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Philippines birth control: Filipinos want it, priests don't

In the Philippines, access to contraceptives is limited for the most part to those with the means to pay. The Catholic Church has fought a "reproductive health bill" in the legislature that would change that.


Women share beds after giving birth at Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila. The Philippine capital is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. A ban on contraception at public clinics there has put birth control out of the reach of most of the city's poor. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Last of five parts
MANILA — Shortly after sunrise, a woman with soulful eyes and short-cropped black hair hurried down a narrow alley in flip-flops, picking her way around clusters of squatting children, piles of trash and chunks of concrete.

Yolanda Naz's daily scramble had begun. Peddling small shampoo packets in the shantytown of San Andres, she raced to earn enough money to feed her eight children.

She went door to door in the sweltering heat, charming and cajoling neighbors into parting with a few pesos. After several hours, she had scrounged enough to buy a kilo of rice, a few eggs and a cup of tiny shrimp.

"My husband and I skip lunch if there is no money," Naz said as she dished rice and shrimp sauce into eight plastic bowls in the 10-by-12-foot room where the family eats and sleeps.

This was not the life Naz wanted. She and her husband, who sells coconut drinks from a pushcart, agreed early in their marriage to stop at three children. Though a devout Catholic, she took birth control pills in defiance of priests' instructions at Sunday Mass.

But after her third child was born, the mayor of Manila — with the blessing of Roman Catholic bishops — halted the distribution of contraceptives at public clinics to promote "a culture of life." The order put birth control pills and other contraceptives out of reach for millions of poor Filipinos, who could not afford to buy them at private pharmacies.

"For us, the banning of the pills was ugly," Naz said. "We were the ones who suffered."

At 36, she had more children than teeth, common for poor women after repeated pregnancies and breast-feeding.
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TAGGED: VATICAN/ROMAN CATHOLICISM


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