Philippines, Reproductive Health law, poverty, Catholic Church, JofelleTesorio and Ariel Carlos

The Philippine Supreme Court has struck down a legal challenge to a controversial birth control   law that has been opposed by the country's powerful Roman Catholic Church.


The court found that the law-- that requires the government to provide free contraception to the poorest Filipinos, and conduct safe sex education in schools—is not unconstitutional. 


This is a free weekly health check for pregnant mothers... 


It’s run by the group Roots of Health.. led by mid-wife Meryl Arzaga.


She says most of the mothers here are on their third or more pregnancies and they are very poor. 


Meryl has been a vocal support of the Reproductive Health law.  “I’m overjoyed that finally the law will be implemented because we could distribute more contraceptives and incidents of pregnancies will be lessened. Therefore, less maternal deaths, child deaths and birth-related complications.”


Every day more than 11 Filipino women die from preventable complications due to pregnancy and child birth.



The Philippines also has a high number unplanned teenage pregnancy rate. Amina Evangelista-Swanepoel is the founding executive director of Roots for Health. 


“The most important aspects of the law which is now going to be implemented is the fact that it mandates sex education for young people in school and it also provides free contraceptives for women who cannot afford it. So this law is really going to help the youth and women and that’s who we’ve been fighting for this whole time.”


For housewife Elvie Ubud access to free contraception comes a little too late.  “This is my 10th pregnancy but my eldest was premature and he died. So I have eight children now and this is the ninth.”


Elvie is among thousands of poor women who had limited access and information about contraceptives.


Obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Karen Acosta says many pregnant women could not afford a proper natal care. 


“They have average children of five and they cannot even have regular prenatal check-up due to financial constraints, because they need to go to work.”


The Philippines has one of the fastest population growth rates in Asia. But the powerful Catholic Church and has fought fiercely against the reproductive law.


They believe that it will encourage abortion and immorality and have argued that it’s unconstitutional. Catholic Bishop Pedro Arigo reiterates that the law will encourage abortion, immorality and goes against God’s teachings. “There are provisions in our present constitution that the state is bound to protect the life of the mother and the unborn and also to protect and defend the family as a basic unit of society.”


And Bishop Pedro Arigo doesn’t see a link between unwanted pregnancies and poverty. 


“This issue of poverty is not caused by population. And from the experience of other countries, the more population, the more progressive they are. Yes, we can the more mouth to feed but there are more hands to work and to produce. It is an outright lie to say that poverty is cause by the number of population. It is the unjust structures, the unequal distribution of wealth and for our case, it’s corruption…”


But for mother of nine Elvie Ubud, she wished she could turn back time when the reproductive health law is around …


“I would have wanted fewer children because life is so difficult. Now, I really don’t really want to get pregnant anymore. But I can’t do anything now.” 


The Church plans to appeal the decision of the Supreme Court. 


With the law’s implementation, the health department is now urging women to avail free contraceptives and other health reproductive services by the government.



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