Catholics and the Culture War Abroad
Access to contraception has recently emerged as an issue in American politics, but in the Philippines, a culture war over contraception has been raging for more than a decade. The primary opponent of reproductive rights in this battle, as in the U.S., is the Catholic Church.
Though contraception is legal in the Philippines, only half of all women of reproductive age use it, according to government surveys. The low percentage is the result of poverty—just a third of the population can afford private insurance—and the fact that public health services are controlled by local authorities, which are heavily influenced by the Catholic hierarchy. As a result, they often refuse to offer contraceptives.
The consequences are dire. About half of all pregnancies are unintended in the Philippines, and abortion is illegal, leading to an epidemic of unsafe abortions and abortion attempts. And those children who are born in the Philippines today enter a society that is scarred by competition for increasingly scarce resources. The current population of about 100 million is expected to double over the course of the next seventy years, and the Philippines is already over-fishing its reefs and importing more rice than any country in the world.
In other words, the dilemma of the Philippines is the global dilemma in microcosm. The options are to either increase food production, pushing overtaxed ecosystems to the breaking point, or reduce the rate of population growth.
The latter is the goal of the Reproductive Health and Population Development Act, currently before the Filipino Congress, which would make contraceptives available at little or no cost through public-health centers. It would also mandate sex education in the nation’s public and private schools.