (even from Catholics), he was not in anyway departing from the established principles of Catholic moral theology but is merely emphasizing them. Among the several different forms of cooperation in traditional Catholic moral theology, Cardinal Ratzinger focus on two. Formal cooperation and Remote material cooperation (with a qualifier) in the presence of proportionate reasons.

This is beautifully explained by Jimmy Akin in his featured article, Explaining Ratzinger’s "Proportionate Reasons" Abortion Is the Black Hole of Moral Issues

WillyJ said...

Thanks aeisiel. That was extremely helpful.