(UPDATE: Part 2 is here.)
The RH Bill is up for debate again in the coming weeks. It is the perfect time to play devil’s advocate. If asked to take a stand on the RH Bill, I would say no to the RH Bill not because of religious, biological, legal, demographic reasons but because the rules and regulations for implementing the RH Bill are not yet available for public debate.
A curious feature of our laws is that the implementing rules and regulations are drafted not along with the bill but 60 days after (see Sec. 31). These rules and regulations are much more important than the bill itself since my impression is that bill only contains guiding principles. You should read Sec. 31 to see the composition of the drafting committee.
I would say no to the RH Bill because the trends in “unwanted children” in the lower segment of the population are inconclusive. For instance, see Table 3 from this opinion article by 30 UP economists. For the past 15 years, the number of “unwanted children” are either stable or on the decline. If we are to trust what the data calls “wanted children” (which probably came after the fact in a survey), then there have been reductions in the number of desired children. It is also worth noting that total fertility rate has actually decreased steadily for the past decade.
The question which somehow escaped everyone’s minds is why poor families “regret” having more children. And even if they do know that they have no means of taking care of them, why do they still have unprotected sex? Both sides do not seem to have an answer to this question at all. What they have instead are solutions to an effect.
Access is the keyword for the pro-RH people. I am not convinced that the poor cannot buy contraception. If they can buy cellphones and cellphone credits, then buying contraception means forgoing some of these. But what we observe is that the poor have more children than they want. This is puzzling because this, to me, is evidence that poor prefers having communication products than having lesser children. It is also evidence to me that the poor might be ignoring the long term consequences of having more children. In their calculus, it is possible that they are not comparing the price (not just actual costs!) of the cellphone credit and the price of contraception.
The question becomes “Will giving more access to contraception by making them more available and hopefully cheaper reduce the number of unwanted children?” This is a deceptively simple question which has no straightforward answer. The opinion article referenced earlier has a curious passage, “The poor prefer smaller families, except that they are unable to achieve their preference.” How were they able conclude this? Are we being so arrogant that we are putting ourselves in their place? We may have judgments about the capacity of a poor family to raise and have children but that’s as far as it goes! As long as no one aside from that particular family is shouldering what is supposed to be the burden of their own “indiscretions”, we cannot do anything about their decision to have more children and their regret later on. The question now is whether we are shouldering any of the burdens that spill over from these “indiscretions”. Because if there are such burdens (which one has to show), then we may have something to say about it.
Some advocates believe that the RH Bill can be useful to combat against poverty. For instance, see Table 2 of the opinion article referenced earlier. Poverty incidence has been declining for the past two decades across family sizes! What purpose will the RH Bill serve? Would it have an opposite effect instead? For instance, the opinion referenced earlier has yet another curious passage saying, “Some objectors to the RH bill have further argued that the bill will only lead to promiscuity, the breakup of families, decay of moral values and hedonism. But this is pure ideological conjecture—an assertion sans logic and empirical basis. Gratis asseritur, gratis negatur.” This conjecture, however lacking in evidence, might actually be a possibility once one looks at the bigger picture. Let me focus on the promiscuity aspect. There is nothing wrong with being promiscuous as long as one practices safe sex and one could withstand social stigma.
Having more access to contraception will reduce the costs of having sex (but might increase it if one does not know how use them!) and will probably encourage more sexual activity relative to other activities. This is what happened to the relative composition of types of sexual activities. There is probably more and more teenagers and grownups practicing oral sex instead of full-blown intercourse precisely because they have knowledge of the consequences of unprotected sex and vaginal intercourse. So, to me, what is important is the knowledge of the consequences of a major decision (such as having intercourse or any other form of sexual activity) not just the availability of contraceptive measures. Sure, we could have more promiscuity but we will have lesser potential families (hence lesser breakup of families and decay of moral values).
I will continue in another post. Thank you for reading.