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Philippines debates government promotion of contraception

Date: Sunday, February 08, 2009
Author: Anna Coren and Tim Schwarz

Dateline: Manila, the Philippines

Thanks to Bill Ryerson of the US Population Media Center for having advised me of this - JS

A debate is stirring in the predominantly Roman Catholic country of the Philippines: should the government provide contraceptives to the public?

More than 100 members of the House of Representatives have co-authored a bill that would allow government funds to be used to promote artificial contraceptives -- which is now prohibited in the Southeast Asian nation.

"The bill is not about religion. It is not about morality," said Edcel Lagman, a congressman. "It's about rights, health and sustainable human development."

Some one-third of the country's 90 million people live in poverty. The Asian Development Bank said that problem will persist until the country curbs its birth rate -- one of the highest in the world.

The nationwide Pulse Asia Poll found nearly two-thirds of people support the bill. But the Catholic Church is fiercely opposed, and is pressuring lawmakers to vote against it.

"Why should we use contraceptives, teaching our children the use of contraceptives," said Ed Sorreta of Pro-Life Philippines. "It's totally against the teaching of the Catholic Church. The poverty is really caused by other issues, moral values."

"When you talk about natural family planning, it needs discipline, that's where many couples fail. They lack the discipline."

Abortion is illegal in the Philippines, except in cases to save a mother's life. But the United Nations estimates that half a million illegal abortions are performed in the country every year.

Sheila Villanueva, a 25-year-old maid earning $2 a day, has five children.

"I married at eighteen. I had my first baby by the time I was nineteen. Then the babies came, one after the other," she said.

"Life is so hard, kids get sick easily, prices of goods are so high. That's one of the reasons why I don't want them to have too many kids," she said.

Still, Villanueva said she would not use contraceptives.

"Even if they say you'll end up with too many kids, I don't get swayed by their persuasions, I won't use those contraceptives," she said.

The legislation will go before the nation's Congress in the next few months.

"This bill, once it becomes a law, it will give information and access to those who want it," Lagman said. "But I will also underscore that central to this bill is the freedom of choice. ... (W)e compel women to make their own choices."

"(T)he government should be there to give them free information and free access to the products, particularly to the poorer of the poor," he added.

See also: Add your comments to the PMC blog.