Faith

Church fights free birth control in the Philippines

President Duterte expresses regret for explicit comments on Obama

 

Free contraception offered in the Philippines has set the Catholic Church and conservatives at odds with the government there.

President Rodrigo Duterte mandated free birth control for women in an effort to decrease poverty rates in the country and help economically stricken communities. Duterte issued an executive order in January declaring free access to contraception as part of "modern" family planning.

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"I said natural family planning does not really work," Duterte said on Sunday, as reported and translated into English by The Philippine Star. "You talk about the natural menstrual cycle, it cannot be that way because the urge to have sex is instant."

Under the mandate, two million women identified as "poor" are expected to have access to free family planning health care such as birth control by 2018.

"[The mandate] also directs government agencies to locate couples with unmet family planning needs, mobilize agencies up to the village level and partner with civil society in intensifying the drive," The Catholic Herald noted.

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In total, six million women who currently don't have access to family planning services will be provided with contraception access.

"This administration is bent on implementing these provisions to ensure that Filipinos' access to family planning and means to space and limit the number of children will not be curtailed," Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said.

In 2012, officials passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law. It required free birth control distribution, reproductive health services offered at public hospitals, and sex education mandated in schools. But a Supreme Court temporary restraining order prevented full implementation of the reproductive health law.

"Pro-life organizations such as the Alliance for the Family convinced the court that many of the contraceptives provided at huge discount by international aid agencies such as the Gates Foundation were actually early-acting abortifacients," LifeSiteNews reported.

In June 2015, the Supreme Court ruled the law violated the country's abortion law -- and put a pause on certain provisions of the law.

"We cannot rely on the calendar. Are we playing bingo?" President Duterte said this past weekend in reference to natural methods family planning.

Abortion is illegal in the country, but only wealthy or middle class Filipinos currently can afford birth control, according to a piece in Fortune.

"Family planning is very important here in the Philippines because mothers here have five babies, six babies, sometimes 13 babies," John Paul Domingo, a registered nurse at a Manila maternity ward in the Philippines, told VICE News.

The mandate has not been sitting well with the large religious population in the country. "Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas urged couples to 'shun the ways of selfishness and avoid the 'mutual self-degradation' of artificial contraception," NPR.org noted in January.

The Catholic Church opposes birth control; roughly 80 percent of Filipino people identify as Roman Catholic. Yet the president "claimed that religion is not attuned to current realities," said The Philippine Star.

"We have to encourage the faithful to make their own proper choices," Bishop Broderick Pabillo told VICE News. "We are discouraging contraception. We're encouraging natural family planning."

Conservatives have also raised questions about the law. "Minors should not be given condoms to use," Congressman Jose Atienza Jr. told VICE News. "They should be taught good manners and right conduct."