The debate is heating up around a controversial national reproductive health bill currently before the Senate. Thirty-five women involved with JASS Philippines have launched an aggressive campaign to put women’s perspectives front and centre in the debate in an attempt to counterbalance the fierce opposition, particularly from the Catholic hierarchy.
In a country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region and where 54% of all pregnancies are unintended, the bill is set to improve maternal care, especially for rural and poor women, and ensure information and access to family planning, including an “age-appropriate” sex education program. JASS embarked on a fierce campaign to raise women’s voices on the issue, including sending an open letter to congressional representatives.
According to UN figures, some 230 women die in the Philippines for every 100,000 live births, compared with 110 in Thailand, 62 in Malaysia and 14 in Singapore. Maternal deaths are caused primarily by preventable complications, including a significant number caused by unsafe abortion.
One of the biggest challenges to women’s access to reproductive health services and family planning in this country is the influence of the Catholic Church, which promotes only natural family planning methods. Modern contraception methods such as condoms and the pill are equated with abortion, which is illegal. This creates a huge barrier for women in the Philippines, where more than 80% of the population is Catholic. The reproductive bill has been sitting in the legislature for two decades as a result of the strength wielded by the church to prevent it from moving forward.