An anti-birth-control dystopia

A new lawsuit argues that Manila's ban on contraception has had a devastating effect on poor women.

Topics: Broadsheet, Birth Control, Love and Sex,

Ever wondered what might happen if anti-contraception cranks got hold of a government and began issuing decrees? No need to imagine some dystopian future in Tennessee — simply visit modern-day Manila, Philippines. In 2000, ultraconservative Mayor Jose “Lito” Atienza issued an executive order banning contraception from public clinics. Since then, according to a lawsuit filed this week by 20 women from slum communities, the city’s women have been suffering from the lack of available contraception.

Now, in the Maslow hierarchy of needs, I would hardly place free condoms at the base of the pyramid in terms of basic sustenance. But after reading materials from the lawsuit, I’m once again convinced just how little I know.

Although affluent women in Manila have continued to be able to get contraception from private clinics, the executive order has had a particularly devastating impact on the 70 percent of women from Manila who live below the poverty line. While ostensibly issued to “uphold natural family planning,” the main effect of the law has been to prohibit healthcare workers from promoting or distributing contraceptives. Public clinics suddenly being unable to pass out the free contraception received from programs like USAID has had a devastating effect on many women’s lives.

How devastating? Consider the testimony of the plaintiffs, quoted in a Reuters story today and elaborated on in the lawsuit press release. They describe either experiencing or witnessing: choosing between contraception and food for their children, multiple pregnancies after being told it would be dangerous for them to have more children, unwanted pregnancies forcing families into extreme poverty, abstinence leading to troubled marriages and divorces, backroom abortions, maternal deaths from multiple pregnancies, abortion deaths … you name it.

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Gerry Cruz of the Philippine Family Planning Organization told Reuters his organization chose to support the women’s petition after seeing a study that maternal deaths due to multiple pregnancies in Manila were rising precipitously.

The contraception ban violates the Philippines’ Constitution and several international treaties the country has signed, so the case may have implications for the country as a whole. USAID is slated to end its birth control donation program in 2008, and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a devout Roman Catholic with an anti-contraceptive platform, has shown hesitance in rolling out government programs that might replace USAID’s donations, which have been the primary source of birth control for the past 30 years. With an intelligent hearing from the court, the women of Manila may get this atavistic ban lifted. In the meantime, their plight offers the rest of us a glimpse into the unfunny implications of the anti-birth-control bozos.

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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