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  • 1. THE MORAL AND LEGAL FOUNDATIONS OF PROLIFE ACTIVISM1 by Atty. Jo M. Imbong2 “What is man that thou art mindful of him? . . . You made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour.” (Psalm 8: 5-6) It all started in Day One, when in a Divine Trinitarian will, God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness . . . “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them.” (Gen. 1:26-27) Coming from the hand of God who is the sole author of the universe, we must know what God intended (willed) on how the human person ought to be. After all, the human person is His likeness. Where will this knowledge lead us? In knowing our true nature as God willed it to be, we will know our value. And knowing what is our true worth, we will safeguard that value. What is this human being that commands the awe of the Psalmist? 1. Every human being is infused with inherent dignity and infinite value. It is not just any image that was infused in man; it is a divine image. No other creature can claim a divine likeness, that is why, the life of a human being is intrinsically good, not merely instrumentally good--the only creature willed for its own sake. From this attribute flows his dignity. 1 Paper read at the 3rd Western Visayas Congress on Family & Life, Jaro, Iloilo City, October 21-22, 2007. 2 Executive Secretary, Legal Office, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
  • 2. 2 And because every human person has a soul that cannot die, every human being is ordered to immortality. This is the transcendent value of all human life 2. Dignity is inherent in every human being. Inherent because it is present from the moment of his conception. Recognized or not, accepted or not, this attribute is present, for its presence does not depend on the belief or the will of man since this is a truth of nature. Thus, when a person under custodial investigation is tortured, his dignity is still there. It is not taken away. Rather, it has been violated. This truth has a profound meaning both for the human person and for human authority. For the human person, this truth commands respect for his person. Thus, the human person has human rights that serve to safeguard his dignity. On the other hand, confronted with this undeniable truth, human authority cannot but acknowledge what is an undeniable and pre-existing truth about the human person. The State cannot deny the existence and inherence of human dignity, for the State did not confer it on its people. Neither is the State the ‘creator’ or human rights. And so, our Constitution states: “The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.” (Art. II, Sec. 11, Constitution) Since human authority is not the infuser of human dignity, it may not withhold, diminish, defy, or insult that dignity. In the same token, since inherent human rights are not attributable to human authority, the State may not dilute those inherent human rights by ‘creating’ new ‘rights’ which are against the former. Thus, there cannot be a ‘right to abortion’. 3. The inherent nature of human dignity is a universal principle. This is acknowledged by the family of nations: “Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience …” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights3 3 Adopted and proclaimed by United Nations General Assembly resolution 217 A (III), December 10, 1948
  • 3. 3 4. Human dignity and human value inheres at conception. It is inherent-- in every human life from the first moment of human existence. And human life includes the human embryo. Why is this? Simply because being conceived of human parents, it cannot be anything but human. This truth is fully accessible, even to unaided reason. In accord with Biological science the characteristic sign of humanity is the chromosome count resulting from the fusion of the male and female gametes at day one, a count that is exclusive to the human race.4 The United States Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade pronounced that “you cannot determine when life begins.” In response to this, when the essence and substance of something is certain no amount of sophistry can alter the substance of our being. The central truth remains the same. The humanity of the zygote is a reality. Human authority may deny truth about man, but that truth will not change. For only God creates. And only the Creator can change His work of creation. This is guaranteed in the Constitution: “The State . . . shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.” (Art. II, Sec. 12, Constitution) Therefore, human dignity commands due and rightful respect and protection even before birth of the con ceived child. For “reason affirms that if any of us have a right to life, then all of us have it; if we have it at one stage of life, we have it at both edges. There is no rational argument that anybody has been able to come up with--and the best and brightest . . . have struggled for more than 25 years to do so--that shows that a healthy 13-year old or 40-year old or an unborn child has no right to life. There is no rational basis for distinguishing a class of human beings who have a right to life (and other fundamental human rights) and a class of human beings who do not. This is the moral core of the great ‘self evident truth’ upon which [the American democratic tradition] was founded: the proposition that all human beings are ‘created equal’.”5 Therefore, in 4 Rodolfo-Carlos Barra, “The Legal Status of the Human Embryo”, LEXICON : Ambiguous and Debatable Terms Regarding Family Life and Ethical Questions., Human Life International, 2006, p. 523. 5 Robert P. George, THE CLASH OF ORTHODOXIES, ISI Books, 2001, p. 14.
