"Thou Shalt Not Kill:" A Joint Pastoral Letter On the Life of the Unborn Child
The United Nations has declared the year 1979 as the International Year of the Child.
The late Pope Paul VI gave recognition to this event in his allocution of June 28, 1976,
15th anniversary of his elevation to the Pontificate.
In the declaration of the United Nations, the right of the unborn child has been
ignored. In view of this, Pope John Paul II, in several of his speeches, focused
attention on the basic human right of the unborn child: his right to live.
In communion, therefore, with the mind and heart of the Holy Father, and shocked by the
UN statistical report that more than 50 million abortions are procured each year,* we,
the Bishops of the Philippines, hereby declare the year 1979 the Year of the Unborn
Child. We focus on the right of the unborn child, with a deep sense of urgency, because
abortion is now widespread and a shocking reality in our country too, both in the rural
and in the urban areas.
Abortion in the Philippine Setting
In a rural sampling -- admittedly inadequate -- one out of six mothers have already
undergone abortion at least once; about a half approve abortion and more than one-half
of the said mothers believe abortion to be licit. (Philippine Population Program, FHC,
Some physicians, by profession committed to the defense of life, have become agents of
death in destroying fetal human life. Others have maintained discreet silence over
abortion perpetrated by medically untrained practitioners, popularly known as "hilots".
A good number of clinics and hospitals, all over the country, are notorious for their
being slaughter-houses of unborn children.
While abortion is contrary to our civil laws, public authorities have accepted the
inclusion of abortion in the training of public health officials, have permitted the
entry of sophisticated instruments of abortion into the country, continue the spread of
abortifacient IUDs and encourage the promotion of abortifacient injectibles.
The Mass Media have been instrumental in desensitizing public opinion to look with
indifference on abortion and in numbing sensitivities to the abomination of the crime.
Leading to this sad situation are the following factors:
1. Contraceptive drive: Anti-life in intent, it has created the anti-life mentality in
our people, with a built-in intolerance for failure. Logically and irreversibly it leads
to radical measures such as sterilization and then abortion. Unless stopped, the
Contraceptive Drive in the long run will lead our society to the eventual acceptance of
euthanasia or mercy-killing.
2. Violence, as a pattern, lowers the esteem for life. Kidnappings, forcible ejection of
the poor and the powerless, sudden disappearance of people, torture and many others are
not always reported in the newspapers, but they are common knowledge. In a climate that
devaluates life, what chances do the helpless have, whose lives have just begun,
powerless to cry out in protest?
3. Manipulation breaks down esteem for people as human beings. It is now subtly
structured into our own social and health services. In the case of industrial
physicians, government workers like midwives, nurses and medical health officers; and in
the training programs for them, there are manipulative practices that violate conscience
and hamper the exercise of one's freedom. (Dr. Vicente Rosales on the Philippine
Population Program, April 18, 1978)
4. Discrimination in setting price tags on human lives. Some lives are more valuable
than others. The unconditional value due to every human life is thereby destroyed. Thus
the deformed and the handicapped become candidates for sterilization and abortion. Every
child is merely a consumer and can be looked upon as a liability to our society and
hence may become unwanted.
This outlook on life is reflected in the system of priorities set up by financial
institutions. Thus, more funds are allocated for hotels, amusement resorts and parks at
the expense of the real needs of our people such as hospitals, leprosaria, and mental
institutions, school buildings and facilities.
5. Commercial Trafficking of people reduces them to the level of products for
consumption. We make much of the beauty and grace of the Filipina. But is this to make
the exploitation of her flesh in the tourist market more enticing?
All these factors lead to the devaluation and eventual disregard of human life. This is
a tragedy. But a deeper tragedy is the gradual extinction of the capacity to love and to
care. Every refusal to accept new life is a refusal to love. And this dying of unselfish
love in the heart of man, constitutes a most serious crisis in our society today.
The whole of mankind bears constant testimony to the sacredness of human life not only
after birth but from its inception. Man in fact is born with this reverence for life,
for nature has imbedded in his heart an instinct of reverence for new human life. This
instinct is a distinctive trait of man, and history testifies how people who smothered
this instinct lapsed into degradation.
The earliest recorded laws enacted by men attest to this profound reverence for human
life from the first known moments of its presence. The Sumerian (2000 BC) and the
Assyrian (1500 BC) Codes protected fetal life from abortion with most severe sanctions.
We could say that the Geneva Declaration for Physicians in 1949, proclaiming "I will
preserve the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception" is a clear echo
of the Hippocratic Oath in a symphony of human reverence for life in all its stages.
