Contraceptives: A Basic Human Right - Not So Accessible in the Philippines

By: Amanda Carmichael 

In 2012, the United Nations Population Fund declared that access to birth control is a basic human right.[1] The group went on to explain that creating a barrier to the access of birth control, women’s rights are violated because of the “legal, cultural, and financial barriers to [a] family” that arise from the absence of contraceptives.[2]


Regardless of the access being a human right, and aside from the outstanding statistics that point to a healthier world with access to contraceptives - the reality is that many women in around the world do not have access to these contraceptives.[3] There are approximately 222 million women who “lack access to reliable, high-quality family planning services, information and supplies, putting them at risk of unintended pregnancy.”[4] A study in 2015 found that at least “one in ten married or in-union women in most regions of the world ha[d] an unmet need for family planning.”[5] This means that these women either “wanted to stop or delay childbearing[,] but were not using any method of contraception.”[6] This 10-12 percent is much higher in developing countries, going up to nearly 25 percent of women in this same situation who do not have access to family planning services.[7]


The Population fund suggests that to address this issue, it would take a “multipronged effort: simultaneously strengthening health systems, introducing or enforcing laws that protect individuals’ rights, reducing poverty, challenging harmful traditional practices, removing logistical impediments and ensuring a broad range of supplies.”[8] “Studies have shown that investing in family planning helps reduce poverty, improve health, promote gender equality, enable adolescents to finish their schooling, and increase labourforce participation.”[9]

Some would say that the number of countries that provide free contraceptives for their citizens, while impressive, should be much higher. One article says that 46 countries offer these services to their citizens.[10] While these 46 countries recognize the impact that access to contraceptives has on both a woman’s life and the community around them, “many societies around the world are far from recognizing contraception as an intrinsic right.”[11] An article by Lilly O’Donnell discuss the Philippines briefly and analogizes the circumstances in the Philippines to that in the United States.[12] She contends that in both places the “Catholic Church is [] exercising its influence on the government to block attempts to provide access to contraception for women.”[13] While the religious tension surrounding contraceptives continues to be an issue, the Philippines have made changes to access of contraceptives in the country, particularly for the country’s poorest women.[14]


The battle between the Catholic Church and the Philippine government has been a long-standing issue. One example of this is the contraceptive use and access for Philippine citizens. The Reproductive Health Law[15] initially took 13 years to be passed and was still not in full effect 5 years after its implementation.[16] That’s when President Duterte signed the executive order that aimed to achieve ‘zero unmet need for family planning.’[17] Duterte’s order would effectively provide 6 million women[18] with contraceptives, many of whom were not able to get them before. Following the Executive Order that was to provide contraceptives, health education and reproductive services, the Catholic Church challenged the law as unconstitutional.[19] In 2015, the Supreme Court placed a temporary restraining order on the government against “procuring and distributing sub-dermal implants.”[20] In early 2017, the Supreme Court imposed a broader restraining order that vastly limited what the government could provide in terms of contraceptives and services.[21] This second restraining order limited product licenses so when those licenses for “selling or distributing” expired, “a new one [could not] be issued . . . [or] renewed.”[22] If the TRO remained in force through 2018, “90% of contraceptives [would have] no longer [been] available.”[23]


After the restraining order was entered to stop the government from providing contraceptives, many in the country worried even though “[t]he Philippines already had the highest teen pregnancy rate in Asia,” those numbers would continue to rise and the “shortage [would] hurt teens.”[24] The number of teens who become mothers between the age of 15 and 19 is one in 10.[25] For many countries, the years between 2000 and 2010 showed an overall “decrease in early [and teen] pregnancy”, but “teen pregnancy rates in the Philippines increased by 65 percent.”[26]

In November of 2017, it looked like this situation surrounding birth control in the Philippines may be changing. The Food and Drug Administration “ruled that dozens of contraceptives, including implants and pills, were not abortion-inducing and thus the government could distribute them for free.”[27] While this is a huge win for women in the Philippines, the battle for access to family planning is not over. As noted before, there are around 6 million people who need access to these services and the funding for 2017 was “only enough for two million couples.”[28] While the removal of the temporary restraining order seems promising, the true effects of access to contraceptives and other services is yet to be seen. If studies are accurate, however, the women in the Philippines should now have the opportunity to better plan for their families, allowing themselves to continue education longer and live healthier more productive lives.





[1] The Week Staff, Is birth control a human right?, The Week (Nov. 15, 2012),

[2] Id.

[3] United Nations Population Fund, The State of World Population 2012 (2012), (hereinafter UN Population Fund).

[4] Id.

[5] Trends in Contraceptive Use Worldwide, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2015),

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] UN Population Fund, supra note 3.

[9] Lilly O’Donnell, UN Declares Birth Control a Human Right, and America Falls Short, Mic (Nov. 18, 2013),

[10] Emerii Watson, 46 Countries Offer Free Contraceptives for Their Citizens. Some of These Include: China, India, Iraq, France, U.K., Germany, Algeria, Uganda – Notably Absent: The U.S., POW Today (Apr. 2017),

[11] O’Donnell, supra note 9.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Camila Domonoske, In Majority Catholic Philippines, Duterte Order Better Access to Birth Control, The Two-Way National Public Radio (Jan. 12, 2017, 9:59 AM),

[15] “The law was meant to provide free condoms, birth control pills, contraceptive implants and other family planning methods to couples in poor communities, while protecting mothers from death and other health risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth.” Philippines’ Poorest Hit Hardest by Birth Control Failings, ‘Toothless’ Family Planning Law and Interference from Church, South China Morning Post (Nov. 27, 2017, 12:48 pm),

[16] Aurora Almendraw, Duterte’s Free Birth-Control is Latest Skirmish with Catholic Church, The New York Times (Jan. 27, 2017),

[17] Id.

[18] Associated Press, Philippines to Offer Free Contraceptives to 6 Million Women, (Jan. 11, 2017, 10:38 PM),

[19] Almendraw, supra note 12. The church groups argued that “implants and other contraceptives were abortifacients, and thus unconstitutional.” Philippines’ Poorest Hit Hardest, supra note 15. 

[20] Ana P. Santos, Birth Control Shortage Will Hurt Teems, Say Philippine Health Groups, NewsDeeply (Apr. 18, 2017),

[21] Almendraw, supra note 16.  

[22] Santos, supra note 20.

[23] Jan Alwyn Batara, 2018 Might Be the Last Year that You Can Buy nmore in the Philippines, The Asiaparent Philippines,

[24] Santos, supra note 20.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Philippines’ Poorest Hit Hardest, supra note 15.

[28] Id.