  • 4. 4 case of doubt, every life issue must be resolved to uphold the value and dignity of new life. While the New Civil Code says that “birth determines personality”, it also says that: “The conceived child shall be considered born for all purposes that are favorable to it, provided it be born later with the conditions specified in the following article.” (Art. 40, New Civil Code) 6 That is why, “Every child is endowed with the dignity and worth of a human being from the moment of his conception, as generally accepted in medical parlance, and has, therefore, the rights to be born well.” (, Art. 3 (1), P.D. 603, Child and Youth Welfare Code) This again is a universal principle: “The child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.” (Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child) 7 Our laws provide no exception. 5. Dignity and infinite value subsists in all seasons of human life. Respect for the dignity and value of the human person continues to be due and demandable after birth, in childhood, in youth, in adulthood, in the elderly, in senility, in grave illness, in a vegetative state, until life’s natural end. Location is not a criteria--whether the conceived human is implanted in the womb or is journeying towards it after Day One. The law does not distinguish. Neither should we. For the essence of humanity 6 Article 41. states: “For civil purposes, the foetus is considered born if it is alive at the time it is completely delivered from the mother’s womb. . . . “ 7 Convention on the Rights of the Child, U.N. General Assembly res. 44/25, November 20, 1989.
  • 5. 5 is unchanging and permanent, in fact, even after death.8 Our humanity is boundless. 6. The nature of the human person is permanent and unchangeable. As stated above, this permanence of human substance inheres at Day One for the human embryo. Because of this, the human embryo is the subject of rights, as opposed to being an object of rights. The choice of words is not accidental. There are substantial reasons why a human embryo is a subject, and hence, alone an end in itself, never an object or a means. And once a human being, one is always a human being. Once a subject and an end in itself, one remains a subject and end—always. This is what is meant by man being the only creature “willed for its own sake.” 7. The human embryo has an inherent right to be born. Being a subject and an end in itself, the human embryo is ordered to existence Therefore, the human embryo has the right to be nurtured towards gestation, and to be born. No human factor outside of it may impede, frustrate, or undermine its path to existence. It is the duty of human authority to accord it the right to be nurtured and be born. That is why abortion, in any form, is a serious offense against humanity itself. The celebrated case of the couple Becky and David Litowitz of Seattle, called attention to the right to life of the human embryo, versus the parents’ ‘right’ to decide whether or not to ”end the existence” a frozen human embryo. When Becky and David were still husband and wife, they entered into a contract with a Fertility Center at Loma Linda University in California to fertilize the ova of a woman donor with the sperms of David. Unfortunately, Becky and David later procured a divorce. With their separation, two of those embryos remained in a frozen state. Becky asked that the embryos be destroyed, to which David objected. In the ensuing decree of Divorce, the court appointed David as guardian ad litem of the embryos, “in the interest of the child.” David’s lawyers saw this statement as an implicit acknowledgement that the embryos are human beings. 8 We may not even desecrate the name of a person long dead, for which one may be held liable for libel under the Revised Pen al Code.
  • 6. 6 "They don't appoint a 'guardian ad litem' for property," his lawyers pointed out, because a piece of property doesn't have rights. Only humans do. WHAT ARE THE FUNDAMENTAL, INHERENT HUMAN RIGHTS? 1. Every human being has a right to life. Necessarily, the human embryo has an inherent right to be born. Being a subject and an end in itself, the human embryo is ordered to existence Therefore, the human embryo has the right to be nurtured towards gestation, and to be born. No human factor outside of it may impede, frustrate, or undermine its path to existence. It is the duty of human authority to accord it the right to be nurtured and be born. That is why abortion, in any form, is a serious offense against humanity itself. The celebrated case of the couple Becky and David Litowitz of Seattle, called attention to the right to life of the human embryo, versus the parents’ ‘right’ to decide whether or not to ”end the existence” a frozen human embryo. When Becky and David were still husband and wife, they entered into a contract with a Fertility Center at Loma Linda University in California to fertilize the ova of a woman donor with the sperms of David. Unfortunately, Becky and David later procured a divorce. With their separation, two of those embryos remained in a frozen state. Becky asked that the embryos be destroyed, to which David objected. In the ensuing decree of Divorce, the court appointed David as guardian ad litem of the embryos, “in the interest of the child.” David’s lawyers saw this statement as an implicit acknowledgement that the embryos are human beings. "They don't appoint a 'guardian ad litem' for property," his lawyers pointed out, because a piece of property doesn't have rights. Only humans do. 2. Inherent in the right to life is the right to health and the right to the integrity of one’s body. “The State shall protect consumers from . . . hazardous products.” (Art. XVI, Sec. 9, Constitution)
