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Catholics Herald Passage of Reproductive Health Bill in the Philippines

December 12, 2012

The Philippines House of Representatives has voted to pass the Reproductive Health Bill (commonly known as the RH Bill), which will give millions of women access to contraception that was, in many cases, out of their reach. Despite widespread support for the move, and the fact that almost a third of Filipino women have an unmet need for contraception, the bill languished in Congress for almost 15 years.

Magdalena Lopez, Director of International Programs at Catholics for Choice, said, “Today is a victory for those in the Philippines who want to save lives and improve families’ well-being, an achievement that could not have come about without the pro-RH champions in Congress and the advocates who fought for it over a decade. I applaud the legislators who stood up to the bishops and for the will of the people, and the citizens—both Catholic and not Catholic—who refused to be intimidated by the hierarchy’s no-holds-barred campaign against the bill.”

The Catholic hierarchy has a lot to answer for in the delay.  Rina Jimenez-David, a journalist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, wrote in Conscience magazine in 2010 about a call from two bishops asking the president to “slow down” on the RH Bill—only one among many examples of the hierarchy’s aggressive lobbying. Whether it’s been a show of force in the House of Representatives or pointed sermons against reproductive health from the pulpit, the Catholic hierarchy has consistently pressured the faithful in the pews and in Congress to sink the RH legislation. But just as consistently, opinion polls have shown a majority of citizens and Catholics in the Philippines support the government making contraception more available.

Lopez continued, “Today is also a defeat—for the bishops and their myopic point of view, which tries to override individual conscience and the rights of the women who have no means to decide whether or when to have children, and whose health and lives may be at risk without contraception.

“While far from perfect, the Reproductive Health Bill addresses some of the health disparities—including maternal mortality— disproportionately affecting the poorest women, and may help check the rising HIV infection rate in a country where condoms are too expensive for many people.”

The Senate is due to vote on an RH measure as early as next week.