Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered government agencies to expand access to contraception, especially for poor women. He instructs all poor households in the country should have "zero unmet need for modern family planning" by 2018. Part of the strategy to make modern family planning available to the poor throughout the Philippines involves sex education lessons and the distribution of condoms to school pupils.
For years, following Vatican dictates, Philippine bishops opposed any "artificial" measures to prevent pregnancy, sanctioning only natural means such as periodic abstention from sex. Birth control has long been available in the Philippines for middle class and wealthy women, but it is priced out of reach of the country's poor.
Abortion is illegal, unless a board of medical professionals deems it necessary to save the mother's life. Abortion is even criminalized by Philippine law. Articles 256, 258 and 259 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines mandate imprisonment for women who undergo abortion, as well as for any person who assists in the procedure. That’s why there are unsafe abortions and some hospitals refuse to treat complications of unsafe abortion, or operate without anesthesia, as punishment for the patients.
The main reason for the Reproductive Health Bill is slowing down population growth. The country was on track to increase by more than half — to 155 million — by 2050. National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director General Ernesto Pernia said in a press briefing:
“There is a plan in the next six months for local governments to go out in the field, to do house-to-house visits, identify those in need of family planning, [and work] with all these agencies.”
Four years ago, a Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law passed a law guaranteeing universal access to birth control. But the full implementation of that law has been blocked by temporary restraining order (TRO). The Catholic Church and pro-life groups claim that contraception or family planning or the reproductive health law is abortifacient. More than half of all pregnancies in the Philippines are unintended, according to the Guttmacher Institute and that is a devastating fact for the twenty first century. Every woman must have access to contraception; if this is not a case, it is certainly against human rights.
A few years back, the Mayor of Manila, Jose “Lito” Atienza halted the distribution of contraceptives at public clinics to promote “a culture of life”. The order put birth control pills and other contraceptives out of reach for millions of poor Filipinos, who could not afford to buy them at private pharmacies.
Retired Archbishop Oscar V Cruz even identifies birth control with abortion: “The contraceptive pills do not only prevent conception, they even destroy conception once it is already there. That is abortion.”
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