Women march outside the office of the Catholic bishops' conference in Manila (photo by Vincent Go)
About a thousand women today marched to the office of the Catholic bishops' conference in Manila to demand that Church leaders drop their opposition to a bill that advocates say would reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and maternal deaths.
"Women place their lives and future on the line when they get pregnant,” said former Philippines health secretary and protest leader Esperanza Cabral, who is pushing for the implementation of the Reproductive Health (RH) law.
“They should not be pushed into birth after birth, no matter how much these anti-RH groups believe that their position is moral."
Cabral and movie actress Giselle Toengi led the march, which included pregnant women and those dressed up to look pregnant who belong to the Purple Ribbon for RH Campaign group. They have called on courts in Philippines to "bring justice to women" by declaring the RH Law constitutional.
The crowd sang and shouted "for freedom, for justice, yes to RH Law" as they marched from the old walled city of Manila, where the office of the bishops' conference is located, to the Supreme Court building some three kms away.
The marchers left messages outside the bishops’ office imploring Church leaders to act on a call by Pope Francis to veer away from an "obsession" with contraception and to find a "new balance" in their pastoral ministry.
"We are not asking them to be pro-RH. What we are saying is to give the people options and not dictate how the people should live their lives," Bicbic Chua, executive director of Catholics for Reproductive Health, said in an interview.
The Philippine Supreme Court is set to start its summer session next week and decide on the legality of the RH law.
Government data show that around 1,000 Philippine women give birth every day. Data from the National Statistics Office show that for every 100,000 live births, 221 women die, a figure far from the Millennium Development Goal target of 53, which is hoped to be met by next year.
The RH Law, which was signed into law in December 2012 but suspended by the Supreme Court in March 2013 following petitions from religious groups, created a voluntary family planning program, school-based sex education and services to reduce maternal deaths such as skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric care.