A Reproductive Health (RH) Bill that is reaching Philippine’s House floor for debate is a significant step in the fight against poverty and for women’s rights and health, and is the furthest that any draft legislation addressing reproductive health has reached in the predominantly Catholic country.
The measure aims to provide government-funded family planning, contraceptives, and sex education. Its passage is not certain; the bill has to pass both Houses, then to the desk of President Macapagal-Arroyo to be signed into law. President Macapagal-Arroyo has publicly toed the church’s line on ‘natural’ family planning.
The bill received support from a surprising quarter last fall: 69 professors at the prestigious Roman Catholic Ateneo de Manila University broke with their own church to sign an unusual open letter backing the legislation.
In an interview in December, two of the professors said the bill would put the Philippines in line with other predominantly Roman Catholic countries, including Italy, Ireland, and Mexico.
"We're the last Catholic country that hasn't allowed contraceptives and family planning of all kinds, systematically," said Mary Racelis, who is in the department of sociology and anthropology.
"What's happening in our country is that women go for abortions because they don't have access to forms of contraception," added Marita Castro Guevara, from the department of interdisciplinary studies.
The bill's proponents cite data showing that as many as 500,000 women have induced abortions in the Philippines each year, with some 80,000 going to the hospital due to complications. They say the bill would reduce abortions by providing better access to family planning resources.
In a speech delivered at a recent forum on Reproductive Health, Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, head of the Delegation of the European Commission in the Philippines, said the RH bill will enhance the anti-poverty and pro-development policy framework in the country.
MacDonald reiterated the EU’s statement during last year’s Philippine Development Forum that the “continued rapid population growth in the Philippines is draining health and economic resources and slowing down economic growth.”
The loudest protests against the bill has unsurprisingly come from the Church. Last month, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) representatives walked out of a Senate working-group discussion on the bill and said they wouldn't join further talks, Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Family Life, reiterated that the CBCP was promoting only natural family planning, and was in support of values education instead of the proposed reproductive health education for school children starting in the fifth grade.
Medical News Daily, Philippines Family Planning Bill Challenges Catholic Influence On Reproductive Health , 12 March 2009,http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/141973.php
The Christian Science Monitor, More Filipinos question birth-control taboo, 10 March 2009, http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0310/p07s02-woap.html
Philstar, European Union backs Reproductive Health bill, warns vs rapid population growth ,4 March 2009, http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=445376&publicationSubCate...
Inquirer.net, Bishops quit RH bill talks, 22 February 2009, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20090222-1903...