It took 14 long years, but family planning advocates have won a major victory in the Philippines with the passage of the Responsible Parenthood Act, a new law providing free access to contraception and family planning services. Despite fierce opposition from the Catholic Church and intense foot-dragging in the legislature, reproductive rights activists were able to get the reproductive health bill through both Houses and send it to the desk of President Benigno Aquino, who signed it on December 29.
Surveys in the Philippines have shown that four out of ten women in the Philippines who want to avoid a pregnancy are not using a modern method of contraception, and while condoms are available, they are very expensive. Contraceptives, as a practical matter, are not available in most public health clinics. As a consequence, the number of unplanned pregnancies is exceedingly high, as is the population growth rate. In 1960, the population of the Philippines was 27 million. Today, it is 96 million, and current projections indicate that its population could rise to 155 million by mid-century.
If this victory holds, and it may not, it would represent the biggest single advance in recent years toward the UN’s goal of ensuring that all women in the world have access to reproductive health care. While the new law is scheduled to go into effect in mid-January, opponents of the new law are seeking to overturn it in the courts. Let’s hope they fail. If the new law is upheld, it will make a major contribution to preventing unplanned pregnancies, lowering the high maternal death rate, and reducing the number of unsafe abortions performed every year in the Philippines.
Congratulations to all those in the Philippines who fought for the passage of the new reproductive health law. Let’s hope it holds.
Posted by Robert J. Walker, President