The Philippine Supreme Court has upheld a law providing free contraceptives to any woman who requests them, defying opposition by the country’s powerful Catholic bishops. The Reproductive Health Law was signed by President Benigno Aquino III in 2012, but it has languished in the courts ever since thanks to challenges from faith-based lobbies.The Catholic Church, along with other faith groups, filed a total of 14 lawsuits in a mostly failed attempt to prevent the law from taking effect.The court did strike down some of the law’s provisions, much to the bishops’ delight. As originally written, the law would have penalized public health providers who do not inform patients about their contraceptive options or who require parental consent from a minor seeking non-emergency reproductive health care.But Al Jazeera reports that the major portions of the law, access to free contraceptives and the provision of comprehensive sex education in state schools, survived. “The RH law is not unconstitutional,” a spokesman for the Supreme Court told local reporters.Supporters of the law are applauding the ruling as a major advance both for separation of church and state and for women’s health.“This monumental decision upholds the separation of church and state and affirms the supremacy of government in secular concerns like health and socio-economic development,” said Congressman Edcel Lagman, who co-sponsored the legislation.Archbishop Oscar Cruz disagreed, telling a local radio station that, “It [the law] is not really reproductive health…because it prevents reproduction.” According to Al Jazeera, church leaders are urging women not to take advantage of the new law, and still insist they have a “moral responsibility” to see the law struck down.But the law enjoys overwhelming public support. A recent survey revealed that 72 percent of Filipinos welcomed it, which means the bishops’ efforts will likely fail. The Wall Street Journal also notes that the Philippines has a rising maternal mortality rate and a population that grows by 2 percent every year – demographic trends that development professionals agree contribute to poverty.Once again, the bishops disagree. “They are poor not because they have no access to contraceptives but because they have no work. Give them work and it will be the most effective birth spacing means for them,” said Father Melvin Castro of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.Citation needed, but of course Castro didn’t provide one.In the Philippines, as in the United States, the Catholic bishops are out of touch with reproductive science and public opinion. Yet in both countries, the bishops have formed powerful lobbies to oppose common-sense reproductive health care, measures that are supported by most of their own parishioners.
The Guttmacher Institute reports that 99 percent of all sexually active American women have relied on a contraceptive method. That figure is virtually the same for American Catholic women. According to Guttmacher, 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used a contraceptive method that is not natural family planning – the only method permitted by the Vatican.But public opinion hasn’t prevented U.S. Catholic bishops from pursuing their own war against reproductive health care access. They’ve aggressively mobilized against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, which requires most employers to provide employees with insurance plans that include contraceptives coverage. They don’t seem deterred by the fact that most women don’t believe corporations should be exempt from the mandate.
Culture warriors have never been particularly inspired by facts. But sadly for the world’s Catholic bishops, facts, not dogma, must inform government policy. The Filipino government should be applauded for recognizing this. Let’s hope their American counterparts remember the same lesson.