Manila Hospital, No Stranger to Stork, Awaits Reproductive Health Bill’s Fate

November 12, 2012 • Family Planning, Reproductive Health, Philippines, News

Thanks to Kathy Schwarz for sending in this NY Times article, which serves as an update to the situation in the Philippines. Many of you are familiar with this epic political struggle, which pits a conservatism emanating largely from the infrastructures of the Catholic Church against more progressive interests, including President Benigno S. Aquino III, who has made the Reproductive Health Bill a priority of his two-year-old administration.

Manila Hospital, No Stranger to Stork, Awaits Reproductive Health Bill’s Fate

MANILA – In the main ward at Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, 171 women and nearly as many newborns share fewer than 100 beds. Dozens more expectant mothers line the street outside, some sleeping on the sidewalk while waiting to get in.

The women, most of whom cannot afford to give birth at a private hospital, move through a type of controlled chaos from the street, to the labor room, to the delivery room, to the maternity ward and back out the door, usually in less than 48 hours.

“It’s a never-ending story, 24 hours a day, every day,” said Dr. Romeo Bituin, who added that the government-run maternity hospital was legally required to serve as a safety net for the poor. “We can’t reject patients. If we turn them away, where will they go?”

After years of discussion in the Philippine Congress, the House of Representatives finally decided in August to end debate on a reproductive health bill that would subsidize contraception and require sex education in the Philippines, a country with one of the highest birthrates in Asia. If it passes in the House, which returned to session on Monday, the bill will also need to be approved by the Senate.

The bill’s proponents, led by President Benigno S. Aquino III, who has made the issue a priority of his two-year-old administration, say the measure will give poor women a chance to have fewer children and rise out of poverty. Opponents, backed principally by the Roman Catholic Church, say the bill is out of step with the moral tenets of the overwhelmingly Catholic Philippines and argue that a high birthrate lessens poverty.

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