David (not real name) is a devoted catholic. He never misses church and has travelled to the Vatican many times to seek blessings from the Pope.
The 45-year-old father of two children says he was able to have a small manageable family because he uses family planning and the wife who is also a catholic faithful has been using pills for many years. But in the eyes of the Catholic Church leaders in Rwanda, David and his wife are sinners whose act of using contraceptives is against the teachings of the church.
Health centres run by the Catholic Church have been reportedly banned from offering contraceptives to the public because it is against the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The issue has since stirred a public outcry with many saying the move will only do more harm than good since the Catholic Church has for a long time been a crucial player in provision of healthcare and education in Rwanda.
Even within the Catholic Church, some leaders are divided on the issue. This Paper talked to some senior catholic clerics but none was willing to speak on record about the issue with some supporting the move while others said the church had issued an official statement on the matter.
However, in an earlier interview with The New Times, Monsignor Philip Rukamba, the Bishop of Butare Diocese, said that the Church considers artificial contraceptive methods harmful to the lives of people, and therefore shouldn’t be used.
He pointed out methods like the use of pills and injections, among other contraceptive methods, as those that have many side effects. However, he said that the Church accepts the existence of family planning but through natural methods and that they can be accessed through CARITAS Rwanda, a Catholic Church-based charity which offers such services in all the dioceses in the country.
The stand of other religious denominations
Pastor Joshua Masasu of Restoration Church differs with his counterpart in the Catholic Church. He says that although children are a blessing from above, such blessings shouldn’t be followed with sorrow. He argues that parents should be in position to produce children they can manage and take care of without distress.
He refers to a Bible verse Psalm 127:3, which says “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” He also gives the example of Proverbs 10:22, which says that “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it.”
Masasu therefore argues that parents should have a number of children that they are able to raise without hardships but rather, with love and care.
As long as the method of family planning is a preventive measure, the pastor says there is no harm in using it. However, methods that actually terminate formed life and those that are harmful to one’s health are the ones he doesn’t agree with.
“Any method that doesn’t terminate life after conception isn’t bad, like the ones that only change hormones to prevent pregnancy aren’t harmful but the ones that actually terminate are seen as murder hence not good to use,” he explains.
Masasu is quick to add that different religions have different beliefs as some argue that procreation should be done as is in the Bible, whereas others believe in the fact that they should only have children they can manage to look after.
He says, however, that for one to choose the right method, they can always seek guidance from health workers who are Christians and can actually help explain.
Sheikh Yusuf Mugisha of Masjid Al Quidsi Mosque, Kacyiru, says that in this day and era if there are methods that can actually help in dealing with some issues society faces, without posing a threat to life, then they are not prohibited in Islam.
“In Islam we encourage women to breastfeed for at least two years because it also works as a birth control method, but still, a woman can conceive and that’s a challenge, so if there are other ways to resort to why not try them,” Mugisha says.
For example in Islam use of condoms is allowed as long as its husband and wife and is not used in committing adultery, he adds.
“I would encourage the government to sensitise people beginning with Catholics, because with such a stand taken by the Catholic Church, even HIV rates will increase,” Mugisha says.
He points out that child spacing will be an issue, not forgetting the effect it will have on the woman’s health because of having kids incessantly as this will surely weaken her health.
“In Islam, we believe that if there is a burden in fulfilling something considered as the law, depending on circumstances, we accept and deal with the necessary changes.
“For example, when Muslims are praying, there is where we stand, kneel and sit because Allah instructed us to pray like that but that doesn’t mean that a disabled person without legs won’t pray. In Islam, they also instruct us to eat with the right arm but if one is disabled and only has the left does it mean they won’t eat?” he says.
Eric Mugabo, an IT specialist, says that he wouldn’t in any way support the banning of contraceptives because of issues like HIV and unwanted pregnancies that still need to be addressed.
“Without contraceptives many people will be infected, don’t forget that this is the continent with the largest number of HIV-related cases. On my side, I don’t think we have to go with scriptures and then neglect reality,” he says.
Mugabo worries about the lives that are yet to be lost and wonders how this is going to end noting that Catholics constitute the biggest percentage of population in Rwanda.
“The Bible was written when the scourge of HIV didn’t exist, but the reality is that it’s killing people every day.Unwanted pregnancy is also a big issue, I know of many young women who are depressed because of unwanted pregnancies but I can’t describe their misery here, what I know is something needs to be done,” Mugabo says.
James Kabera, a designer, says, “I personally support the use of contraceptives because it saves one from the unwanted pregnancies, so the Church banning contraceptives is just another sad story.
“The concept behind not using contraceptives just doesn’t work for me simply because things have changed and we need to follow suit. I can only imagine the world without the use of contraceptives.”
Charles Shyaka gives a similar argument, emphasising that banning contraceptives is dangerous, especially to the youth because this will only set back the government’s efforts in the fight against troubles like epidemics, poverty, school dropouts, to mention a few.
“I am a believer but Jesus Himself showed us examples by doing away with some laws in the Old Testament.
“For example Jesus’ teaching on the Sabbath, in Mark 2:27-28: He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath’, would you let your neighbour’s cow die in a ditch just because Christians were instructed not to work on Sunday?” Shyaka says.
What is the implication of the ban?
I don’t support the Church’s move to ban contraceptives in health centres.
For instance, contraceptives have saved many families from disasters such as early and unwanted pregnancies as some can’t afford to keep or raise more children.
We all know life is meant to be treasured but if you think about it, contraceptives can help protect those who may find themselves in trouble.
People tend to make mistakes, and others, just bad decisions, so at some point they face many challenges due to their reckless actions and look for a way out.
With the presence of contraceptives in health centres, many have managed to minimise or solve these problems.
Youngsters are sexually active, so contraceptives remain the ultimate solution for them to stay healthy and safe.
The initiative of banning contraceptives works for very few, and puts many lives in danger.
The initiators should put in mind that not all people can manage to abstain- it’s a high kind of discipline, and not all can manage. Imagine the number of people who will put their lives at risk, for instance, just by having unprotected sex, mainly because they can’t access contraceptives.
Contraceptives save lives.
In my opinion, the church should endeavour to educate people about the importance of abstaining and giving up contraceptive methods.
They need to be told why this is a more righteous life, rather than just banning them.
Take an example of girls who are raped; getting pregnant would destroy their lives, and also, they probably wouldn’t be so keen to raise those babies. This makes contraceptives a vital solution to such unpredictable cases.
This initiative should be revised.