News Contraception

Philippines Pushes “Protection of the Unborn Child” Bill to Stop Families From Using Contraceptives

Robin Marty

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines adds their support to a bill meant to stop the new reproductive health bill being considered in the country.

Religious and anti-choice advocates in the Philippines are increasing their efforts to stop any headway on the reproductive health bill working its way through the legislative process, now introducing their own “Protection of the Unborn Child” bill in order to make contraceptive measures like the Pill illegal.


At a joint hearing of the Senate committees on youth, women and family relations, and constitutional amendments, Atty. Jo Aurea Imbong, executive secretary of the CBCP’s legal office, said the CBCP favored the passage of the proposed measure contained in Senate Bills 2407, 2584 and 2635 because it acknowledged and asserted the fundamental and inalienable right to life.

The bills prohibit the use of “abortifacients, abortive acts and practices that induce abortion.”

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“The unborn offspring of conception is human life –whether wanted o unwanted, unplanned or mistimed. Senate Bills 2497, 2584 and 2635 acknowledge and assert this fundamental and alienable right to life. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference favors their passage into law,” Imbong told the committees.

The reproductive health bill being considered by the legislature is hoped to address the increasing maternal mortality rate the country has been experiencing, often blamed on women having babies too closely spaced due to lack of access to birth control. The president of the country has been giving his support to the reproductive health bill as it is being debated.

News Law and Policy

Philippines Reproductive Health Bill Passes House of Representatives Despite Aggressive Opposition from Bishops

Magdalena Lopez

In the early morning of December 13th, 2012, the Philippines House of Representatives voted to pass on second reading the Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011 (commonly known as the RH bill), which will give millions of women access to contraception and other reproductive health services that were in many cases out of their reach.

In the early morning of December 13th, 2012, the Philippines House of Representatives voted to pass the Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011 (commonly known as the RH bill), which will give millions of women access to contraception and other reproductive health services that were in many cases out of their reach. Despite widespread support for the move, and the fact that almost a third of Filipino women have an unmet need for contraception, the bill had languished in Congress for almost 15 years.

It was a victory for those of us in the Philippines who want to save lives and improve the well-being of families, an achievement that could not have come about without pro-health champions in Congress and the advocates who fought side-by-side for this bill with me and my colleagues for over a decade. I applaud the legislators who stood up to the bishops and for the will of the people, and the citizens—both Catholic and not Catholic—who refused to be intimidated by the hierarchy’s no-holds-barred campaign against the bill.

The Catholic hierarchy has a lot to answer for in the delay, as Rina Jimenez-David, a journalist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, explained in Conscience magazine in 2010. She described a call from two bishops asking the president to “slow down” on the RH Bill—one among many, many examples of the hierarchy’s aggressive lobbying. Whether it’s been a show of force in the House of Representatives or pointed sermons against reproductive health from the pulpit, the Catholic hierarchy has consistently pressured the faithful in the pews and in Congress to sink this legislation. For instance, Bishop Arturo Bastes of Romblon targeted House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman,alleging that the lawmaker was “excommunicating himself” with his support for the RH bill.

Just as consistently, however, opinion polls have shown a majority of citizens and Catholics in the Philippines support the government making contraception more available. And the facts have been on their side all along.

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We should remember that the result was also a defeat—for the bishops and their myopic point of view. Their perspective tries to override individual conscience and the rights of the women who have no access to contraception that would allow them to decide whether or when to have children—without which their health and lives may be at risk.

Indeed, the Family Health Survey shows a precipitous rise in the number of maternal deaths in the Philippines in recent years: from 162 per 100,000 live births in 2006 to 221 per 100,000 live births in 2011. A Los Angeles Times article described what life was like for Yolanda Naz, who lives with her husband and eight children in a shack. Contraception was impossible to afford after the local government of Manila, in collusion with the bishops, stopped offering family planning services at public clinics.

“For us, the banning of the pills was ugly,” Naz said. A recent New York Times article contained pictures of a maternity ward in Manila, two women to a bed, that were hard to look at. Yet those who were against the RH bill had the temerity to claim to speak for the poor.

The battle over the RH Bill was also fought among Catholic clergy. In a public disagreement between two Catholic clergymen, Bishop Gabriel Reyes of the Diocese of Antipolo took out a newspaper ad to refute a column in which Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a Jesuit and dean emeritus of the Ateneo de Manila Law School, portrayed family planning as a personal choice. Bernas disagreed with the bishop that contraception is readily available to the poor. “The exercise of freedom is only possible if one has the capacity to choose,” said the priest.

The bishops showed up in full force to the vote today, and no doubt they were focusing on the thoughts of the lawmakers before them, hoping that all their press statements and pressure tactics had sunk in. They may have, but they did not sway the 113 members who voted for the Bill. Pro-RH politicians like Rep. Kimi Cojuangco cited public health in voting “yes.” 

“I’m a woman of means, then I lived with the poor and saw women suffering. I do this for the women,” she said. “I am a Catholic. The poor demand this national policy be adopted. I am mandated to listen to our people,” said Rep. Rodolfo Biazon after his vote today.

When you’ve pledged to cover up the truth, being forced into the light can be frightening, but I can assure the bishops of the Philippines: none of the doomsday scenarios you depicted will come to pass. In reality, the passage of the RH bill means that the Philippines will be much the same—except healthier and safer for women and their families.

