The Philippines’ controversial Reproductive Health law guarantees Filipino women universal free access to birth control, but multiple obstacles are preventing women from accessing it. Driving the passage of the law is an epidemic of young mothers in the Southeast Asian country: teenage pregnancy has more than doubled in the past decade, and 10 percent of Filipino teenagers are now pregnant or mothers. But in many cases local governments don’t have the budget to supply the contraceptives, and even when they do many doctors and administrators refuse to distribute the drugs on religious grounds. The Philippines boasts 98 million people, of which 80 million are Catholic. The law has faced legal challenges as well. After being signed in 2012, the law was delayed by a legal challenge from Catholic leaders and only came into effect last spring, and Implanon, a reversible contraceptive, has been ruled illegal to distribute by the Philippines’ Supreme Court since it can cause abortion. The pill is the Philippine’s most used contraceptive, but Implanon is popular with poor women since it negates the need for multiple trips to a clinic – an expensive prospect for women in remote areas or with multiple children. Many Filipinos don’t even want birth control: they practice “natural family planning” — abstinence during fertile periods. Natural family planning has limited efficacy: as many as one in four Filipinos practicing it get pregnant anyway. For now, the solution to the Philippines pregnancy epidemic remains more real on paper than in practice.
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