| | | Effective PR

Public Health: Philippines passes law to allow contraception; groups line up to overturn it in court

Editorial Staff

One has to ask what some people are on: Jo Imbong, a lawyer for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, has issued proceedings naming her son James and his wife as plaintiffs who are petitioning for a declaration that a new law legalising contraception for the first time is unconstitutional. Amongst her arguments is that "This law corrupts Philippine culture, mainly the emphasis we put on family values and marriage, taking care of children and parenting." Before she runs that argument, she might like to count how many young women are left bringing up children born out of wedlock or after their husband has run away with another woman, often with no support from the father.

The biggest tragedy facing Filipinas (the female form of Filipino) is that of unmarried or abandoned mothers who find themselves traipsing across the world looking for work as maids, nurses or in hospitality - or as prostitutes - just to send money home to their own mothers to feed, clothe and educate the children that have been abandoned.

The scale of the problem is immense. It is common for women of 18 years old to have at least one child, often to an older man.

The Responsible Parenthood Act has, itself, had a difficult gestation period. Hard line Catholics have argued that contraception is against the will of God. They do not, on the other hand, argue that men should bear full and proper responsibility for their children, legitimate or otherwise. The Church and its supporters have delayed similar legislation across the reign of several presidents, pointing out that, if the Church says so, its supporters can bring down the government. It has,after all, done so on previous occasions.

The new law will come into force in 17th January 2013 and after that date, government health clinics must provide free condoms on request and birth control pills where medically appropriate. Schools will have to teach sex education. Social workers will be trained in giving family planning advice.

This is a long, long way from the abortion debate that still rages in the USA.

Until now, birth control has largely been by condoms - not readily available and expensive - and pills that were, mostly, available only privately. Post-coital pills are not openly available in most of the country. Abortion is illegal.

It is alleged in the petition that the law breaches the constitution which requires that the state protect the family. Clearly, that's not working too well. The Philippines has a very low divorce rate - because divorce is illegal except in extreme circumstances. This, then, is not a measure of the success of "the family."

A report in Remate, a Philippines newspaper in 2011 said that as many as 37% of children born in the country in 2008 were to unmarried mothers. It quotes the National Statistics Office. But the figures include those born to couples in long-term stable relationships but who have not formally married - apparently due to the cost of a wedding.However, the Philippines totals are not startling: more than 40% of live births in the USA are to unmarried mothers - but there are no stats for how high that figure would be if abortions were included. In Iceland, where marriage is not regarded as an essential part of a life together, as many as two thirds of children are born out of wedlock, most within the bounds of a stable relationship.

But in the Philippines, the situation is exacerbated by two factors: first, children become sexually active at a young age - sometimes shortly after puberty. Teenage pregnancy is so common as to be almost not worth comment. Secondly, it's a fact of life that the poor have more children that the relatively wealthy. Whether this is due to something as basic as sex being free entertainment or more complex factors such as choices over family v career has never been fully explored although there are many academic papers and other studies that have attempted to discover the answer.

The Catholic church in the Philippines thinks it is demonstrating its faith. In fact it is being pious and forcing women into a form of slavery.

If the Church wants to resolve the problem, preventing the distribution of free condoms and advice on sexual health is not the way. First it needs to address the fact that, regardless of the way the girls may behave, if the men can't keep zipped up, they must open their wallets. And the church should make it plain that a father bears full responsibility for upbringing of the child, not only in financial matters.

Simply, the Church is focussing on the wrong part of the equation.

Jo Imbong says that the case she has issued on behalf of her son, also a lawyer, is the first of many that will challenge the law.

There's a better idea: donate the money and time that this and other cases will use to aiding single mothers to pursue the father of their child for support.