For years the Catholic Church has fought tooth and nail to prevent women in the Philippines from accessing contraception, despite the fact that the the country has one of the fastest-growing populations in Asia, and that 70 percent of the population supports birth control measures.
Well, this week the Church and its “pro-life” allies were finally defeated when President Rodrigo Duterte, above, signed an executive order providing funds and support for modern Family Planning. Part of the strategy to make modern family planning available to the poor throughout the Philippines by 2018 involves sex education lessons and the distribution of condoms to school pupils.
It is hoped that the Reproductive Health Bill will go a long way to slowing down population growth. The country was on track to increase by more than half, to 155 million, by 2050.
Among the strategies outlined in the four-page executive order is to do a comprehensive review of couples and individuals in need of family planning services.
National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director General Ernesto Pernia said in a press briefing yesterday:
There is a plan in the next six months for local governments to go out in the field, to do house-to-house visits, identify those in need of family planning, [and work] with all these agencies.
Pernia said that if the law was not implemented properly, the Philippines would be:
Unable to meet our poverty reduction target.
The government hopes to reduce poverty to 13 percent by the end of Duterte’s six-year term in 2022, the socio-economic manager added.
A Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law was enacted under President Noynoy Aquino in December 2012 after a contentious 14-year battle with the Catholic Church and pro-life groups.
But its full implementation was held back by a temporary restraining order (TRO) against contraceptive implants, issued by the Supreme Court in July 2015.
The TRO came after the health department had acquired around 400,000 contraceptive implants for distribution. Complaints that the contraceptives had alleged abortaficient qualities surfaced, which the government contested.
Pro-life groups keep saying that contraception or family planning or the reproductive health law is abortifacient, it’s anti-life. But… we in the government, we think differently … We feel that it is pro-life, pro-women, pro-children, and pro-economic development.
In the Philippines, access to contraceptives is limited for the most part to those with the means to pay.
A few years back, the Mayor of Manila, Jose “Lito” Atienza, above, – with the blessing of Roman Catholic bishops – halted the distribution of contraceptives at public clinics to promote “a culture of life”. The order put birth control pills and other contraceptives out of reach for millions of poor Filipinos, who could not afford to buy them at private pharmacies.
Following Vatican dictates, Philippine bishops oppose any “artificial” measures to prevent pregnancy, sanctioning only natural means such as periodic abstention from sex.
Lawmakers said the church threatened to deny them Communion if they vote for the legislation birth control legislation.
In 2010, Benigno Aquino III was elected President after pledging to sign the bill. Bishop Nereo Odchimar, then president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, suggested Aquino might be excommunicated if he followed through on the commitment.
Retired Archbishop Oscar V Cruz said in an interview.
The contraceptive pills do not only prevent conception, they even destroy conception once it is already there. That is abortion.
Atienza, who ordered the removal of contraceptives from public clinics a dozen years ago, said he sees economic potential in a growing population.
Our people are so talented and so skilled and brilliant and bright. When you have more people, you have a bigger labor force. You have a bigger social security base. You have more productivity. You have more consumption. More production. The whole cycle of the economy moves faster.
Atienza said he also opposes birth control because he believes it “weakens the family” and is in conflict with the Filipino Constitution’s protection of the unborn.
Government should not spend government funds for this purpose.
But Yolanda Naz, a woman who “has more children than teeth”, said she’ll always be a Catholic. That doesn’t mean she agrees with the priests on everything.
When I go to Mass, I hear the priest give sermons saying that pills are bad. But whenever I hear that, I just say to myself that, for me, it’s not evil, it’s not bad or it’s not sinful. What is more sinful is to have more children than I can afford to feed.
Abortion is criminalised by Philippine law. Articles 256, 258 and 259 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines mandate imprisonment for women who undergo abortion, as well as for any person who assists in the procedure. Article 258 further imposes a higher prison term on the woman or her parents if the abortion is undertaken “in order to conceal [the woman’s] dishonour”.
But according to the World Health Organisation, 70 percent of unwanted pregnancies in the Philippines end in abortion. Approximately 4 in 5 abortions are for economic reasons, often where a woman already has several children and cannot care for another.
Around 100,000 women end up in the hospital every year due to unsafe abortions, according to the Department of Health, and 12 percent of all maternal deaths in 1994 were due to unsafe abortion. Some hospitals refuse to treat complications of unsafe abortion, or operate without anesthesia, as punishment for the patients.