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Dr. Regina M. Hechanova is the Vice President of the Psychological Association of the Philippines (www.pap.org). She is a faculty member of the Ateneo Department of Psychology.
With Congress gearing up to vote, the debate on the RH bill has heightened; supporters for and against the proposed law have raised their voices in the streets, media and social media.
How can their conflict be resolved? Conflict management theories suggest that an important factor in resolving conflict is understanding the issue from the perspective of both parties and identifying areas of agreement.
In an article published in the Philippine Journal of Psychology entitled, "Social Representations of the Reproductive Health Bill", psychologist Dr. Joy Calleja, a faculty member of the Ateneo Department of Psychology, examined public discourse on the RH Bill, using the social representation theory as a lens. She examined quoted statements in newspaper articles, interviews or position papers of social groups and looked at areas of agreement and disagreement on 10 areas covered by the Reproductive Health Bill. She also administered a survey among pro- and anti-RH bill to quantitatively establish the areas of significant disagreement.
Dr. Calleja found the sticking points in the debate to revolve around:
One area of disagreement is sex education in schools. The RH Bill proposes to nationalize sex education among Grade Five to Fourth Year High School students. The anti-RH Bill group says that this will unnecessarily corrupt the minds of the young and the responsibility of educating students on sex must be given to or should be upon the discretion of parents.
Although neither group condones abortion, the pro-RH Bill group advocates for ensuring humane treatment for women who may experience life-threatening complications because of illegal abortion. The anti-RH Bill group on the other hand claim that the Bill would seek to provide assistance to abortionists.
Another point of debate is the relationship between poverty and population. RH Bill supporters contend that poverty is linked to the country's high population growth. On the other hand, the anti-RH advocates contend it is poor government and corruption that causes poverty and having a big populace can be positive for the country if the government can turn them into human capital.
Finally, although both groups agree on family planning, their ideas differ on what methods are acceptable. The anti-RH Bill groups support only natural family planning methods because they claim that some modern contraceptive methods (such as pills and IUD) are abortifacients. On the other hand, those for the RH Bill argue that couples should have the right to information and choice on their family planning method and that contraceptives are not akin to abortion.
The main point of contention revolves around the question of when life begins, and when contraception acts to prevent conception. Dr. Calleja notes that this issue appears to be the most controversial and has elicited the most reaction.
What The Groups Agree On
Despite these areas of differences, Dr. Calleja found that pro- and anti-RH Bill groups do agree on a number of areas. Both parties recognize the need to promote maternal, infant and child health and nutrition and adolescent and youth health. The groups also agree that something should be done to eliminate violence among women and the need to improve government services that protect the health and rights of women and children.
Unfortunately, despite the areas of agreement, the issue has triggered a number of negative repercussions of conflict, such as polarization, wrong attribution, selective interpretation and justification and movement from reason to emotion. The current discourse has gone beyond debating the issues; people from each side have resorted to name-calling and generalizing the debate as being pro- and anti-life.
An "us vs. them" dynamic has emerged. Each side presents data that justify their respective positions. The debates have become emotional rather than rational.
Not even the passage of a law will likely stop the debate.
There are some issues on which people will simply have to disagree. Still, there are options to take a step away from this debate, and to harness what David Myers describe as four ingredients for conflict resolution:
Thus, dialogue and interaction that is facilitated by an acceptable neutral party may provide some keys to resolution. During such, parties need to focus on shared goals and principles rather than differences. Most importantly, both parties need to be willing to listen to each other.