While far from perfect, the Reproductive Health Bill addresses some of the health disparities—including maternal mortality— disproportionately affecting the poorest women, and may help check the rising HIV infection rate in a country where condoms are too expensive for many people. I heartily applaud those who voted in favor of its passage.

The Senate is due to vote on an RH measure as early as next week.

Roundups Media

Global Roundup: Saudi Arabia Plans Women-Only Cities; Philippines RH Bill Continues to Languish

Jessica Mack

Weekly global roundup: Will Saudi Arabia's plan to construct a women-only industrial city opens new doors for women? Philippines' RH Bill still hanging in the balance as the Catholic Church grows restless; Texans seek abortion pills in Mexico; Rare justice for 13-year-old Afghan torture survivor.

Saudi Arabia: Women-Only Industrial City to Open in 2013

In the tentative march forward for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, a women-only city will be constructed in Hofuf Province, in the east of the country. Several more single sex cities are planned in the coming years. Sex segregation in the country, which follows strict Wahabi Sharia laws, is the norm. Saudi Arabia has continued to come under strong criticism from other countries for its blatant marginalization of women. In July, Human Rights Watch called on the International Olympic Committee to demand that, for the first time ever, the country field female athletes at this year’s games. They did, though some women’s rights advocates claimed the move was tokenistic. The country has continued to move slowly toward liberalizing strict gender laws, especially when it comes under international pressure to do so, though without making major systemic changes. Campaigns, both national and international, to let women drive, vote, run in elections, and work freely outside the house have only been marginally successful. The latest news has been met largely with lukewarm appreciation or skepticism. “How can further segregation be expected to solve the problems caused by discrimination?” asks Homa Khaleeli in the Guardian. Khaleeli argues that women-only cities are one more link in the chain of women’s oppression, not a clear step toward undoing it. Via Guardian.

Philippines: Clock is Ticking as RH Bill Debate Wears On

In the never-ending story of the Philippines’ Reproductive Health Bill, debate wears on. While Congress voted last week to end debate on the RH Bill, which has languished for nearly two decades, heavy rains and flooding led to the postponement of a final vote. In the meantime, there has been even more testimony both for and against the bill. This week the Senate Majority Leader shed pernicious tears describing the loss of his infant years ago due to, according to him, his wife’s contraception use. He erroneously cited a number of other instances where friends had lost children, whose health had been compromised by the contraception their parents’ were using when they were conceived. Yikes. Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) are growing angrier. The CBCP spoke out during Mass this week, complaining that President Benigno called the vote to end debate on the bill August 6, instead of August 7 as promised. While the Philippines is majority Catholic, the overwhelming majority of the population supports the bill’s passage, which would grant unfettered access to sex ed and contraception where it has systematically been denied. Via The Philippines Star.

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Mexico and the US: Crossing Borders for Abortion Access

The Texas Tribune reports on the trend of women living on the Texas border crossing over into Mexico to access Misoprostol, a drug that serves to induce abortion. Abortion access has remained under assault, and especially in Texas, and this latest revelation is a sobering picture of the lengths to which women will go to pursue their reproductive freedom. Hefty costs, sparse clinic access, and intensified cultural stigma around abortion in the US have the potential to push women underground in their efforts to seek access. Misoprostol, or Cytotec as it is known generically, is a safe and effective abortifacient, but not available in the US without prescription and clinic-based use. In contrast, the drug is available widely and cheaply all over the world, largely due to the fact that it is marketed on-label as an ulcer medication. In 2009, a study showed that Dominican women living in New York were more comfortable taking Misoprostol on their own, obtained from the Dominican Republic, than visiting a local clinic for a safe, legal abortion. The trend highlights the immensity of abortion stigma, but also raises questions about efficacy when women self-abort with the drug obtained from another country or outside of a clinic setting. In the US, medication abortion is not recommended for use after nine weeks of pregnancy, and must be taken in specific doses and time frames to be effective. See Women on Web, by the fabulous abortion rights group Women on Waves, for specific information about safe and effective dosing of Miso. Via Texas Tribune.

Afghanistan: 13-Year Old Torture Survivor Sees Justice, Sort Of

Thirteen-year-old Sahar Gul made international headlines earlier this year after she was found tortured and shunned by her in-laws for refusing to engage in prostitution. While violence against women and women’s rights abuses in Afghanistan are, sadly, not rare, the global publicity of Gul’s case likely contributed President Hamid Karzai calling vociferously for a “probe” into the girl’s injuries. In July, a court of appeals upheld sentences of 10 years in prison each for her three in-laws, convicted of torture and imprisonment. While the decision is being hailed as a victory for women’s rights, Gul’s case is undoubtedly singular in the amount of global media attention it has garnered and advocates are dubious that her justice gained means much for women countrywide. “We have many cases perhaps graver than this where women are murdered. No one hears anything about them,” said one Afghan women’s rights advocate. In addition, the media’s treatment of Gul’s case has revealed insensitivity toward and objectification of the experiences of women, especially young women, in developing and non-Western countries. Gul’s image, bruised and battered, was splashed across websites and blogs, and Times reporter Graham Bowley was criticized after he declared he should have ‘pushed past no,’ in trying to interview Gul in her hospital bed. Via New York Times.