Manila an “anti-birth-control dystopia”

At least, that is how it is described in the words of Carol Lloyd, blogger on women’s issues at Due to the centuries as a Spanish colony, The Philippines is a firmly Catholic country-one in which the Church holds a level of influence rarely seen in the western world. Although the Catholic Church has oddly never managed to have any appreciable effect on the Philippines endemic Southeast Asian liberalism towards homosexuality and gender identity, they have managed to keep abortion illegal in all circumstances but to save the life of the mother. (More information on abortion in SE Asia here.) Although pre-conception birth control remains legal throughout The Philippines, in 2000 conservative Catholic Mayor Jose “Lito” Atienza of Manila issued an executive order removing all contraception from free clinics within the city. Many women in the desperately poor slums of Manila find it impossible to fit contraception in with food and other basic needs into their family budget, which has the eventual effect of a larger and even harder to feed family. This is what has women living in three urban slums to file a lawsuit demanding revocation of the order. From Reuters:

Emma Monzaga, one of the petitioners, said she was getting injections once every three months to prevent her from becoming pregnant, but was told on her third visit to a public clinic that the treatment was no longer available. “I was asked to go somewhere else to get the shots because the city hall has stopped funding the family planning program,” Monzaga said, adding her family could not afford to spend extra for contraceptives. “We used to get it for free. It’s becoming a burden because we have to eat and send our six children to school.” She said she has given up the idea of saving some money from her husband’s 300 pesos ($7) daily wage as a construction worker to pay for the vaccines because of rising cost of basic needs.

Amazingly, it took almost eight years before a local NGO managed to file the lawsuit “because the women feared political reprisals.” Unsurprisingly, there is now a different mayor in charge, and many hope that he will revoke the previous order without the need for the lawsuit to proceed. The Center for Reproductive Rights has a 50 page report, full of testimony, on the issue entitled “Imposing Misery: The Impact of Manila’s Contraception Ban on Women and Families,” which may be downloaded in PDF from their website at the above link. The report claims that the executive order violates the Republic’s 1987 constitution, stating:

The 1987 Philippine Constitution guarantees the
rights to liberty, health, equality, information and education for all citizens,
as well as the right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their
personal religious convictions. These basic principles, reinforced by
several pieces of legislation, create the foundation under national law for a
right to reproductive health, including access to contraception. [p. 9]

The report suggests that “The Manila City government should revoke Executive Order No. 003” as well as various further plans. [p. 11]

While many people look at issues such as these primarily in terms of individual rights and their effect on individuals and families, it is critical to consider the broader picture as well.

The Philippines today has a population of just under 90 million, a staggering number of whom live in poverty. I can attest from my own visit to the country that the cities are clogged with slums, illegal shanty-towns line the rivers and fill public parks, and the ratio of the population with no gainful employment appears to be easily several times that of anyplace else I have ever been. I have even heard that the unemployment rate in Metro Manila may be almost 50%.

Without high quality and aggressive family planning, that 90 million could nearly double in a generation- and the country’s scarce economic resources would be stretched even thinner. Could the unemployment rate rise even above 50%? Will The Philippines be plunged into a Malthusian crisis like Bangladesh or parts of Africa? Lack of birth control is hardly the only factor that has made Manila, and many other third-world regions, into dystopias, but it is one.

10 thoughts on “Manila an “anti-birth-control dystopia””

  1. By the logic of the Salon writer, China, whose one-child policy has resulted in massive female infanticide and a surplus 30 million or so men, would be a birth-control utopia?

    Other countries like Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have much higher birth rates, and are infinitely more repressive. Here’s a charming story from Iran:

    Catholicism is not an impediment to acheiving low birth rates, as the experience of Italy and Spain (lowest birth rates in the world – lower than, yes, even Japan) has shown.

    One can only conclude that the writer was motivated by some weird Know Nothing-ish anti-Catholic animus (likely rooted in sort of anti-Latino bigotry).

