PBS Bemoans Philippines 'Diluting' Population Control Law to Protect Religious Liberty

Mark Litke hyped the "population explosion – what some are calling a crisis" in the Philippines on Sunday's PBS NewsHour Weekend, and played up how poor "families in Asia's most Catholic country...have had little or no access to contraception or family planning advice." Litke confronted a retired Catholic archbishop on his Church's teaching against birth control: "If the people of the Philippines are in support of...contraception...why would the Church oppose any of that?"

The former ABC correspondent later lamented how the Supreme Court of the Philippines protected the religious liberties of Catholic institutions in the country as it upheld a "new reproductive health care law" that subsidizes birth control: [video below the jump]

MARK LITKE: ...Still, before the bill was implemented, the Church and its supporters won some major concessions from the Supreme Court – effectively diluting the law. Private hospitals owned by religious institutions will not have to provide family planning options or even refer patients to hospitals that will provide the services. Minors seeking birth control pills or condoms will require parental consent.

Anchor Hari Sreenivasan introduced Litke's report by noting that in the Philippines, "some there are hoping that the recent passage of a controversial reproductive health act will slow population growth." The PBS journalist first zeroed in on the maternity ward of a hospital in Manila, and wasted little time before using his "population explosion" and "crisis" labels. He soon added his "families in Asia's most Catholic country that have had little or no access to contraception or family planning advice" line, and played his first of several soundbites from former Filipino Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, who supports the "reproductive health care law."

Litke cited the United Nations push for population control in the Philippines, and zeroed in the Catholic Church's opposition to the organization's left-wing social agenda:

LITKE: For years, the UN has urged the Philippine government to take action – to provide free contraception and family planning for the poor. Recent surveys indicate eight in ten Filipinos now agree. But the Philippines' most powerful institution, the Roman Catholic Church, has fought family planning policies every time they are raised.

In a country where more than 80 percent are practicing Catholics, the Church has dominated nearly every aspect of life for more than 400 years – its moral authority and political power rarely challenged, especially when it comes to reproduction. Abortion here is strictly illegal – although rare exceptions are made if the health of the mother is at risk. Outside the Vatican, it is the only country in the world where divorce is still not allowed. And while the Philippine church says it's not opposed to natural family planning – avoiding intercourse when a woman is most fertile – it remains opposed to all forms of artificial contraception.

The correspondent continued with a clip from his interview of retired Catholic Archbishop Oscar Cruz, where he questioned the Church's opposition to "population control and contraception." Archbishop Cruz answered, in part, that the Church "preaches responsible parenthood through natural family planning."

Litke then played another clip from Cabral, which he contrasted with a second soundbite from Archbishop Cruz:


LITKE (voice-over): But changes are now underway in the Philippines that could help slow the population boom. This past spring, after a 15-year battle that went all the way to the Philippine Supreme Court, a new reproductive health care law took effect. It requires the Philippine government to fund family planning health clinics; provide affordable contraception; and launch comprehensive sex education in schools.

Former Health Secretary Cabral, one of the most prominent supporters of the new law, says it's about time.

CABRAL: It's a victory for all Filipinos, especially women and children. I think that the law can make a very big dent in our problem with poverty and population.

LITKE (on-camera): So is this a defeat for the Catholic Church?

CABRAL: I think so.

LITKE: This fight went on for 15 years, and with all due respect, Archbishop, the Church lost.

CRUZ: Yes, yes. What's new? The Church teaches; the world does not listen. (laughs) If the Church teaches and the world listens – that would be a first-class miracle.

The PBS journalist used his slanted "diluting" term about the Filipino Supreme Court's "major concessions" to the Catholic Church near the end of the segment. He concluded with the usual left-leaning language about "back alley" abortions in the Asian country:

KLAUS BECK, UNITED NATIONS POPULATION FUND: Our main concern is that we're looking at women and – and young girls have the right to choose – you know, freely and responsibly, the number of children they want – when they want them.

LITKE: Klaus Beck is the head of the United Nations Population Fund in the Philippines. While he cheers the passage of the reproductive health care law here, he says that for the law to be effective, it must empower women to make their own choices, which the current law now limits.

Without those choices, many women may still feel the need to seek out abortions. And here in Manila, that means a visit to what could be described as an abortion black market. Right outside the 400-year-old Church of the Black Nazerene – right alongside the rosary beads and the statues of saints – shopkeepers openly offer a variety of herbs and potions, promising to induce menstruation as a way to end unwanted pregnancies. For the equivalent of $5, we were able to buy this concoction – what the vendor described as an herbal remedy, a brew that's supposed induce miscarriages in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Others may find it necessary to seek out someone in these back alleys to perform an abortion. We met up with a woman called Rose, who did not want to be identified on camera. Rose says she has assisted doctors performing hundreds of abortions.

"ROSE" (through translation): Every day, we had three to five patients, because it would only take 15 minutes for each procedure.

LITKE: According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, there are more than 500,000 illegal abortions in the Philippines every year. An estimated 1,000 women die every year of complications from those procedures. While the limitations of the new reproductive health care law are clear, former Health Secretary Cabral is optimistic that it will eventually lower the number of unwanted pregnancies, and eventually, slow the population growth.

CABRAL: Even though the primary purpose of the bill is not population control – as we know from other countries, if you give mothers a chance, what actually happens is the population growth rate goes down.

LITKE: For Cabral and many other Filipinos, failure is not an option. The need to control this country's population growth is becoming a matter of survival for Filipinos today – from the cradle to those graveyards, where people are now living as squatters, because they have nowhere else to live.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center