Neither was this reverence for life an empty doctrine. It carried with it the severest
sanctions that were enshrined in the laws of civilized nations.
The sad fact that lately some nations deviated from this universally felt reverence for
life, to the extent of approving abortion, only proves the presence of evil and good in
this world. Falsehood and evil could prevail, at least for some time, over truth and
virtue. Moreover, as stated above, skillful manipulation by some organized groups could
distort issues and create an environment that could present a moral evil as a desirable
economic good. Moreover, wherever abortion has been approved and practiced, in defiance
of nature and of God's law, it did not take long before the evil seed contained in this
practice, surfaced with disastrous results, prompting responsible leaders and peoples to
admit their humiliating error.
This universal pro-life conviction deriving from reason and from the natural instinct of
man finds its fullest basis and support in God's command: "Thou shalt not kill." This
law of God somehow found its place in all human codes of conduct.
The Church, on the other hand, has consistently applied this divine law to human life in
all its stages. Through her whole history, the Church has regarded reverence for human
life as a divine command and with unequivocal insistence applied it to human life at its
inception. This is reflected in her constant teaching and in her Canon Law which
punishes with excommunication those who practice and participate in abortion. This is
reflected in her Liturgy enjoining that aborted fetus be baptized as a human person. She
reminds us that human life has something divine in it, "for human life and the task of
transmitting it are not realities bound up with this world alone, ... but always have a
bearing on the eternal destiny of man." (Church in the World Today, #51) With
uncompromising firmness she declares the nobility of transmitting life and condemns
abortion saying: "God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of
safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must
be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and
infanticide are abominable crimes." (Church in the World Today, #51) This clear teaching
of the Catholic Church is taken up in a chorus of voices representing not only Christian
religions but all major religions yesterday, today and always.
Action to be Taken
After reviewing the situation on life in the light of history, reason and Faith, we your
Pastors feel that there is an urgency for everyone to get involved in the fight for
life, especially for the life of the unborn.
Therefore, we would like to appeal to our people who in the past had always shown deep
respect and reverence for the sacredness of life: We appeal to responsible public
officials to see to it that government official policies on respect for human life are
consistently implemented in all levels. We commend those who, in spite of all kinds of
pressures, courageously stand by their convictions. We appeal to parents, especially to
mothers, to treasure the new life as a gift from God. We commend especially those who,
having less of material comforts, are more generous and self-sacrificing in embracing
life -- sometimes at the cost of terrible embarrassment. We appeal to physicians, nurses
and midwives to be always faithful to their sacred oath and to live out the courage of
their moral conviction. We commend those who do not compromise the integrity of their
profession even under harassment and persecution. We appeal to all teachers and school
officials to be more dedicated to their vocation as real educators. We commend those who
stand by their conscience in imparting human values and attitudes to the youth in spite
of questionable incentives. We appeal to those who care for the physically, mentally and
socially handicapped to be more patient and selfless in their work. We commend those
whose dedication is an inspiration for greater respect for life itself. We appeal to the
vast majority of the population -- our youth -- to take life seriously. We commend with
admiration the courage of those who are able to resist the pressures of being exploited
for anti-life propaganda. We appeal to the Mass Media to respect the delicate
sensitivities of our people in forming public opinion. We commend those who, in spite of
the allure of money, fearlessly communicate the truth about life.
In this Year of the Unborn Child, our attention is directed to the abuses against life,
to the anti-natalist from which these abuses arise, and to the atmosphere which makes
these abuses possible. Does not the future, therefore, look dark for the child,
especially the unborn, in our country? We would despair did we not have the eyes of
Faith to perceive other realities that awaken hope.
We already cited and commended the different sectors of our society which have stood and
continue to stand for life in spite of overwhelming odds. And there are many others
whose lives we may overlook but in whom respect for life is very much alive. But all
these proclaim the hope that in this Year of the Unborn Child the commitment to life
will find its roots in our people.
Throughout this year, let us continually reflect on how Jesus identified himself with
the life of all men. Let us reflect on how He chose to be particularly identified with
those lives that are at the mercy of others, with the helpless, the defenseless, the
children whom he loved and invited: "Suffer the little children to come to me for theirs
is the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matt 19:14) Let us reflect on how His own life in its caring
demanded sacrifice. And finally, let us reflect on how all sacrifice in the caring of
every human life, is a sharing in the mystery of Him who called Himself Life (Jn 11:25).
For the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines:
+ JAIME L. CARDINAL SIN
Archbishop of Manila
January 29, 1979