The church was hoping for a crushing victory, but each side managed to get about half its candidates elected, a result that was widely interpreted as a setback for the bishops and “Team Life.”
Framing the issue
Both sides are now gearing up for next month’s Supreme Court showdown.
The bishops’ conference has been openly lobbying some of the Supreme Court’s 15 justices, 11 of whom were appointed by Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a staunch supporter of the church’s position on contraception.
“We could lose it. We’re hopeful that we won’t, but we are not sure,” said Estrada-Claudio, the reproductive-health activist.
Elizabeth Pangalangan, a Harvard-trained lawyer and professor at the University of the Philippines Law Center who will be arguing in favor of the bill, said the biggest issue is whether the law violates the right-to-life protection in the constitution.
“What is prevented by the constitution is abortion,” she said. “To win, we will have to stress the fact that we are against abortion.”
In addition to providing modern contraceptives to poor women, the law mandates sex education in public schools and would require hospitals to provide post-abortion care — yet another sensitive subject in the Philippines.
Despite the blanket ban on abortion, it is estimated that 475,000 to 600,000 women undergo illegal and often unsafe abortions in the country each year and that about 90,000 of these women are later hospitalized for post-abortion complications. About 1,000 Filipino women die each year from botched abortions, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, a New York think tank that supports access to contraceptives and legal abortion.
The Philippines has one of the highest birthrates in Southeast Asia, and surveys indicate that 54 percent of the pregnancies that occur each year are unintended or unwanted. The vast majority of those pregnancies occur among poor women with little or no access to modern contraceptives.
Supporters of the law argue that providing poor families better access to contraceptives would substantially lower the birthrate and also reduce abortions.
The church, in addition to
its objections on theological grounds, contends that easy access to contraceptives would only lead to promiscuity among the young.
Hundley’s reporting in the Philippines was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.