MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines Supreme Court passed a law guaranteeing women access to free birth control. The law requires public health workers to be trained in family planning services and for sex education to be taught in schools. Although the law does not legalize abortion, it requires public health workers to provide medical care to women experiencing post-abortion injuries.
The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RH Law) was signed by President Benigno Aquino III in December 2012, but was then put on hold due to fierce opposition by the Roman Catholic Church and conservative members of the government.
The Church and the conservative politicians questioned the constitutionality of the RH Law. After several months of discussion, the Supreme Court unanimously found that the law was legal under the constitution.
A legacy of Spanish colonialism, 80 percent of the country’s population remains Roman Catholic. Pope Francis has recently stated that the Church is too obsessed with abortion and contraception, but many local Catholic leaders in the Philippines are still strictly conservative.
Legislator Edcel Lagman, the main author of the law stated that, “This monumental decision upholds the separation of church and state and affirms the supremacy of government in secular concerns like health and socioeconomic development.”
The Philippines is the only country in the world where divorce is illegal. The country bans abortions as well. However, collective public polling demonstrates that the majority of the public has decidedly more liberal views and is in favor of the new law.
As part of the Millennium Development Goals, maternal mortality is a significant problem that countries around the world are attempting to eliminate. In the Philippines, around 14 women die each day due to childbirth complications. The law will give millions of women access to free birth control pills and condoms, reduce poverty, cut the high rate of maternal mortality in the country and decrease the birthrate, one of the highest on the planet.
The high birthrate of 3.54 is one of the factors that increases poverty levels in the country. With contraceptives and access to family planning services, women have a better ability to choose when they want to become pregnant.
Above all, guaranteeing access to free birth control empowers women and gives them more control over their reproductive rights and sexual health.
Women’s rights are becoming more visible around the world. This law will need proper enforcement by the national and local governments to reach women across the country. Inadequate infrastructure, corruption and opposition from both the Catholic Church and conservatives in the country may hinder the law’s progress.
With all the obstacles that face the RH Law, it still has immense potential to empower the country’s women and improve their lives in this top-down reform.