Catholic Countries Slowly Move Toward More Progressive Reproductive Health Policies

A sex education and contraception access bill that had languished for over a decade passed the Philippines’ House of Representatives by a 133-79 vote margin this week — putting the conservative Catholic country on track to enacting more extensive reproductive health care legislation than ever before, including a more progressive policy on sexual education than the United States currently has.

As the New York Times reports, the so-called “RH bill” — which requires schools in the Philippines to teach accurate sex education classes and expands contraception access in poor, rural areas — had already passed the Senate. Now the two legislative houses will work to reconcile minor differences between their respective versions of the bill in order to enshrine it into law.

If passed, the law could make the Philippines more progressive than the United States on some reproductive health issues. The U.S. still doesn’t mandate comprehensive sexual education — allowing many public school students to receive ineffective and misleading “abstinence-only” education instead — and the Catholic Church has waged a full-scale war against the health reform law’s provision to expand access to affordable contraception. Even though Catholics in the U.S. overwhelmingly support birth control, and don’t even particularly oppose Obamacare’s birth control mandate, that hasn’t stopped the Catholic hierarchy from largely dominating the political conversation about women’s health issues.

Despite its recent progress on reproductive health issues, however, the Philippines still has strict anti-abortion laws typical of many Catholic countries. But there does seem to be some indication that — even in Catholic countries — slow gains are being made toward greater reproductive freedom. In Ireland, after worldwide outcry over the miscarriage-related death of a woman who was denied an emergency abortion, Irish lawmakers moved this week to consider loosening the country’s strict abortion laws.