, MANILA, Apr 9 – Single mother Christina Bantasan clutched her baby in the shadows of a sprawling Philippine slum, wishing that a controversial birth control law had come earlier so she could have planned her future better.
Bantasan, 25, had a child out of wedlock in October, six months before the country’s highest court approved the reproductive health law on Tuesday despite pressure from the influential Catholic Church.
“It was the first time for the both of us. We had no idea about birth control. I didn’t know I could use pills. My parents were so angry when I got pregnant,” she said.
The unplanned pregnancy forced her to drop out of college, and forgo a dream of one day 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.
President Benigno Aquino signed the law into effect in December 2012, aiming to make birth control devices more available to the public, while mandating sex education classes for teenagers, among others.
But the Catholic Church, which counts over 80 percent of the 100 million Filipinos as members, has spearheaded opposition to the law and asked the high court to nullify it.
It branded the law “evil,” and argued that it went against constitutional provisions on right to life, and sanctity of the family.
The Supreme Court however found the law “not unconstitutional” even as it struck down some provisions, including one that gave minors access to contraceptives without parental consent and penalising health officers who refuse to disseminate information on reproductive health programs.
Still, advocates hailed the decision a triumph, noting that the government would now be mandated to procure and distribute contraceptives for the public.
That could lead to a drop in the number of mothers dying due to complications in child birth, and an overall decline in fertility rates which are among the highest in the region, they said.
Proponents said the law could now be implemented, pending any further appeals from the Church.
However, some warned that implementation could be difficult as budgets for contraceptives still have to go through Congress, where the Church could once again lobby against it.