Rappler Talk: PH liable for Manila's contraception ban - UN

MANILA, Philippines – Two years after the passage of the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) law, access to contraceptives remains a challenge for poor Filipino women.

A United Nations panel released a groundbreaking report in April holding the Philippine government accountable for “grave and systematic” violations of women's reproductive rights. The report looked into executive orders in Manila that effectively banned access to modern contraceptives for over a decade.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women or the CEDAW Committee criticized the Philippine government for failing to “prioritize women's human rights over religious ideology and cultural stereotypes.”

The committee said Executive Order (EO) 003 under former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza imposed a “de facto ban on modern methods of contraception.” It also found that EO 030 under former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim went further by explicitly imposing a funding ban on modern contraceptives.

The number of persons affected by the policies in the EOs is significantly high, as thousands of women of child-bearing age continue to have inadequate access to sexual and reproductive health services in the city of Manila … [which] has led to higher rates of unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, increased maternal morbidity and mortality, and increased exposure to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV,” the report said. 

Done at the request of non-governmental institutions, the UN CEDAW Special Inquiry is the first for the Asia region and on contraceptive access.

The report also stirs the debate about abortion in the Philippines as the UN committee again called for the decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape, incest, when the health or life of the woman is at risk, and in cases of severe fetal impairments.

What are the chances of lifting the strict criminalization of abortion in predominantly Catholic Philippines? How should the Philippine government act on the UN report?

Rappler talks to Payal Shah, senior legal adviser of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). The CRR was among the NGOs that requested for the inquiry. Shah discusses women's reproductive health in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, and a report she co-authored on the “harmful impact” of the Philippine abortion ban. – Rappler.com