UNITED METHODIST CHURCH COLLEGE OF BISHOPS STATEMENT ON THE RH BILL (4244)

THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Philippines Central Conference
COLLEGE OF BISHOPS
UMC Headquarters, 900 U.N. Avenue
Ermita, Manila, 1000 Philippines

THE RH BILL (HB 4244) AND THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH IN THE PHILIPPINES – A STATEMENT

We the incumbent bishops of the United Methodist Church in the Philippines Central Conference, issue the following statement with regard to the RH Bill (HB 42440) in order to guide our church constituencies in their consideration of this Bill. At the same time, through this statement, we wish to participate in the current discussion of the RH Bill, with the hope that appropriate action will finally be taken by government authorities on this very important piece of legislation that will surely have an impact on our nation as a whole.

The Philippine Situation

In terms of population, the Philippines is one of the fastest growing countries in the world. In the 2010 census, it was reported that the Philippines had a population of 92,337,852. At the rate we are growing (2.04 a year) our population is approaching the 100 million mark.

The number of children in our country is growing at a very alarming rate. Many of these children belong to families who are below the poverty line, and end up not going to school and instead become providers of food for their own families. Today it is estimated that there are approximately 2 million street children in the Philippines.

There is no legal abortion in the Philippines, but abortion is nevertheless done illegally. The latest figures that are available are from the year 2006, where it was reported by the World Health Organization that there were 800,000 illegal abortions. WHO also reports that every year 100,000 women are hospitalized because of illegal and unsafe abortions. We can surmise that many of these abortions are the result of unwanted pregnancies and the absence or inadequacy of programs of family planning or planned parenthood.

It is in the context that we come out with this statement regarding the RH Bill. The RH Bill (HB 4244) and The United Methodist Church in the Philippines – A Statement regarding the RH Bill.

What is the RH Bill?

Once enacted into law, the RH Bill will be known as “The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011. .” Three significant parts of the Bill are Section 2 (Declaration of Policy), Section 3 (Guiding Principles), and Section 24 (Right to Reproductive Health Care Information). Quoted below are excerpts from these three sections:

Section 2. Declaration of Policy

The State recognizes and guarantees the exercise of the universal basic human right to reproductive health by all persons, particularly of parents, couples and women, consistent with their religious convictions, cultural beliefs and the demands of responsible parenthood. Toward this end, there shall be no discrimination against any person on grounds of sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, disabilities, political affiliation and ethnicity.

Moreover, the State recognizes and guarantees the promotion of gender equality, equity and women’s empowerment as a health and human rights concern. The advancement and protection of women’s human rights shall be central to the efforts of the State to address reproductive health care… The State recognizes and guarantees the promotion of the welfare and rights of children.

The State likewise guarantees universal access to medically-safe, legal, affordable, effective and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices, supplies and relevant information and education thereon…

The State shall eradicate discriminatory practices, laws and policies that infringe on a person’s exercise of reproductive health rights.

Section 3. Guiding Principles

The following principles constitute the framework upon which this Act is anchored:
1. Freedom of choice, which is central to the exercise of right, must be fully guaranteed by the State;
2. Respect for, protection and fulfillment of reproductive health and rights…;
3. Maternal health, safe delivery of healthy children and their full human development and responsible parenting must be ensured through effective reproductive health care;
4. The provision of medically safe, legal, accessible, affordable and effective reproductive health care services and supplies is essential in the promotion of people’s right to health, especially of the poor and marginalized;
5. The State shall promote, without bias, all effective natural and modern methods of family planning that are medically safe and legal;

6. The State shall promote programs that: (1) enable couples, individuals and women to have the number and spacing of children and reproductive spacing they desire with due consideration to the health of women and resources available to them …

7. Active participation by non-government, women’s, people’s, civil society organizations and communities is crucial to ensure that reproductive health and population and development policies, plans, and programs will address the priority needs of the poor, especially women;

8. While this Act recognizes that abortion is illegal and punishable by law, the government shall ensure that all women needing care for post-abortion complications shall be treated and counseled in a humane, non-judgmental and compassionate manner;

Section 24. Right to Reproductive Health Care Information

The government shall guarantee the right of any person to provide or receive non-fraudulent information about the availability of reproductive health care services, including family planning, and prenatal care.

HOW SHOULD WE AS UNITED METHODISTS REGARD THE RH BILL?

Some Biblical Foundations

Our position as a church on responsible parenthood and other related issues should be grounded on the Holy Scriptures which are affirmed as the basic guide for faith and practice in the United Methodist Church. Among the principles found in the Holy Scriptures are the following:

The Sanctity of Human Life. Human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-31). They are given the responsibility for the care of creation. (Psalm 8). This also includes responsibility for all human beings and for one another as members of the faith community (John 13).

The rights of all peoples, including women and children. The Scriptures affirm that in Christ, there is no longer any difference between Jew and Greek (national), slave and free (social), men and women (gender relationships). In the sight of God, women and children are as important as men. (Galatians 3:26-28, Mark 10:13-16)

The family. In the Scriptures, children are exhorted to respect their parents, and parents are exhorted not to be cruel to their children. Love for one another is the basic rule in family relationships. (Colossians 3:20-21)

The Book of Discipline.

The Book of Discipline is “the instrument for setting forth the laws, plan, polity, and process by which United Methodists govern themselves.” (Book of Discipline, 2008, p. v). Many parts of the Book of Discipline are relevant in our discussion of the RH Bill. Some quotations:

On Family and Family Planning

We believe the family to be the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect, and fidelity. We affirm the importance of both fathers and mothers for all children.