    What a waste of time. I’m deleting my MF bookmark.

  2. I can’t speak for what Carol Lloyd thinks, but it’s widely (if grudgingly) acknowledged that China’s poverty problem would probably be far worse if population growth had gone unrestricted.

    Maybe she does have some anti-Catholic bias, but I have no idea why you would say it is “likely rooted in sort of anti-Latino bigotry.” Latinos aren’t mentioned anywhere, and The Philippines is in fact in Asia. Maybe you have your own prejudices against the anti-Catholics.

    I’m sorry you were so offended by something.

  3. Yes, I know the Philippines are in fact in Asia, but thank you for your helpful observation, as well as your smarmy pseudo-apology. As a Latino, I know that Catholic-bashing is frequently employed by nativist bigots as a proxy for saying what they really feel and coming off as a rube.

    You think China’s poverty problem would be far worse if not for the one-child policy? Wow, imagine how much worse it would be without the millions of deaths from the famines of the Great Leap Forward! A calculated cull!

  4. From a Catholic reader – it is a mistake to refer to “one” Catholicism. The social capital of Catholicism and related anti-birth control movements in the Philippines is on a far greater level than it is in, say, France or Spain.

  5. Personally, I would like to live in a world where there were no immigration restrictions whatsoever. Having lived in two countries where I needed to get a residence visa and go through the whole rigamarole of registering as a foreigner under restrictions that are actually in some ways stricter than those of the US (Japan and Taiwan both require foreigners to carry ID cards at all times, in Japan registration is done at a local govt office and in Taiwan at the city police), I’m actually very sympathetic to nativist immigrant bashing. Not to mention knowing the Jew-bashing that was extremely prevalent in this country when my great-grandparents immigrated, and when my grand-parents were younger.

    Maybe I should have used a less smarmy tone, but when I said “The Philippines is in fact in Asia” I mean, as M-Bone says, that Catholicism in that country is a very different thing from Catholicism in Europe or Latin America. Although the actual doctrine of the religion is the same, it is very different institutionally, with the Catholic hierarchy having had a medieval-style stewardship of almost the entire country for a couple of centuries after the Church had begun to modernize in Europe, as part of Spain’s colonial strategy for controlling the archipelago.

    I have nothing more against Catholicism than any other religion, but I will admit to taking a very dim view of fundamentalist religion, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu or whatever else.

    Would China have been better off economically without the one child policy? Maybe, maybe not. But even if from a cold economic perspective it was a good thing, I will agree that infanticide and forced abortion or sterilization are all criminal. However, voluntary abortion I’m completely OK with, and I have no problem with a government working to control population by aggressively making all forms birth control, including abortion, available to the public and using all reasonable means in persuading people to take advantage of them.

  6. Roy’s most recent comment was gracious and in keeping with the high level of discourse of MF, which produced one of the most lyrical blog entries I’ve read in a long time, the photoessay of the abandoned house in Shinagawa. Speaking from pure selfishness, I’m sorry to see MF drift away into more non-Japan-related topics like US politics, which other blogs do better, IMO.

    And for the record, I’m an absolute anti-religious-fundamentalist (I even bought Christopher Hitchens’ most recent bookbook). I also like Salon (okay, I AM a religious fundamentalist: Camille Paglia is God), but Lloyd’s article just read like polemical claptrap, like some diatribe on how Israel is an “apartheid state” when schoolgirls are pushed back into burning buildings in Saudi Arabia because they aren’t sufficiently “modestly” attired.

  7. Thank you Catoneinutica. I expect that we’ll be seeing more Japan related posts from Adam now that he isn’t doing any more freelance work on the side, and when I enter graduate school later this year (although still not quite sure where that will be) I will probably be posting more interesting tidbits I come across.

    As for other blogs doing US politics better, I agree. That’s why I discuss it very rarely on here. But keeping in nature with the “travelogue” aspect I think personal anecdotes related to politics may be interesting to readers, particularly non-Americans.

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