01 November 2011

Religion & Access to Repro Health

FP and Religion
International organizations recognize that religion, as practiced and interpreted is a powerful force, with both positive and negative impacts on government policies and development programming.

The World Bank, in its documentation of family planning and RH programs around the world, points out that having a strong Catholic Church was not the defining impediment to the expansion of family planning, rather, it was the close ties between the Catholic Church and the ruling elite on the issue of family planning.

Spain. In 1941, under the rule of Francisco Franco and with the strong influence of the Catholic Church, legislation banning the dissemination of family planning information and distribution of artificial contraceptive, such as the Birth Protection Law and the Protection of Large Families Law were passed. The said laws remained in effect for the next 35 years.

Gradual social and political changes—such as the diminishing influence of religion and of the traditional patriarchal family, the increasing number of women in the workforce and the aggressive promotion of family planning as a health intervention by medical professional have led the Spanish government to legalize the use of contraceptives and to allow family planning clinics to be established. In 1985, abortion was legalized in instances of rape, severe fetal abnormalities or if the mother's mental or physical health is at risk.

Under the regime of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the government considered the possibility of allowing the free sale of the emergency contraception pill in pharmacies without prescription and the expansion of conditions for legal abortions, adding economic conditions as an acceptable cause, and allowing first trimester abortions on request.

Portugal. The political and ideological principles of the Fascist regime under Antonio Salazar , which lasted for 48 years, was strongly influenced by the Catholic Church and also determined social and sexual roles of the male and female.

The revolution of 1974, which ended the dictatorship also gradually liberalized policies on sex education, contraception and family planning. In 1984, abortion was legalized in certain situations upon the woman request: if it was the only way to prevent serious physical or psychological injuries or death to the woman (during the first 12 weeks); if there was a high risk of serious disease or malformation to the newborn (during the first 24 weeks); if the pregnancy was the result of a sexual assault situation (during the first 16 weeks).Several attempts have been made to change the law to make it more extensive, but without any success.

Since 1985, contraceptives are widely available at pharmacies, hospitals, and health centers. Condoms are also distributed by institutions involved in the prevention of HIV infection. The emergency contraceptive pill, however can only be availed upon doctor’s prescription. Sterilization is also available.

Timor Leste. In Timor Leste, several meetings were conducted with Catholic Church leaders to raise awareness and understanding on issues related to reproductive health as well as population and development as part of the ICPD agenda.

Because of successful advocacy with the Catholic Church during the past two years (2005-2007), there is no longer aversion to the inclusion of adolescent sexual and reproductive health in school curricula. The Salesian priests are providing sexual education to Don Bosco Secondary School students while the Carmelite sisters occasionally offer sexuality orientation to groups of teenage girls.

The Ministry of Health has also partnered with the Catholic Church through the Catholic Faith Based Organization (FBO) Caritas Dili on issues of family planning, maternal and child mortality and morbidity, adolescent reproductive health, and prevention of HIV and STIs.