Earlier this year “The Responsible
Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011” unanimously
the House Committee on Population and Family Relations in the
Philippines.  This means that this controversial Bill
is a step closer towards becoming law. Why is it controversial? According to
section 2 of the Bill, the declaration of the Bill’s policy includes that:

State likewise guarantees universal access to medically-safe, legal,
affordable, effective and quality reproductive health care services, methods,
devices, supplies and relevant information and education thereon even as it prioritizes
the needs of women and children, among other underprivileged sectors.”

according to the Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra, the orientation of this bill
is towards:

  • the legalization of
    abortion (although the Bill itself specifically “proscribes” abortion);
  • the use of
    abortifacients (which would be against section
    12 of the Philippines Constitution
    which recognises the life of the unborn from
    conception); and
  • the promotion of the
    use of artificial birth control.

The full text of the Act can be found here.  What particularly caught my eye was
that the guiding principles under section 3 include that:

shall be no demographic or population targets and the mitigation of the
population growth rate is incidental to the promotion of reproductive health
and sustainable human development”

So the Bill’s first consideration is to be
the promotion “reproductive health”, coupled with “sustainable human
development”.  I was interested to
see if that latter phrase meant anything in particular, or if it was another
example of putting words that sound nice individually together into a woolly,
aspirational, totally meaningless phrase. 
To my surprise, the drafters grasped the nettle and defined “sustainable
human development” in section 4 as: 

“Sustainable Human Development refers to bringing people,
particularly the poor and vulnerable, to the center of development process, the
central purpose of which is the creation of an enabling environment in which
all can enjoy long, healthy and productive lives, and done in a manner that
promotes their rights and protects the life opportunities of future generations
and the natural ecosystem on which all life depends.”

Now it seems to me that when people promote
the life opportunities of future generations and the natural ecosystem then the
mitigation of population growth is not “incidental” but fundamental to that
promotion. This feeling is strengthened by another of the guiding principles:

limited resources of the country cannot
be suffered
to be spread so thinly to service a burgeoning multitude that
makes the allocations grossly inadequate and effectively meaningless” [my emphasis].

If something “cannot be suffered” then that
implies that anything can be done to prevent it. This seems to be nailing this
bill firmly to the mast of population control.  And the protestation that “there will be no population or
demographic targets” sounds hollow when section 20 is read:

State shall assist couples, parents and individuals to achieve their desired
family size within the context of responsible parenthood for sustainable
development and encourage them to have two children as the ideal family size.
Attaining the ideal family size is neither mandatory nor compulsory. No
punitive action shall be imposed on parents having more than two children.”

So we will not set population targets, but
we will set ideal family sizes. 
One wonders how people will be “encouraged” to only have two
children?  What happens if people don’t
respond to that encouragement? Won’t the guiding principles relating to limited
resources and sustainable human development then come under threat?? And
presumably since the guiding principles of the Bill are supreme and the rest of
the Bill merely a means to reaching those ends identified in the guiding
principles, then could section 20 be modified in the future to force people to
attain the “ideal family size”? 
After all, we can’t threaten sustainable human development, can we?

It is certainly not the end of the road for
this Bill, as there are many further steps to be completed before the Bill
becomes law, including being sent to the Senate after passing its third reading
in the House.  It will be very
interesting to keep an eye on its progress.

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...