“We affirm the right of men and women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information and services which will serve as a means to prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS” (p. 118, Paragraph 162V).

On Abortion, Unwanted Pregnancies, and Adoption

“Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and wellbeing of the mother and the unborn child.”

“We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection.”

We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures.

We call all Christians to a searching and prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may cause them to consider abortion.

The Church shall offer ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies. We commit our Church to continue to provide nurturing ministries to those who terminate a pregnancy, to those in the midst of a crisis pregnancy, and to those who give birth.

We particularly encourage the Church, the government, and social service agencies to support and facilitate the option of adoption. We affirm and encourage the Church to assist the ministry of crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women find feasible alternatives to abortion.

On Population

People have the duty to consider the impact on the total world community of their decisions regarding childbearing and should have access to information and appropriate means to limit their fertility, including voluntary sterilization.

We affirm that programs to achieve a stabilized population should be placed in a context of total economic and social development, including an equitable use and control of resources; improvement in the status of women in all cultures; a human level of economic security, health care, and literacy for all. We oppose any policy of forced abortion or forced sterilization

The Book of Resolutions

The Book of Resolutions contains resolutions approved by the General Conference. As such, these resolutions “state the policy of the United Methodist Church on many of the current social issues and concerns.” One such resolution is entitled “On Responsible Parenthood,” adopted in 1976, and revised and readopted in 2008. This Resolution clearly states the position of the United Methodist Church with regard to responsible parenthood and other issues addressed by the RH Bill. Here are some quotes from this resolution:

We affirm the principle of responsible parenthood…. Healthful and whole personhood develops as one is loved, responds to love, and in that relationship comes to wholeness as a child of God

Each couple has the right and the duty prayerfully and responsibly to control conception according to their circumstances. They are, in our view, free to use those means of birth control considered medically safe.

To support the sacred dimensions of personhood, all possible efforts should be made by parents and the community to ensure that each child enters the world with a healthy body and is born into an environment conducive to the realization of his or her full potential

When an unacceptable pregnancy occurs, we believe that a profound regard for unborn human life must be weighed alongside an equally profound regard for fully developed personhood, particularly when the physical, mental, and emotional health of the pregnant woman and her family show reason to be seriously threatened by the new life just forming.

We reject the simplistic answers to the problem of abortion that, on the one hand, regard all abortions as murders, or, on the other hand, regard abortions as medical procedures without moral significance.
We support the legal right to abortion…We encourage women in counsel with husbands, doctors, and pastors to make their own responsible decisions concerning the personal and moral questions surrounding the issue of abortion (see Paragraph 161J).

The resolution ends with a call to action, encouraging the churches to

1. provide to all education on human sexuality and family life in its varying forms, including means of marriage enrichment, rights of children, responsible and joyful expression of sexuality, and changing attitudes toward male and female roles in the home and the marketplace;
2. provide counseling opportunities for married couples and those approaching marriage on the principles of responsible parenthood;
3. build understanding of the problems posed to society by the rapidly growing population of the world, and of the need to place personal decisions concerning childbearing in a context of the well-being of the community;
4. provide to each pregnant woman accessibility to comprehensive health care and nutrition adequate to ensure healthy children;

5. Make information and materials available so all can exercise responsible choice in the area of conception controls. We support the free flow of information about reputable, efficient, and safe nonprescription contraceptive techniques through educational programs and through periodicals, radio, television, and other advertising media

6. make provision in law and in practice for voluntary sterilization as an appropriate means, for some, for conception control and family planning;
7. encourage men and women to actively demonstrate their responsibility by creating a family context of nurture and growth in which the children will have the opportunity to share in the mutual love and concern of their parents

Some summary statements

In the light of these statements in the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolution, we propose that we as a church affirm the following:

1. We believe in the sanctity of human life, and in the rights of every human being, including men, women and children.
2. We affirm the importance of the family as the basic body in our society, in which concrete expressions of love are seen in the relationships of family members.

3. We affirm the importance of children. Every child should receive the appropriate care to enable the child to become a whole human being and a responsible citizen. There should be no unwanted children in our society. In order not to have unwanted children, there should be no unwanted pregnancies. Couples should be provided counseling even before they are married and during their married life, so that they can develop into responsible parents. Responsible parenthood includes the right to decide on how many children they should have and when they would have them.

4. We affirm the legitimacy of using medically approved methods of family planning, including the prevention of pregnancy. This includes the use of medically approved contraceptives.

5. We do not approve of or endorse abortion as a part of responsible parenthood or as a method of population control. We recognize that in some cases abortion may be an option, especially when the health of the mother of the unborn child is at stake. In those cases, counseling services should be made available for the parties involved.

6. We affirm our support for responsible sex education, perhaps starting from first year high school. We encourage and support the publication of responsible sex education materials. Knowledge is power, even in the area of family planning and responsible parenthood.

7. We encourage our government and the private sector to address the issue of HIV/AIDS and to insure that the spread of this disease in our country is checked.

Concluding Statement:

It is our opinion that in many aspects the RH Bill (HB HB4244) is in agreement with many of the positions of the United Methodist Church with regard to family planning, responsible parenthood and other related issues. We therefore encourage the members of our churches to support the bill, work for its approval, and when approved to cooperate in its full implementation.
The Incumbent Bishops of the United Methodist Church in the Philippines,

Signed:

LEO A. SORIANO        RODOLFO A. JUAN             DANIEL C. ARICHEA
Davao Episcopal Area  Baguio Episcopal Area         Manila Episcopal area.

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