Monday, December 24, 2012

Philippines - Philippine Congress Passes Birth Control Bill

The Philippine Congress passed on Monday a controversial birth control bill that will make contraceptives available to the poor.

The Philippine Congress passed a controversial birth control bill on Monday, paving the way for increased access to sex education and free contraceptives for the poor.

In a country where approximately 80 percent of its citizens are Catholic, the measure was bitterly opposed by the influential Roman Catholic Church which had lobbied strongly against its passage for more than a decade.

The city of Manila – home to the national headquarters of the Catholic Church – banned contraceptives in government health centers about a decade ago.

“The passage of the Responsible Parenthood Bill signals not only a new chapter in our agenda of inclusive growth; it also begins a process of healing for the wounds that may have been opened by an often feisty democracy. We are confident that positive, meaningful engagement between the different branches of government will continue,” said Edwin Lacierda, a spokesman for President Benigno S. Aquino III, who supported the measure.

President Aquino in his statement also thanked Congressman Edcel Lagman who authored the bill more than a decade ago.

The Philippine Senate voted 13 to 8, while the House of Representatives voted 133 to 79 for the legislature, which is now headed to Mr. Aquino for his signature.

Once signed into law, the measure would allocate funds for contraceptives in government health centers and sex education for primary school children.

At 162 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, the Philippine maternal death rate is the highest in the Southeast Asian region, according to the 2007 UN Development Program (UNDP) Philippines Mid-Term Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

Health officials say the Philippines will likely miss the 2015 Millennium Development Goal of a maternal mortality ratio of 52 per 100,000 live births.

In 2005, foreign donors provided US$4.4 million for contraceptives, with the U.S. government contributing most of the money. But funding for contraception was cut into half in 2011 as donors dealt with the global economic downturn.

Speaking at the Asia Society in New York last year, President Aquino discussed how he was handling a trinity of issues back home: a lack of birth control, persistent poverty, and the collision with religion in these matters.

On the topic of reproductive health, he said that the state government must help educate its citizens about responsible parenting.

“Should I attempt to mimic an ostrich that buries the head in the sand, when I’ll be asked by God at some point in time, what did you do to the least of my brethren? Will I be able to say that we stopped the condition where nobody seems to care enough to educate them and empower them to effect their own decisions?” he said to approval from the crowd.

Clarifying that his administration did not support “population control per se,” Mr. Aquino added:
“We do not subscribe to a policy of limiting children. We have our own personal religious beliefs but we have to separate those that are of the state and those that are of the church,” he said.

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