  • 7. 7 And— “ . . . Shall protect and promote the right to health of the people . . .” (Art. II, Sec. 15., Ibid.) Let that be authentic health. May I invite you to examine the validity of some definitions of “health” . The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as— “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” 9 Swedish health-policy analyst Lennart Nordenfelt defines health as— “a person’s ability, in standard circumstances, to reach his vital goals” . . [which are]. necessary and sufficient for a person’s minimal degree of happiness”. In the 13th Congress, House Bill 817 defined “reproductive health” as— “Sec. 4. The state of complete physical, mental and social well- being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes. This implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life . . This further implies that women and men and that women and men attain equal relationships in matters related to sexual relations and reproduction.” As you might have observed, these definitions come close to identifying “health” with human happiness. 10 You might ask: Is anything wrong with that? 1st: No system of technical expertise based on a systemic knowledge of natural (physical) causes can have human happiness as its goal, because human happiness is not secured by modifying the operation of natural causes. That is why a person who is healthy is not necessarily happy. And vice versa—a person who is ill is not necessarily unhappy 2nd: By the above definitions, health would then depend on an individual’s ambitions, values, desired lifestyle or hierarchy of goals which for him determine his level of minimal happiness. 11 What is 9 “On the Nature of Health, An Action-Theoretic approach. Dordrecht: Kluwer 1987, cited by Luke Gormally in ISSUES FOR A CATHOLIC BIOETHIC, L. Gormally, (Ed.), London:Linacre Denter, 1999, p.176. 10 Luke Gormally, “Medicine as a Profession and the Meaning of Health as its Goal”, ”, Issues for a Catholic Bioethic, London: The Linacre Center, July 1997, p. 175. 11 L. Gormally, Ibid.
  • 8. 8 to count as health for an individual will depend on that individual’s personal or subjective goals. 12 3rd. In the real sense of the word, health simply refers to somatic health. It is the well-ordered organic functioning of the body. The right to bodily integrity forecloses the legality of sterilization procedures. 3. It is in the nature of the human being to worship. By the ordinary light of reason, a person can know that there is a God, an all-powerful Being that orders the movement of everything in the universe. It is then natural for man to worship that Being. This is human nature. State authority cannot but acknowledge it. The Philippine Constitution does this: “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference shall forever be allowed.” (Art. II, Sec. 5, Constitution) Again, this is a universal principle that applies to all humanity. Acknowledging that “every human being is endowed with reason and conscience”, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights further states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom . . to manifest his religion or belief in teachin , practice, worship and observance,” (Article 18) Should any public officer or employee, or private individual directly obstruct, defeat, violate or in any manner impede or impair a person’s freedom of religious belief, he shall be liable to the latter for damages. (Art. 38, par. 1, New Civil Code) Freedom of religious belief includes the right to act following one’s religious belief 13 and the right to protection by the State in the exercise of consciencious objection. 12 L. Gormally, Same. Ebralinag et als., vs. Division Superintendent of Schools of Cebu, G.R. No. 95770. 13 December 29, 1995.
  • 9. 9 In the province of Biliran, a Memorandum was sent to a Barangay Health Worker, who as a Catholic, had refused to distribute artificial contraceptives because it was against her moral convictions. The Memorandum reads:      Republic of the Philippines Province of Biliran, Municipality of Naval MUNICIPAL HEALTH OFFICE July 22, 2005 Memorandum(Unnumbered) TO: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX In order to protect the interest of public service, you are hereby directed to explain within seventy two (72) hours from receipt hereof as to why no administrative action shall be taken against you for your insistent failure to render services on artificial Family Planning. For proper compliance. (SGD.) Esterlita I. Dela Peña Public Health Nurse Noted: (SGD.) GERARDO S. ESPINA, SR. Municipal Mayor In another case, a similar written threat of prosecution was conveyed to a privately practicing Gynecologist who responded to the needs of women in Bukidnon province who were suffering from pelvic infections due to the intra uterine devices implanted by the public Health clinics whose personnel refused to remove. As strongly pointed out in Ebralinag14- 14 Ibid.
