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Philippine priest demands end to 'useless' reproductive health law

Call comes after govt admits controversial legislation has failed to curb teenage pregnancies

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Philippine priest demands end to 'useless' reproductive health law

Supporters of the reproductive health law take to the streets of Manila in this file photo. (Photo: Edgar Aguilar)

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A Catholic priest has called on the Philippine government to repeal the country’s reproductive health law after authorities admitted it has failed to curb unwanted pregnancies among teens.

Such pregnancies were on the rise with two out of 10 young Filipino women aged 15-19 having fallen pregnant since the law giving access to contraception was passed in 2012, the government said on Sept. 21.

A National Demographic and Health Survey also revealed that more than 50 percent of adult women aged 20-24 fell pregnant with their first child after the law was introduced.

The data revealed that the reproductive health law was not the solution to the country’s “overpopulation” problem, according to Father Melvin Castro, former head of the Catholic bishops’ Episcopal Commission on Family and Life.

“A continuous rise in teen pregnancies only proves that the RH law [reproductive health law] was not effective in solving the very problem it was introduced to solve,” he said in a Sept. 22 statement.

“The Catholic Church was right from the very start that teenage pregnancies can be solved through proper education, not merely by giving out condoms and other forms of contraceptives. Instead of practicing restraint, the young were forced to experiment.” 

The Catholic Church has often been critical of the reproductive health law, which provides universal and free access to all modern contraceptives at government health centers, including to those living below the poverty line.

The law also allows sex education in government schools and recognizes a woman’s rights to post-abortion care as part of their right to reproductive health care.

In 2012, the Catholic bishops’ conference told clergymen to mobilize church groups to rally against the passage of the then RH bill.

Father Castro said contraceptives alone would not reduce unplanned or unintended pregnancies. “Responsible parenthood is about love and sacrifice, which includes self-discipline,” he said.

He called for more emphasis to be placed on sex education in schools and at home.

“Preventing teenage pregnancies is not only about giving condoms. It is a matter of morals that parents and teachers must educate the young on,” Father Castro told UCA News.

“We have to educate parents so that they can properly educate their children. It involves personal dialogue with each child. Each child has his or her own individual needs with regard to proper sexual and emotional formation.” 

Women’s group GABRIELA, however, said the number of unwanted pregnancies would likely be higher had there been no reproductive health system in place.

“We only see the numbers, which may be high for some. But let us remember that the numbers that we are seeing now could be a lot higher if the government did not give women free access to contraceptives, especially to those in rural areas,” the group said in a statement.

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