Contraception and natural law

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

One argument constantly leveled against the pro-life side (i.e., those against the RH Bill) is that they seek to impose Catholic doctrines on the rest of the country and make others follow their own concept of morality. In a “pluralistic society”, so it is said, we should respect each other’s beliefs and not impose our own beliefs on others. Such contentions, however, are unfortunately misleading.

The pluralism of society must be based on reason and coherence. While indeed we should all respect other’s beliefs, it has to be accepted that to do so would not make those beliefs necessarily correct. To those saying that "nobody has the right to impose one's morality on others," they have to recognize that every law imposes a morality. The only question is which one to impose. Any law that purports to be free of morals is still a law imposing its own kind of morals. And finally, the overarching rationale against contraception is not Catholic doctrine but rather that it violates natural law, which applies to all regardless of religion or culture.

Natural law is an objective standard of right and wrong that any human being can arrive at through the independent use of right reason. Murder and adultery, for example, are all objectively wrong, for which no circumstance can make right (acts done in self-defense or polygamous marriages in cultures that allow it are to be differentiated from murder or adultery). Setting aside discussions on actual application and subjective culpability, such are always wrong regardless of whoever you are.

As explained by Martin Rhonheimer: “Because man is by nature a reasonable being, there exists also a law of reason, which are acts ordered by his practical reason in which man distinguishes good and evil, feeling himself bound to do the good, based on the rational understanding of what is good for man. This function of practical reason, natural in man, constitutes therefore a natural law.”

To emphasize that natural law is not an exclusive Catholic thing, it must be remembered that natural law owes a lot to Aristotle. For him, there is an objective moral order which human reason can figure out. Our free will, on the other hand, allows us to recognize that order or ignore it in favor of our passions or emotion. For those who disagree that there is a natural law, they would have to logically disregard the existence of such objective moral order. Which would then result, as explained by Robert P. George, in accepting a world where there is no “built-in, objective reason for me to choose one goal over another”, the goals of Gandhi would now be of the same weight as the goals of Hitler. One Philippine legal giant, Jorge Coquia, would even declare that: "Most who reject the validity of natural law claim themselves as 'liberal' or 'progressive'. But in its essence, it is a reaction and an easy road to totalitarianism".

Having established, therefore, that there is natural law and that natural law is an objective standard applicable to everyone, the question remaining is how can contraception be said to violate natural law? I will deliberately refrain from addressing that question in detail, this column not being the proper venue or occasion for such a matter related to a significant legal and jurisprudential debate. I will, instead, refer to a truncated description of how Germain Grisez, renowned philosopher and influential “new natural law” exponent, approached the issue.

Grisez listed certain basic human goods that logically could be seen as “integral to human flourishing.” Examples are “friendship,” “knowledge,” “excellence in work and play,” and “life”. Each is an end in itself and not a mere means. From the foregoing, quite analogous to the fact that drunkenness goes against the precepts of self-preservation and robbery contradicts subsidiary norms of being part of society, Grisez would conclude that contraception violated a basic good of “the handing on of new life.” Obviously, Grisez has a more defined and meticulous explanation regarding the matter. And so does John Finnis of Oxford. And so do countless other authorities. These are all publicly available and can be examined by anybody who wants to. Bottomline, contraception violates natural law.

I emphasize to the reader one important fact about the foregoing paragraphs: Not once have I mentioned God nor have I resorted to theology, much more Catholic doctrine. As George would say, natural law invokes “no authority beyond the authority of reason itself”. Hugo Grotius, the father of international law, would even dramatically declare that natural law “would maintain its objective validity even if we should assume the impossible, that there is no God or that he does not care for human affairs.”

Natural law is here and in its light that the RH Bill must be weighed. To those who wish to disregard or deny natural law, Sorbonne’s Etienne Gilson had this to say: "natural law always buries its undertakers."