  • 10. 10 “ Upholding religious freedom as a fundamental right deserves the "highest priority and amplest protection among human rights." 4. To marry and found a family. This is a universal right: “The spouses have the inalienable right to found a family and to decide on the spacing of births and the number of children to be born, taking into full consideration their duties towards themselves, their children already born, the family and society, in a just hierarchy of values and in accordance with the objective moral order which excludes recourse to contraception, sterilization and abortion.” (Art. 3, Charter of the Rights of the Family) “Article 16. (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. “ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) In the Philippine Constitution-- “Sec. 3. The State shall defend: (1) The right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious the demands of responsible parenthood;” (Article XV, Constitution) 5. The inherent right to PROGENY. A family is not a static, inorganic entity. After the “I do’s”, marriage signifies life, and life signifies movement. Family itself is progeny. This reality of nature excludes State intervention on family size.. Marriage and family precedes the State, that is why can merely acknowledge their existence. “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.” (Art. II, Sec. 12, Constitution)
  • 11. 11 “The State recognizes the Filipino family as the foundation of the nation. Accordingly, it shall strengthen its solidarity and actively promote its total development.” (Art. XV, Sec. 1, Ibid.) “Marriage, as an inviolable social institution, is the foundation of the family and shall be protected by the State.” (Art. XV, Sec. 2, Ibid.) State authority may not frustrate, diminish, control or restrict the exercise of this right because it holds no such authority. By this token state- imposed population control measures including forced sterilization are human rights violations. Neither may the State legislate an ‘ideal family size’ or institutionalize ‘contraceptive prevalence’ of 100% by Year 2015 as the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the Philippine Government declares. Inherent in the natural institution of marriage is the complementarity of the male and female spouses. Hence, The State may not make laws that change the heterosexual nature of marriage or accord legal status to same-sex partners. 6. Parents have the inherent right to the upbringing of their children. As with other natural rights, the State is powerless not to acknowledge this reality. Thus, the Constitution states: “ . . . The natural right and 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.” (Art. II, Sec. 12, Constitution) As with other inherent human rights, this is universal. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Article 12. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence . . . Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference of attacks.”
  • 12. 12 In the Convention on the Rights of the Child: “Article 5. State Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child.” The International Conference on Population and Development recognizes this inherent right of parents: “11.24. Age-appropriate education, especially for adolescents . . . taking into account the rights and responsibilities of parents and the needs of adolescents . . . should involve the active participation of parents and families.” So does the Beijing Declaration: “262. . . . Women and men need to work together with children and youth to break down persistent gender stereotypes, taking into account the rights of the child and the responsibilities rights and duties of parents . . .” 7. The human person has the right to be protected as a creator of wealth. Man was infused with intellect and will. That is why unlike other creatures, man is by nature goal-oriented. Among all of creation, man alone thinks and dreams. He alone can ask the question “Why?” or “What is the meaning and purpose of my life?” And because of the infinite potential of human intelligence, man makes things happen. He is a mover. He generates ideas which are the seeds of all human undertakings. This makes every honorable human endeavor fruitful, i.e., capable of generating material wealth. From this principle emanates the dignity and value of human work and the infinite value of human work. That is why we refer to people as human resource. This is the generative and productive nature of every human person. And every person has the right to be respected and valued for his human potential.
  • 13. 13 Economists like Carl Becker call it human capital. By whatever name it is known, it can only mean one thing—that people are a nation’s wealth. The Constitution recognizes this reality- “The State affirms labor as a primary social economic force. “ (Art. II, Sec. 18, Constitution) Inherent human rights are inalienable. In the American democratic tradition, it is said of natural rights that-- “ . . . they exist before constitutions and independently of them. Constitutions enumerate such rights and provide against their deprivation or infringement, but do not create them. It is supposed that all power, all rights and all authority are vested in the people before they form or adopt a constitution. By such instrument, they create a government, and define and limit the powers which the constitution is to secure and the government respect. But they do not thereby invest citizens of the commonwealth with any natural rights that they did not before possess.” 15 As explained by our Supreme Court- “While the constitution guarantees and protects the fundamental rights of the people, it should be stressed that it does not create them. As held by many of the American Revolution patriots, ‘liberties do not result from charters; charters rather are in the nature of declarations of pre- exiting rights.’ John Adams, one of the patriots, claimed that natural rights are founded ‘in the frame of human nature, rooted in the constitution of the intellect and moral world.’”16 These are our natural rights, without which, we cannot be human at all: If we lose these, we lose our humanity. We lose everything. 15 Ibid. 16 Republic of the Philippines vs. Sandiganbayan G.R. No. 104768, July 21, 2003.
