"Condoms and pills ... disappeared"

A lesson in what happens when contraception is condemned as a method of family planning.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published February 11, 2008 9:30PM (EST)

Who would have thought: The condemnation of contraceptives in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, has led to unplanned pregnancies, and illegal and unsafe abortions, especially among the poor. City officials have been blindsided by the upset this ker-azy development has caused among some of the city's copulating couples. A group of 20 petitioners -- 16 women and four men -- say the city's embrace of "natural family planning" has eliminated their access to all manner of birth control, thereby violating their constitutional right to legitimately plan their family. They plan to take the battle to court.

In 2000, an executive order was made by Mayor Jose Atienza to uphold "natural family planning not just as a method but as a way of self-awareness in promoting the culture of life while discouraging the use of artificial methods of contraception." Atienza called contraception "a very, very destructive practice which ruins Filipino values" but stopped short of a ban. The effect, though, was akin to an official birth control ban. The BBC reports: "Condoms and pills -- which had been free -- disappeared from local health centres. Hospitals turned down requests for sterilization operations. Many health workers stopped providing any information whatsoever on contraception." Although contraceptives are available at local hospitals and in neighboring cities, many of Manila's poorest residents -- perhaps those most desperately in need of birth control -- are simply unaware of where to go or unable to travel the required distance.

The lawyers representing the petitioners say the city's stance has caused many families to have more kids than planned and choose between putting food on the table (for the kids they already have) and a pack of birth control pills (to prevent having more mouths to feed); it has also reportedly contributed to marital violence, as women try to abstain from sex when at their most fertile. To top things off, abortion is illegal.

The group's lawyers say that, if need be, they'll take their complaint against the Republic of Gilead the city of Manila to an international court. We'll keep you posted.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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