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Issue #1589      April 17, 2013

Philippines: right to family planning compromised

The Reproductive Health Law would widen access to family planning for people living in poverty, writes Iris C Gonzales.

The law took 13 years to pass and only three months for the Supreme Court to put on hold. Welcome to the Philippines, where Congress approved a landmark Reproductive Health Law in December 2012, despite staunch opposition from the Catholic Church. The Act guarantees universal access to contraception, sexual education, and maternal care.

But the victory felt by women’s rights and reproductive health advocates has only been temporary: the Supreme Court has issued a temporary restraining order on the measure, acting on a petition filed by Catholic lawyers who considered the law “anti-life”.

The Reproductive Health Law is considered landmark legislation because it would provide state subsidy for the acquisition of contraceptives to people living in poverty. In Philippine slums, where about four million people out of the country’s 94 million population live, the fertility rate is high. The total fertility rate for women in the poorest quintile was 5.2 percent, compared with 1.9 percent in the richest quintile, according to government statistics.

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based watchdog said delaying the implementation of the law puts women’s lives at risk: “The reproductive health law was passed by Congress to address the many grave health risks faced by Filipino women,” explained director, Brad Adams.

“By delaying implementation of the law for at least four months – a long time for an interim order – the Supreme Court is putting an untold number of women and girls at unnecessary risk. While we respect the judicial process in the Philippines, Filipino women and families have waited and suffered long enough.”

The chief public health officer of Quezon City, in the eastern part of the Philippines agreed that that delaying the measure puts women’s lives at risk. She said that on the ground, the situation of women is lamentable.

“The Catholic Church has not opened its eyes. For us in the medical profession, what we are seeing in the field is that the situation is affecting the welfare of the poor people,” said Dr. Antonieta Inumerable.

Dr Inumerable said that women have the right to make a choice in planning their families for the sake of their health and that of their children.

Even the World Health Organisation expressed its support to the Philippine government’s position on the Reproductive Health Law. It even offered to help by defending the measure before the Supreme Court.

The fate of this landmark legislation is still in the hands of the Supreme Court. A new hearing has been scheduled for June 18.

In the meantime, in Manila’s slum areas, women go on with their daily lives. They struggle to survive, raise their families and give birth to more babies.

New Internationalist  

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