  • 14. 14 At this point of our discourse, I invite you to recall two cases. In Roe v. Wade (1973), the United States Supreme Court spoke about a "woman's right to not be inconvenienced" and recognized a "right to privacy" of pregnant women. Today, the language has evolved into the woman’s “right of control over one’s body,” which heralded the “right” to abortion. In Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the same Court acquitted two males accused of the crime of Sodomy in Texas law, citing the two men’s “right to privacy”. In the previous Congresses, several bills sought to enshrine “reproductive rights”. I ask you: Can the State or human society create or accord new ‘human rights’ and use these to override the basic right to life? The State can do it. But the question is: may the State or society do it? The answer to the question why the State may not do it lies in the distinction between Authentic Human Rights and Spurius ‘Rights’. The distinction is critical because their non-recognition will constitute unequal treatment or discrimination, whereas non-recognition of what is not a right can never be discrimination. Authentic rights are: Spurius ‘rights’ are: 1. Inherent in humanity; not created Contrived and ‘created’ to rationalize by human authority. certain acts contrary to inherent rights. 2. For the integral good of the Alien to human nature and human person. inconsistent with it, they defile, hurt or corrupt it. 3. Inalienable, hence, outside ‘Created by human authority, hence, human authority may be denied or extinguished at will. 4. Can only be acknowledged by ‘Created’ and acknowledged by human authority. human authority 5. Demandable forbearances Not demandable because nothing is against the rest of humanity by the
  • 15. 15 bearer of rights. due. 6. At the service of the dignity and Degrade/deprave/destroy the flourishing of the holder of the right. person demanding the ‘right’. 7. Edifie & dignify both the Destroy/degrade/ debase both the possessor of the rights and the receiver and giver (or instrument) of person who accords the rights. the ‘right’. 7. Serve the common good. Harm the community. 8. It will be unjust not to accord 9. There is no injustice or them. discrimination by their non- recognition Counterfeit ‘rights’ being spurious, they are merely liberties that harm. Let me end this discourse by inviting you to join me in a brief self- examination. Every human being who values his existence is invited to profess himself as being “pro-life.” What does it take to be truly pro-life? First, a pro-life track is not a pastime. It is not a diversion, not a let-me-try-it-once sort of thing which you write about as “What-I-Did-Last- Summer”. There is no such thing as a pro-life dilettante. Second, it is not a matter of wearing a pin on your lapel that says, “Pro Life Ako”. A person does not display his convictions, he lives it, breathes it, dreams about it. Eventually, he will exude it, like “the sweet odor of Christ.” ”For where your heart is, there your treasure is too.” It is a path. Third, there can be no medium-rare pro-life advocate. This kind of work is total and uncompromising. If you flip-flop on Truth, you will find yourself brokering compromises. Eventually, what is true can become false, and vice versa. Fourth, you do not type the word “Pro-Lifer” into your Resumé. Someone else gives you that title because you show it in your life and in your words –this is the lithmus test—in the way you stubbornly speak out for the unchangeable truths about human nature such as the undeniable reality that the human embryo is truly human, a truth as real as the fact--
  • 16. 16 as I am wont to add--that all members of Congress started their Honorable existence as a human embryo. Fifth, if you are truly pro-life, you are testifying in favor of no malevolent agenda. Rather, you are openly a credible witness of the case for humanity and its right to continue in this planet and be its steward, not its captive. Sixth, if you are authentically pro-life, you have no presumptions about yourself having any power to amend life’s definitions. These are already written into humanity’s heart with un-erasable ink. Where others have attempted to define what sort of “thing” is the human embryo, they have only managed to weave a convoluted twine about themselves. It is like forcing a size 8 shirt over a size 14 torso. Seventh, if you are an authentic defender of life, you stand on your convictions fuelled by nothing personal—whether this be what your Archbishop expects of you, or what image that will do for you in your next High School Reunion—that sort of thing. Rather, you embraced the pro- life agenda because you have freely said “Yes” to an irresistible invitation that says, “Follow me.” (Matt. 4:19) You then realize that you did not really choose to be pro-life. You were hand-picked and called. Adopted, to be more accurate. And you were prepared for this commissioning not today, not yesterday, not on every opening of Congress, but even before you were conceived on Day One. Finally, if you answered the “call”, you might be tempted to harbor lofty feelings about yourself. Don’t. According to Fritz Tillman, a moral theologian, “when a man has done his best, he may not delude himself into believing that he has produced something out of the ordinary, something for which he can be proud or boastful. After all, he has only performed his duty to God by means of the gifts that God gave Him. . . . ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ (Luke 17:10)” For sure, it will not be easy , this pro-life response. There is another condition attached to it, and this is the willingness to undergo sacrifices for the sake of the great task enjoined. In Tillman’s words: “If someone puts his hand to the plow and looks back, he is not fit for the kingdom of God
  • 17. 17 (Luke 9:62). . . . The Saviour confronts man with a decision which allows no hesitation or vacillation, but demands an unconditional assent.” The Lord never watered down His demands. Remember when some of Christ’s disciples could not accept his words to “eat His Body and drink His Blood if they must have Life Eternal”? Christ allowed them to leave when their faith proved too weak. You are pro-life, but, can you take it? Thank you all, and good day! T T T