Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered government agencies to provide free contraceptives and other reproductive health services to 6 million women, despite a temporary ban by the Supreme Court.
The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country with a population of more than 100 million, and the move will likely draw strong oppositon from the Catholic Church.
But in his executive order signed Monday, Duterte stressed the need for the government to implement reproductive health and family planning programmes as part of efforts to reduce poverty.
“This order aims to intensify and accelerate the implementation of critical actions necessary to attain and sustain `zero unmet need for modern family planning’ for all poor households by 2018, and all of Filipinos thereafter,’’ the order said.
At least 6 million women, including 2 million poor women, “have an unmet need’’ for modern contraception, the order said.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) hailed the move as a “major push for the government’s family planning programme, which has been hindered by various challenges.’’
In 2012, then-president Benigno Aquino signed a law that requires government agencies to provide funding for the promotion of family planning methods, despite strong opposition by the Catholic Church and pro-life groups.
But in 2015, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against the distribution of contraceptive implants and the renewal of licences for other contraceptives, after pro-life groups filed a case arguing that such methods were abortifacient.
UNFPA said Duterte’s order would “provide a new momentum to the implementation of the reproductive heath law,’’ which is key to achieving development goals on health, gender and poverty.
It noted, however, that “concerns remain with one key challenge to the full implementation of the law being the Philippine Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order on the registration and certification of a list of contraceptives.’’
“The (temporary restraining) order has been in effect for more than a year now and could adversely impact on the supply of contraceptives in the country if not addressed soon,’’ the UN agency said.
Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the government hopes the Supreme Court would eventually lift its temporary ban on contraceptives.
“We feel that it is pro-life, pro-women, pro-children, and pro-economic development.’’
“If we don’t implement the reproductive health law fully then we are going to be unable to meet our poverty reduction target from 22 per cent now to 14 per cent or event 13 per cent by the end of the Duterte administration,’’ he said.