by Bishop Teodoro Bacani, Jr.
Manila Standard Today
September 13, 2008
Our 1987 Constitution introduced this novel provision in its Declaration of Principles: “The State shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.” The intent of this provision was explicitly brought out by Commissioner Bernardo Villegas when he answered a series of questions I propounded to him. When I asked, “Am I correct in thinking this particular sentence is meant to be a constitutional shield against the abolition of our present abortion laws?,” Commissioner Villegas replied, “ The intention . . is to make sure that there will be no pro-abortion laws ever passed by Congress or any pro-abortion decision passed by the Supreme Court.”
I then asked again, “Is it the intention of this provision to make sure, especially because of the abortion that is already happening in the United States, that abortion shall be forbidden or forestalled?” Commissioner Villegas answered, “Yes. . . . That is the ultimate evil that has to be completely forestalled.”
Now, abortion is the prevention of the coming to term of the unborn. The State should protect the life of the unborn from the moment of conception. A very important question, then, is, “When is the moment of conception?” Commissioner Cirilo Rigos asked this precise question. The answer of Commissioner Villegas was, “ . . . it is when the ovum is fertilized by the sperm that there is human life.”
This statement is supported by scientific opinion. For example, “A Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs” (third edition, 2000) by John Wilks, states, “’Conception’ refers to the moment at which the sperm penetrates and fertilizes the ovum to form a viable zygote. It does not refer to the process of implantation, which is a separate event, . . .” (p. 1). Wilks cites several other authoritative sources to support his own statement. “Harrup’s Dictionary of Medicine and Health,” 1st ed., 1988, says, “Conception—the moment and process of the fertilization of an ovum (egg cell) by a sperm, following sexual intercourse. The result is the formation of a zygote (a combined cell with 23 pairs in its nucleus), representing the beginning of pregnancy.”
“Mellon’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary,” 3rd ed., (1993), states, “Conception—the fertilization of an ovum or the act of becoming pregnant.” Pearce’s Medical and Nursing Dictionary and Encyclopedia,” 15th ed., (1983), similarly says, “Conception—the union of the male and female reproductive elements, i.e., the ovum and the spermatozoon.”
Let me add that the Webster’s Universal Dictionary and Thesaurus defines conception as: “the act of conceiving; the fertilizing of an ovum by a sperm.” And searching through Yahoo under www.Answers.com, we find conception defined as: “the formation of a viable zygote by the union of the male sperm and female ovum; fertilization.” www.WebMD.com, found in Google speaking of Conception, says, “At the moment when a lone sperm penetrates a mature egg, conception or fertilization takes place.”
From all these indications, one will get a sense that the common understanding of conception is the fertilization of the egg by the sperm.
If such be the correct understanding of conception, then abortifacients can be defined as devices or drugs whose action prevent the conceptus (the conceived unborn) from coming to term. Wilks, in his book (p.11), cites these words of the U.S. Department of Health:
All the measures which impair the viability of the zygote at any time between the instant of fertilization and the completion of labour constitute, in the strict sense, procedures for inducing abortion.
Hence, the IUD, injectables like Depo-Provera, and the emergency contraceptive pill (morning after pill)) Levonorgestrel, RU-486, and implants like Norplant should be classified as abortifacients, for they do not only prevent fertilization (conception), but also prevent the implantation of the fertilized ovum..
There are thus very sound constitutional grounds for objecting to some provisions of HB No. 5043. Though the proponents and supporters of the bill say that it is not pro-abortion, and point out to statements in the bill itself which purport to show just that, the truth is, the bill, if passed as it stands, will allow and even promote the use of abortifacients. For the bill provides that the Commission on Population (POPCOM) shall have as one of its functions: “To ensure that reproductive health services are delivered with a full range of supplies, facilities and equipment and that service providers are adequately trained for reproductive health care” (Sec. 5). It also seeks to make available the insertion of the IUD (Sec. 9), and in Sec. 10 it provides: “Hormonal contraceptives, intra-uterine devices, injectables and other allied reproductive health products and supplies shall be considered under the category of essential medicines and supplies which shall form part of the National Drug Formulary and the same shall be included in the regular purchase of essential medicines and supplies of all national and local hospitals and other government health units.” Sec. 11 further provides “That the full range of family planning methods, both natural and modern, shall be promoted.”
Should the bill provide for the provision and promotion of drugs and devices that prevent the implantation of the fertilized ovum (as the contraceptive pills, the injectables like Depo-Provera, implants like Norplant, and the IUD do), then the bill will be promoting abortion.
This will show that the bishops who termed the bill as pro-abortion had very sound reasons for so calling the bill. They were not misinformed or deliberately misleading the people as some people claim. If the proponents of the bill want the pro-abortion label removed, they must remove from the bill provision for drugs and devices that prevent the implantation of the fertilized ovum. Otherwise, they will have to reckon with a constitutional bar stemming from the 1987 Constitution’s declaration that “The State shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”
Compared to this pro-life provision of our Constitution, the reported declaration of the principal author of HB 5043 on April 29, 2008 that the bill will protect human life “from implantation” is a backward step of degeneration towards the culture of death.