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Law to broaden access to contraception gets green light in Philippines

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g2725 (Published 11 April 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2725
  1. Anne Gulland
  1. 1London

The Filipino Supreme Court has ruled that a bill to broaden access to family planning can now pass, after being held up for more than a year by a legal challenge from the Roman Catholic Church and other faith groups.

The Filipino Department of Health called the ruling a “huge victory” and an “amazing day for family planning advocates.”

The controversial Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act was passed by the Filipino parliament in December 2012 after more than 10 years of political wrangling,1 but its implementation was then held up by the legal challenge from religious groups.

The Supreme Court ruled that the bill can pass, but eight sections were ruled out. These included allowing minors who have had a miscarriage access to birth control without a parent’s consent; requiring religious healthcare facilities to tell non-emergency patients about contraception; and imposing penalties on health facilities that fail to provide information about contraception because of religious beliefs.

The human rights organisation Amnesty International said that striking out these provisions would mean that some women would not be able to access the services they need. However, Hazel Galang-Folli, a researcher for Amnesty International in the Philippines, broadly welcomed the ruling.

“While the law is not perfect, it paves the way to removing some of the existing barriers in protecting women and girls’ human right to sexual, reproductive and maternal healthcare. The challenge now will be ensuring that the law is properly implemented and that sufficient resources are dedicated to making it effective,” she said.

The United Nations Population Fund “congratulated” the Filipino people and said that the law would enable couples and individuals to exercise their right to decide “freely and responsibly whether, when and how often to have children and to live a healthy life with dignity.”

The Philippines’ maternal mortality rate was 99 deaths per 100 000 live births in 2010, down from 170 in 1990. The target for 2015 is to further reduce this to 43 deaths per 100 000 live births.

Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, applauded the court for overturning parts of the law. “It has truly watered down the . . . law, and consequently upheld the importance of adhering to an informed religious conscience, even among government workers,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

The bill, when enacted, will provide free contraception to poorer people and make sex education available to teenagers. The bill will not legalise abortion, but it states that women who need care for complications resulting from an abortion “shall be counselled in a humane, non-judgemental and compassionate manner.”

The bill also requires the Department of Health to improve obstetric care, saying that for every 500 000 people there should be at least one hospital with comprehensive emergency obstetric care and four hospitals or other health facilities with basic emergency obstetric care.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2725

References

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