The progressive push for greater “access” to birth control is not done merely or even mostly for medical reasons; it is, rather, a largely political or ideological crusade, premised on the notion that most women need contraception in order to live full and gratifying lives. This ideology treats the female reproductive cycle as inherently defective and deficient, a problem to be “cured” by way of chemicals and copper and cauterization. It also invariably demands state support, and provision, of contraception—how, after all, could the state not subsidize something so profoundly indispensable as microgynon? What would women do?
The Philippines recently came under the sway of this ideological crusade, though thankfully they’re receiving some pushback from the Catholic Church:
In the heavily Catholic nation of the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte is fighting the Church on two fronts. On one hand, the clergy recently condemned Duterte’s widely publicized war on drugs, which has left thousands dead since his election in June. On the other, an executive order mandating access to reproductive healthcare and sexual education has triggered a second wave of opposition from the Church and conservatives.
The legislation, initially enacted in 2012, aims to provide free contraceptives to the country’s 100 million people. By making birth control and other family planning methods readily available, the government hopes to decrease the country’s rising poverty rates. The Philippines is also one of the few countries seeing an increase in teen pregnancy.
“Family planning is very important here in the Philippines because mothers here have five babies, six babies, sometimes 13 babies,” said John Paul Domingo, a registered nurse at a Manila maternity ward, one of the busiest in the world.
There are a number of excellent reasons for the Church to push back against Duterte’s order, not least among them that women shouldn’t be infantilized and treated like helpless naifs who can’t possibly take care of themselves. But that’s kind of the point. Note the nurse quoted above: “[M]others here have five babies, six babies, sometimes 13 babies.” The passivity of the nurse’s assessment is really quite notable: apparently mothers just “have” babies, as if the women in the Philippines regularly just trip on the sidewalk and stumble into pregnancy without any effort or agency. “What did you do this weekend, Maria?” “Well, the strangest thing happened: I had a baby! I’m not quite sure how it happened.”
But we know how it happened; even young children are capable of grasping the link between sex and procreation. If women in the Philippines are having more babies then they’d care to have, it’s not because some beneficent government hasn’t showered them with contraceptives; it’s because they’re having a lot of sex without first ensuring that they’re unlikely to get pregnant at the time. Charting and divining a woman’s menstrual cycle is, on average, not that hard. Avoiding pregnancy once you’ve mastered that trick is even easier still. All it takes is a little self-control—nothing revolutionary or unreasonable, unless you consider sexual restraint and emotional and intellectual composure to be “unreasonable.”
Though we must be aware that, for a great many people, such requests are unreasonable. The great sin of the birth control crusaders, then, is not that they treat womens’ bodies like broken clocks that need fixing; it’s that they treat women themselves as incompetent, inept, and incapable of managing the most intimate and important aspects of their personal lives. If that’s how the Filipino government views women, then it is unsurprising that they’d put forth a government program to save women from themselves.