After over a decade of debate, the Philippines’ Legislative body recently passed a Reproductive Health (RH) bill that allows the government to fund sex education and contraceptives.
The amount of time it took for the Philippines to finally pass RH is due to a strong Catholic Church that previously ousted two national presidents in a revolt dubbed “people power.” Bishops and nuns are continuing to protest the new law, claiming that it will lead to a legislation of abortion and that it encourages premarital sex. However, with contraceptives now deemed a universal human right by the UN, the passing of the legislature strengthens the Philippines’ democracy. Contraception does not only affect premarital sex but also affects married couples who wish to control when and if they have children. It impacts the lives of all sexually active people who could be at risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
The Philippines is heavily Catholic country (over 80% of the population is Catholic), but surveys have found that a majority of the population is open to the idea of contraception. To the Catholic church, condoms have been likened to abortion, with birth control previously banned in public clinics across Manila. Those who were able to acquire birth control were those who had access to private clinics, thereby dividing the rich and the poor.
The passing of this law is victory not just to women and children, but also families as a whole. Poverty is rampant in the Philippines, with shanty towns (also known as “slum” or “squatter” settlements) being a prominent national issue. This extreme poverty, especially when highly concentrated in certain areas, increases the risk of disease outbreak and infant mortality rate. Infant deaths among the poor are three times more likely than among the rich in the Philippines. The introduction of the RH bill may create optimism for stronger public health services that can be accessed by poorer families, especially in geographically isolated areas and in the slums.
Photo courtesy of the AFP
Other issues the RH may tackle include unplanned pregnancy and the high rate of abortion due to little access to contraceptives. According to the United Nations Population Fund, the Philippines experiences 3.4 million unwanted pregnancies each year. By providing easy access to contraceptives, it also strengthens the institution of family, where couples are now able to determine the number of children they want. With this in mind, families are able to regulate pregnancies in relation to their financial capability, which is especially important considering the country’s slow economic growth.
Coming from a long history of a ban on contraceptives, there might still be stigma in the country when it comes to using them. But if the data stating that a majority of Catholics want contraceptions holds true, a shift may occur in the country sometime soon. Sex education could further impact the population by providing necessary information and resources to young people by preparing them for future sexual encounters and the risks associated with them. Contraceptives and the ability to control ones body, be it from pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, is a good homage to the people’s power.
Header image courtesy of AFP