Philippines: Support for family planning bill
August 21st 2012
The Vatican’s last bastion of Catholic conservatism looks likely to be breached as a controversial law to make contraceptives freely available to the poor nears passage in the Philippine Congress. The Philippines is among the few mainly Catholic countries with restricted public access to contraceptives. It is now the lone Catholic nation without a divorce law, after Malta’s parliament passed one last year. House Bill 4244 or the Reproductive Health (RH) bill aims to give poor couples free access to family planning methods, including contraceptives and condoms, and would require schools to teach students sex education. The Philippine Senate is deliberating on a similar bill. It is expected to be passed before end of this year. President Benigno Aquino has openly backed the bill, and its defeat would also weaken him politically as the powerful Catholic Church hierarchy opposes artificial birth control.
A Filipino prelate stressed the importance of firmly holding the line against the controversial bill. ‘If the RH bill becomes law, the DEATHS bills will follow next – Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Transgender, Homosexuality or gay marriages, and Sex education,’ the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) secretary general Joselito Asis told the Sunday Morning Post. ‘Actually, a divorce bill has been filed and it’s pending.’
‘The stance of the CBCP – the church’s governing body – finds little favour among the country’s 76 million Catholics, who comprise 82 per cent of the population. As early as October 2010, private pollster Pulse Asia found 69 per cent of respondents backing an RH law and 79 per cent saying couples have the right to choose their family planning method. Private pollster Social Weather Stations made a separate survey in October 2010 and found ’68 per cent of Catholics believe that government should distribute free contraceptives to those who want them. Ironically, more Catholics (71 percent) favour the passage of the RH bill versus non-Catholics (68 per cent).’
The church snubbed both findings and branded support for the bill a ‘serious sin’ punishable with excommunication. Senior clerics had issued threats of excommunication and electoral defeat in next year’s polls for those lawmakers who would enact the law. Such pronouncements have not sat well even with fellow clerics. An influential Jesuit priest cautioned the CBCP over its unbending position that the entire bill should be scrapped. It would put the church in ‘a no-win situation’, wrote Father John Carroll, an American sociologist and founding director of the Institute of Church and Social Issues at the Ateneo de Manila University. If the church loses, ‘I fear a powerful backlash … [and] the beginnings of an anti-clericalism’ that swept the church from a position of influence in Spain and Ireland, he added.
Read the full article: South China Morning Post
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