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Groundbreaking Birth Control Bill Has Powerful Enemies in Philippines
Three years later, pregnant again, she drank an herbal concoction that was supposed to induce abortion. That, too, failed.
Three years ago, in another unsuccessful attempt to end a pregnancy, she took Cytotec, a drug to treat gastric ulcers that is widely known in the Philippines as an “abortion pill.”
What drove Ms. Judilla, a 37-year-old manicurist, to such extreme measures is a story familiar to many Filipino women. She and her unemployed husband are very poor, barely able to buy vitamins for their youngest child or to send more than two of their older children to school.
“When I had my third child, I swore to myself that I will never get pregnant again because I know we could not afford to have another one,” Ms. Judilla said in a recent interview inside her home in Pasig City, on the eastern outskirts of Manila.
Abortion is illegal in the Philippines, though birth control and related health services have long been available to those who can afford to pay for them through the private medical system. But 70 percent of the population is too poor and depends on heavily subsidized care through the public health system. In 1991, prime responsibility for delivering public health services shifted from the central government to the local authorities, who have broad discretion over which services are dispensed. Many communities responded by making birth control unavailable.
More recently, however, family planning advocates have been making headway in their campaign to change this. Legislation before the Philippine Congress, called the Reproductive Health and Population Development Act, would require governments down to the local level to provide free or low-cost reproductive health services — from condoms and birth control pills to tubal ligation and vasectomy. It would also mandate sex education in all schools, public and private, from fifth grade through high school.
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