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RH Bill gets last, crucial 'yes' vote

Bishops called again for 'no' vote, rights workers disagreed

RH Bill gets last, crucial 'yes' vote
Children rally in support of the RH Bill outside the House of Representatives. (Photo by Edgar Fernandez)
Joe Torres, Manila

December 17, 2012

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The Reproductive Health (RH) Bill has passed its final vote in the House of Representatives, by a majority of 133 over 79 with seven abstentions. The bill is expected go to the Senate on Wednesday, where a further yes vote will make its enshrinement into law all but inevitable.

The expected passage of the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Bill "will be a massive step towards promoting women’s health and lives," Human Rights Watch said.

The bill would entail more access to a range of reproductive health services, including contraceptives, in the hope of stabilizing population growth and reducing the number of maternal deaths.

"The bill will have profound implications for improving the health and lives of women throughout the country,” said Carlos Conde, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"The Aquino administration should be credited for having the political will to muster support for the bill in Congress despite the threat of a political backlash," he added.

But the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines yesterday issued a strongly worded statement again urging lawmakers to stop the bill in its tracks.

"The RH Bill if passed into law can harm our nation. Contraception corrupts the soul," said the statement signed by conference vice-president, Bishop Socrates Villegas.

The bill is being "gift wrapped to look like a gift for maternal health care. It is not so. It will lead to greater crimes against women," he said.

The poor "can rise from their misery through more accessible education, better hospitals and less government corruption," he added.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, archbishop of Manila, also appealed to legislators to reject the bill.

“As the issue of the RH Bill heats up again, I appeal to our legislators in [the House of Representatives] and the Senate to welcome Jesus with joy. His word and wisdom are needed to form consciences,” he said.

The bill, first filed in Congress more than a decade ago, was ignored by legislators for years because of strong opposition led by Catholic bishops. It seeks to integrate the government's responsible parenthood and family planning efforts into all of its anti-poverty and development programs. 

The bill also requires sex education in high school. It categorizes all products and supplies for modern family planning as “essential,” meaning they must be available at all hospitals and clinics.

The United Nations Population Fund notes there are 3.4 million pregnancies in the Philippines every year. A third are aborted, often in clandestine, unsafe, and unsanitary procedures by non-professionals.

The fund estimates that there are 11 pregnancy-related deaths every day in the Philippines and “most of them could have been avoided with  a well-functioning health care delivery system.” 

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