Family planning law move alarms Philippine bishops

Leading church figures accuse Duterte of breaking court order preventing distribution of contraceptive implants
Family planning law move alarms Philippine bishops

Filipino Catholics join a protest march against the passage of the country's reproductive health law. (Photo by Roy Lagarde)


Several Catholic bishops in the Philippines have expressed alarm over a government decision to implement a controversial law that will allow the use of contraceptives for family planning.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the release of funds "to intensify and accelerate" the implementation of "modern family planning" by next year.

The implementation of the reproductive health law is part of the socio-economic agenda of the Duterte administration. 

In 2012, the Philippines passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act after a contentious 14-year battle with the Catholic Church and "pro-life" groups.

Full implementation of the law was, however, held back by a temporary restraining order against contraceptive implants issued by the Supreme Court in 2015.

The court order came after the Health Department acquired around 400,000 contraceptive implants for distribution, but complaints that the contraceptives had alleged abortaficient qualities surfaced.

Church leaders said Duterte, who issued the order on Jan. 11, should have not ordered the implementation of the law because of the prevailing court order.

"He is not above the Supreme Court," said Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon. The bishop said the president should respect the court ruling.

"He can execute only when all legal grounds are cleared," said Bishop Bastes, adding that the court order should be enforced for the "ultimate good of our country."

Bishop Jose Oliveros of Malolos urged Duterte to respect the court decision, "which aims to support the constitution on respect of human life even from its beginning in the womb of the mother."

Ernesto Pernia, director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority, said Duterte's order will allow women of reproductive age to decide on the number of children they can have.

The official said government health workers would identify those in need of family planning in the next six months.

Part of the strategies outlined in Duterte's order is to conduct a comprehensive review of couples and individuals in need of family planning services.

Pernia said the Philippines will be "unable to meet our poverty reduction target" if the law is not implemented.

The government aims to reduce poverty to 13 percent by the end of Duterte's six-year term in 2022.

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The Catholic bishops’ conference has been vocal in its opposition to the implementation of the country's reproductive health law for allowing the use of artificial contraceptives in family planning.

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