By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria

The word "Heresy"

was used by Irenaeus in Contra Haereses to discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. It has no purely objective meaning without an authoritative system of dogma.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Individual Conscience and the Monopolists of Morality: Unconscionable Violations Against Religious Liberty

The House Bill, which purports to support free religious exercise, actually endangers no less than religious liberty. What is being passed off as a piece of legislation promoting freedom and human rights, in fact imperils the very existence and guarantee of the same principles.

Indeed the right of conscience is held sacrosanct by our Constitution and while we have no argument with the bill’s very premise that the right to free religious exercise is of paramount importance, we do not agree that the bill’s strategy supports the exercise of such liberty.

In the Bill, “conscience” is in fact so narrowly construed against a myriad of scientific and medical practices and procedures, among them a host of legally demandable and necessary reproductive health care services, which are already being denied Filipino women by the State mandated to extend them, also in the name of religious beliefs.

While doctors and medical professionals cannot and should not be forced to conduct medical procedures, which they refuse to perform on the basis of their faith, except when there is a medical emergency, which may warrant procedure, the Bill does so much more than just, reiterate this basic freedom, which is already embodied in our Constitution.

By instituting “immunity from liability,” for medical and health workers, in the refusal not only to perform the medical procedures objected to, but likewise in the refusal to provide information and even referral to alternative providers, the bill literally provides a license to commit religious discrimination against patients who may have a different set of beliefs about modern contraception, sterilization and such other medical procedures.

In the specific case of Family Planning and Reproductive Health, the bill clearly demonstrates a bias for conservative Catholic religious beliefs and does not even consider that other Christian sects and churches , as well as other religions such as Islam, (as well as dissenting Catholics within the Catholic church), have varying views on Family Planning which do not necessarily correspond to the views of the Catholic hierarchy!

In fact, the Catholic Church hierarchy itself is engaged in a raging debate over the use of condoms (which is also a form of contraception) in the context of HIV-AIDS.

Whose conscience does House Bill 5028 purport to protect?

Indeed, if we were to take on the premises of the bill’s provisions, it is as if, there is a monopoly of conscience, a monopoly of religious liberty. We have only to look at our Constitution’s religious clauses and provisions, as well as the line of Supreme Court decisions on religious freedom to see that the bill’s manner of construing “freedom of conscience,” makes a mockery of the notion.

1. The relevant Constitutional provisions on religious liberty are the provisions on separation and religious liberty and non-establishment. The provision on the “separation of church and state,” is in the preliminary Article on State Principles and the free exercise and non-establishment clause is in the Bill of Rights. Taken together, these provisions make up our Constitutional basis for religious liberty. The State’s secular character is premised on the very notion of keeping religious exercise free for all to enjoy. Together with the non-establishment clause, which prohibits the state from favoring any single religion, the provision on free religious expression also emphasizes individual liberty in prohibiting religious tests. Apart from our religious clauses, the Constitution also has a provision, which mandates the State to defend the right of spouses to plan their families “in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

2. In the case of Ebralinag vs Secretary, the Supreme Court ruled to exempt students who refused to “salute” the flag and attend flag raising ceremonies because it was against their religious beliefs. This 1995 case along with the more recently decided Estrada vs Escritor, wherein the court ruled also to respect the religious beliefs of a court employee charged with administrative misconduct (sexual immorality) when she was able to prove that her second marriage was sanctioned by her religion, demonstrates the profound importance given to religious freedom by our Supreme Court. In both cases, the religion in question was that of the Jehova’s witnesses, notably not the dominant religion. These cases demonstrate that while religious liberty is a guarantee for all, often enough, it is the beliefs of those who are in the margins (the minority), which are endangered. In Ebralinag, as in Escritor, construing the laws strictly would not only have burdened the religious beliefs of the petitioners, but would have also violated their very right to believe.

It is also ironic that the bill even utilizes the term “discrimination,” when by its very provisions, it sanctions discrimination, as it is already being widely practiced against women who seek reproductive health care, not necessarily just by medical practitioners, but government officials themselves who refuse to fund reproductive health services. Indeed, while the Bill proposes to protect would-be, primarily Traditional Catholic “conscientious objectors,” from discrimination, it does absolutely nothing to ensure the rights of those who, in their exercise of the right to conscience, believe differently.

But the bill so broadly defines the scope of the “conscientious objection,” not just to include the provision of information, it also misplaces the exercise of the right to institutions, not just individuals! What about doctors and health professionals who continue giving information and referrals for family planning no banned in a public hospital because the local government funding it has a policy against modern contraception? Aren’t they also conscientious objectors? What about a private and Catholic hospital with medical professionals who maintain an ethical responsibility to refer their patients to alternative sources of medical information?

House Bill 5028 no doubt, brings to fore core issues of religious
difference, not the least of which centers on beliefs about sexual morality, in so doing also affects vital issues on women’s sexual and reproductive health, current day issues which are hotly being debated in other fora.

For this reason, we are of the position that House Bill 5028, does not promote religious liberty, but in fact, sanctions its violation. In effect, House Bill 5028 is contrary to our Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.

[A Position Paper on House Bill 5028 filed by Rep. Hermilando I. Mandanas in the 13th Congress, By Atty. Carolina S. Ruiz-Austria, Position Paper for Womenlead Foundation, Inc.]

Further Reading on Conscientious Objection

By Reason of Religious Training and Belief..." A History of Conscientious Objection and Religion during the Vietnam War By Karl D. Nelson

This site gives an overview of the historical origins of conscientious objection , in relation to an individual's refusal to go to war (at the time of the draft, the right to refuse it) on the basis of conscience. This background on the concept of conscientious objection is vital to an understanding of how the proposed Bill (and proponents of like drafts in the US) have veered far from the original notion.

FIGO Ethical Guidelines on Conscientious Objection

This site links to the International Organization of Gynecologists (FIGO) Ethical Guidelines on Conscientious Objection formulated in 2005. In the face of emerging use and application of the notion of conscientious objection in cases of reproductive health procedures, this set of guidelines presents a model response in terms of checking the abuse of the notion in the context of ethical medical practice.


Post a Comment

<< Home