Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Sanctity of Human Life (Part 1)

               Once more there are voices clamoring for the amendment of the 1987 Constitution in the name of dramatic and unprecedented economic, social, technological and political changes occurring in recent times.  Some of the leaders in the House of Representatives are renewing calls to introduce amendments to the current Constitution to adapt it to the dramatic changes in both global and national developments over the last thirty years or so.  In a Conference organized by the National Historical Commission and the National Museum of the Philippines in tandem with the 1971 Constitutional Convention entitled “Constitution Framing and Nationhood Conference”,  there is an implicit move to introduce some important changes in the 1987 Constitution, purportedly only focusing on the restrictive provisions against Foreign Direct Investments.  In the wordings of the announcements of the two-day conference scheduled for January 16 to 18, 2024,  however, it is clear that the speakers will have the freedom to discuss other provisions beyond the strictly economic ones. 

              There are very suggestive references to “the shadow of disruptive changes” looming large:  “The delicate equilibrium of our ecology is under threat from global warming, climate change and pollution, jeopardizing the very livability of our magnificent blue planet.”  There is also the very meaningful reference to the VUCA world:   volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, calling for us to fully understand, moderate and embrace its complexities.  Even more ominous is the reference to the so-called brave new world which is leading every society to unchartered territories such as the very morally controversial in vitro technology which allows the creation of a three-parent superbaby: “By selecting the best embryo carrying the biological parents’ DNA and correcting any genetic mutations without destroying it, we stand at the cusp of revolutionizing family structures, marriages and child-parent relationships.” The Conference organizers could not have been more explicit in referring to issues which the large majority of drafters of the Philippine Constitution of 1987 held sacred and subsequently ratified by 80 percent of those who participated in the referendum.

              At the very beginning of this discourse, let me already go for the jogular and ask the question “Is in vitro fertilization (IVF) consistent with the Constitution.  First let us explain what is IVF?  The basic principle of IVF is the hormonal stimulation of female ovaries to create an optimum number of follicles, from which eggs are subsequently obtained.  The eggs thus removed are subsequently fertilized in the embryological laboratory by the sperm of the partner.  What is the intrinsic morality of this act? The answer given on the basis of natural law (regardless of religion) is the IVF is morally objectionable for a number of reasons:  the destruction of human embryos in the process of finding the “right” one; the danger to women and newborn infants, and the replacement of the marital act in procreation. Artificial insemination (which can ethically be applied to animals), in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood are immoral because they involve sexual acts among humans that are procreative, but not unitive.  IVF is morally objectionable because it leads to the massive destruction of embryonic life, an assault to the meaning of the conjugal act and the treatment of the child as a product or commodity and not as a gift.

              Since the Philippine Constitution clearly states that life begins at conception, the embryo already has moral status as a human being.  Although this is also the traditional Christian view, it has already become a constitutional mandate since its incorporation into the Declaration of State Policies in the Philippine Constitution which provides that the State shall  equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. Since life begins at conception according to the Philippine Constitution, modern techniques used in assisted reproduction like IVF, ET, surrogate mothers and embryo cryopreservation are all considered unconstitutional.  As long as that provision remains in our Constitution, the Philippine State must offer its protection to the human being starting with its first seconds of existence.  The State (like the Catholic Church) considers the zygote as persons and is against research on any type of human embryos. In fact, Pope Francis in his New Year’s address to the ambassadors of 184 countries last January 1, 2024 called for an end to what he called the “despicable” practice of surrogate motherhood and called on the international community to prohibit this practice universally.

              If the ending of the life of an embryo outside the womb of the mother goes against the Philippine Constitution, how much more would it be unconstitutional to abort a fully formed fetus after the female egg is fertilized by the male sperm.  An entire Article on the Family (XIV), Section 2 of Article II (State Policies) clearly declares: “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect the family as a basic autonomous social institution.  It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.  The natural and primary duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.”

              As a lesson to those few in the Philippines who may want to amend the Constitution to allow abortion in the future (once the amendment process begins, there is no telling what provisions in the Constitution will be subject to questioning!), let me quote from a famous American Bishop, Robert Baron, about what ending the life of an unborn is in its most lurid and gory reality.   Before the recent healthy trend in a good number of States in the U.S. to ban abortion,  the Roe vs. Wade decision to allow the killing of the fetus only at the very early stage of gestation eventually led to the legitimization of the murder of a baby at birth.  In an article published in 2019 entitled “Bishop Barron:  Seeing abortion”  taken from Catholic Voice,  we read the following:  “The legal protocols now in effect in New York, Delaware, and a number of other states allowing for the butchering of a child in the womb at any point in his or her nine-month gestation—and indeed, on the clinic of hospital table, should the child by some miracle survive the abortion—have sickened much of the country….,”

              …”Unplanned, the story of Abby Johnson’s wrenching transition from director of a Planned Parenthood clinic to vocal opponent of  abortion, has proven to be surprisingly a popular film, despite its rather grim theme and despite considerable institutional opposition….The film opens with the event that proved decisive to Abby Johnson herself.  As director and administrator of a planned Parenthood clinic, she was certainly aware of what was happening on the premises, but she had rarely been involved in an actual abortion.  One afternoon, she was summoned to the operating room and asked to hold the device that allowed the doctor to see the ultrasound image of the child in the womb.  As the physician went about his work, Abby could clearly see the child resting comfortably and then reacting violently as a suctioning device was inserted into the womb.   To her horror, she then saw a tiny arm sucked off, only to reappear, moments later as a bloody soup in a catheter next to her.  As she watched, unable to take her eyes off of the horrific display, she saw the severely wounded baby continuing to evade the device, until a leg disappeared, then another arm, and finally the baby’s head.  And again, the remains of the living child surged like slush into the catheter.”

              Needless to say, Abby Johnson resolved to dissociate herself forever from Planned Parenthood.  The film, though gory it may be, made clear that Abby had heard arguments against abortion all of her life, for her parents  and husband were ardently and vocally pro-life, but she made the decision after she saw what it meant to end the life of an unborn child.  I hope that Filipino society does not have to go through the stage of first allowing such criminal murders of unborn babies before being once again  converted to the pro-life cause upon experiencing what Abby saw in the operating table.    What bothers me is that the organization Planned Parenthood is very active in the Philippines in the so-called Reproductive Health movement.  To be continued.