Philippines: Family planning defies church
October 4th 2012
Philippine President Benigno Aquino is squaring off against his country’s powerful Catholic church in a bid to give people free access to the means to limit the size of their families.
The predominately Catholic country has one of Asia’s fastest-growing populations together with significant levels of chronic poverty. While neighbours have accelerated towards prosperity, the Philippines has lagged.
Economists say high population growth is a primary factor for that, but the church disagrees. It says population growth is not a cause of poverty and that people need jobs, not contraception.
Aquino, a Catholic like 80 percent of the population, has thrown his support behind a reproductive health bill that will, if passed by the two houses of Congress, guarantee access to free birth control and promote sex education.
That’s something that Liza Cabiya-an might have benefited from, if she’d had the opportunity. Cabiya-an, 39, has 14 children. The oldest is 22, the youngest just 11 months. Their home is a hut in a Manila slum.
“It’s tough when you have so many children,” said Cabiya-an, a shy smile revealing poor teeth. “I have to count them before I go to sleep to make sure no one’s missing.”
At one time Cabiya-an had access to contraception but Manila mayor Jose Atienza, a devout Catholic, swept contraceptives from the shelves of city-run clinics in 2000.
After that, Cabiya-an’s efforts to limit the size of her family were patchy, restricted by her meagre resources. She went on and off the pill and resorted to an illegal abortion more than once.
With income of about 7,600 pesos ($180) a month from doing laundry and her husband’s pay as a labourer, Cabiya-an has only been able to send five of her children to school. The others would appear doomed to join the quarter of the country’s 95 million people stuck below the poverty line.
“It’s our firm belief that contraceptives will never be the answer,” said Father Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Family and Life.
“They are poor not because they have no access to contraceptives but because they have no work. Give them work and it will be the most effective birth spacing means for them.”
Economists say the church’s persistent opposition has been the most important factor influencing population policy. “The state … has been immobilised from effectively addressing the issue by the Catholic hierarchy’s hardline position,” a group of 30 economists from the University of the Philippines said in a recent paper.
But despite the arguments of the church and political opponents who decry using state funds to finance contraception, a poll last year showed about 70 percent of people support the bill. Its backers want it passed during the term of this congress, which ends in June.
Read the entire article: Reuters
More on this issue: Smaller families