Phillipines Takes a Landmark Step For Women's Health That America Doesn't Have the Guts For


What would happen if the United States offered free birth control?

The mere suggestion of state-provided birth control would probably unleash a firestorm of opinions and reactions in the U.S. Lawsuits would be filed with alarming speed, conservative Twitter might work itself into an uproar and right-wing pundits would have a field day decrying the liberal threat to the nation's moral fabric.

Well, it looks like the Philippines just made a move that the U.S. doesn't have the guts to enact.

The Filipino Supreme Court has struck down a challenge by church groups to a law that guarantees universal access to contraception methods, fertility control, sex education and maternal care at public health clinics.

Despite being a nation where more than 80% of the population is Catholic, and where the Roman Catholic Church exercises immense influence, the 15 justices unanimously voted to uphold the constitutional validity of the Reproductive Health Act, which aims to provide free contraceptives and maternal care to the poor. The ruling is not without vociferous detractors: Father Melvin Castro of the Catholic Bishops Conference, for instance, believes that the poor should be given work, not condoms or medical aid, in order to distract them from the more pleasurable pursuits of relentless baby-making. 

Statistics confirm the long-overdue necessity of this law, as the Philippines continues to experience exponential population growth and alarming rates of maternal mortality.

According a 2013 UN Population Fund report, the 107 million-strong population of the Philippines is growing by 1.7% every year. Overcrowded maternity wards are ill-equipped to handle births in sheer numbers, and in 2011 the number of mothers dying in childbirth rose by 36%. 

"It's a big win not only for [Filipino President Benigno] Aquino's push to curb population growth, but also for women who have long defied the church by seeking to control their own bodies," Benito Lim, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, told Businessweek. "It also shows the Catholic Church doesn't wield as much political influence as before."

This legal and policy victory could change the trajectory of the birth control debate around the world. Hopefully the U.S. will make a similarly bold move too, and soon.