Filipino Women React to New Rights

This week The Star Online, a Malaysian-based newspaper, explores the personal impact of the Philippine Supreme Court’s landmark decision to uphold a law expanding access to birth control and reproductive health education.

Although signed into law in 2012, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, also known as the RH Law, was quickly challenged by an influential coalition of conservative politicians and the Catholic Church. The RH Law is groundbreaking legislation that guarantees universal and free access to nearly all modern contraceptives for all citizens, including impoverished communities, at government health centers. The law also mandates reproductive health education in government schools and recognizes a woman's right to post-abortion care as part of the right to reproductive healthcare.

When the high court unanimously affirmed the law’s constitutionality earlier this month, it provoked a hopeful yet sorrowful response from Filipino women affected by its passage.

In a country plagued with soaring maternal mortality rates and one of the region’s highest fertility rates, the sense for many Filipinos is that the law has come too late. The Star article focuses on 25-year-old Christina Bantasan, a single mother who feels her unplanned pregnancy ruined her dream of becoming a successful businesswoman.

“’I probably would not have gotten pregnant and I would probably be close to graduating by now,’ if the law had been passed earlier, she said, as she tended her mother’s flavoured ice treat stand near a Catholic church in Baseco, one of Manila’s biggest slums. . . .

‘There are so many kids who are not aware of their situation and get pregnant. One of my friends was just 14 years old when she got pregnant. It was just her first time having sex and the father abandoned her,” she recalled.”

The tone of regret in Bantasan’s reflections echoes throughout the reactions and stories of other women featured in the piece, but their experiences also underscore the absolute necessity of the new law for an upcoming generation of women. 

While some responses from the Catholic Church to the recent ruling have suggested that allowing the law to take effect could provoke open revolt, the Star piece offers a more conciliatory perspective from Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the leader of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, who encourages Church members to respect the judicial process and “move on” from being a reactionary group.