Population Matters

Philippines’ President Duterte battles for family planning

Philippines’ President Duterte battles for family planning

Failure to remove a court order restricting access to birth control is a significant obstacle to family planning in the Philippines, Asia’s most populous country, that is affecting some of the poorest communities in the country. This is the result of ongoing opposition from the Supreme Court and Catholic leadership. Despite this, Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte will continue to push for the ban to be lifted in an effort to reduce child and maternal mortality, and poverty. 

“Birth control is critical for reducing poverty,” Duterte states.

President Rodrigo Duterte

In 2012, after a decade of negotiation, Duterte passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) law that guaranteed universal access to birth control (subsidised and/or free for the poor), mandatory sexual education in schools and the provision of reproductive health services in hospitals, including child and mother care.

Yet full implementation has been blocked. In June 2015 the Catholic church challenged the law as unconstitutional on the basis that it violated the country’s abortion laws. The Supreme Court passed a Temporary Restraining Order limiting the types of contraceptives the government can use while congress ordered budget cuts for the provisioning of contraceptives in many communities.

In January 2017 Duterte issued an executive order in an attempt to accelerate services that promote access to contraception instructing that the poorest households of his country should have “zero unmet needs for family planning by 2018.”  In the face of opposition, Duterte also called for greater collaboration with NGOs and the private sector in a bid to meet his country’s demand for family planning.

Desperate need

The increase of unintended pregnancies and abortions in the past 18 months is a likely consequence of these blocks, explains Juan Antoni A. Perez III, director of POPCOM (Filipino Commission on Population who aims to empower Filipino families). Filipino women are faced with increasing numbers of unintended pregnancies and induced abortions says POPCOM Executive Director Dr. Juan Antonio A. Perez III.

Currently 6 million Filipina lack access to family planning, and of these 2 million live in poverty. More than half of pregnancies in the Philippines are unintended and 90% of these occurred in the absence of birth control. Only the wealthy and middle class have access to contraception and abortion remains illegal.

“Family planning is very important in the Philippines because mothers have five, six, sometimes 13 babies” says Jean Paul Domingo, registered nurse at a Manila maternity ward.

In addition to helping alleviate poverty, RPRH remains the strongest defence against abortion says POPCOM director Juan Antoni A. Perez III.

Taking action

Population Matters’ family planning funding project, PopOffsets has given support to local family planning projects in Manila.

Population Matters believe that access to family planning services is fundamental to slowing and reversing unsustainable population growth. Worldwide, funding for family planning from foreign aid has been hit hard by the imposition of the ‘global gag rule’ by the Trump administration in January 2017. Find out more, and how you can help.