• China Flag
  • India Flag
  • Indonesia Flag
  • Vietnam Flag

Is the war over for the anti-contraception campaign?

After years of debate and resistance, it now looks inevitable that the Philippines' controversial Reproductive Health Bill will pass into law next year.

  • Karen Lema
  • Philippines
  • October 5, 2012
  • Facebook
  • Print
  • Mail
  • Share
Philippine President Benigno Aquino is squaring off against his country's powerful Catholic church in a bid to give people free access to the means to limit the size of their families.

The predominately Catholic country has one of Asia's fastest-growing populations together with significant levels of chronic poverty. While neighbours have accelerated towards prosperity, the Philippines has lagged.

Economists say high population growth is a primary factor for that, but the church disagrees. It says population growth is not a cause of poverty and that people need jobs, not contraception.

Aquino, a Catholic like 80 percent of the population, has thrown his support behind a reproductive health bill that will, if passed by the two houses of Congress, guarantee access to free birth control and promote sex education.

That's something that Liza Cabiya-an might have benefited from, if she'd had the opportunity.

Cabiya-an, 39, has 14 children. The oldest is 22, the youngest just 11 months. Their home is a hut in a Manila slum.

"It's tough when you have so many children," said Cabiya-an, a shy smile revealing poor teeth. "I have to count them before I go to sleep to make sure no one's missing."

At one time Cabiya-an had access to contraception but Manila mayor Jose Atienza, a devout Catholic, swept contraceptives from the shelves of city-run clinics in 2000.

After that, Cabiya-an's efforts to limit the size of her family were patchy, restricted by her meager resources. She went on and off the pill and resorted to an illegal abortion more than once.

With income of about 7,600 pesos ($180) a month from doing laundry and her husband's pay as a labourer, Cabiya-an has only been able to send five of her children to school. The others would appear doomed to join the quarter of the country's 95 million people stuck below the poverty line.

Contraceptives are generally available in the Philippines although they are not used as much as elsewhere.

In the Philippines, 45-50 percent of women of reproductive age, or their partners, are using a contraceptive method at any given time. Indonesia's rate is 56 percent and Thailand's 80 percent.

Population growth mirrors that. The Philippines population is increasing by 1.9 percent a year, while Indonesia's is 1.2 percent and Thailand's is 0.9 percent. China's population is growing at an annual rate of 0.6 percent.

"If you increase access to contraceptives for women ... you will have births averted," said Josefina Natividad, director of the University of the Philippines' Population Institute.

Though available in most places, the cost of contraceptives is prohibitive for many people. But that should change if the reproductive health bill is passed.

Aquino's government has promised what it calls inclusive growth and it sees slowing population growth as key to that.

"The president has already, at the risk of alienating the church, declared that the bill is a priority," Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said. "That message is very clear."

But it's a message the church doesn't like.

Full Story: Philippines defies church to push family planning

Source: Reuters
  • Facebook
  • Print
  • Mail
  • Share
Global Pulse Magazine
UCAN India Books Online