Surigao City official says ‘pro-life’ campaign may mean more maternal deaths

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/11 July) – The Catholic Church’s alleged efforts to disrupt the city’s maternal health program may worsen the already increasing number of maternal deaths, a local health official said.

Thirty-two cases of maternal death, defined as the death of a woman during or shortly after pregnancy, had occurred here since 2010, said Dr. Aldine A. Morales, the city health officer.

Fifteen of these cases happened last year, she added.

Hemorrhage, sepsis, obstructed labor, hypertensive disorders and complications from unsafe abortion were among the causes of maternal deaths here.

Morales said these deaths can be prevented with proper diagnosis and intervention.

She, however, said their efforts are being hindered by the campaign of some “pro-life” Catholic organizations that discourage women from availing of health services offered by the local government and at the same time lobby for the scrapping of foreign-funded reproduction health programs.

“More women die each year because they are being deprived of basic maternal services. What’s frustrating is when the government steps up to deliver these services, so-called ‘pro-life’ groups that mostly belong to the Catholic Church undermine our efforts,” the official said.

Gabriela Party-list Rep. Luzviminda C. Ilagan told reporters reproductive health advocates are confident they have the numbers in the House of Representatives for the passage of the RH bill, but conceded that lawmakers would not want to be openly identified with the controversial measure “fearing the wrath of the (Catholic) Church”.

Ilagan said she shares the concerns raised by Morales and other likeminded local government officials who must contend with the Catholic Church on the issue of reproductive health.

The Catholic Church only promotes natural family planning methods and is against the use of artificial forms of contraception like condoms and pills.

Ilagan said that while she understands the Catholic Church’s position on contraception, its lobby against artificial methods has affected the delivery of maternal health services as well, stifling the drive of local governments to reduce pregnancy-related deaths.

“I commend the stand of the local government of Surigao City which , unlike other LGUs that are being cowed into giving up their programs for women’s health, has pursued reproductive health programs that are geared towards the health of the mother, may she be Catholic or not,” the lawmaker said.

Morales said a Catholic group was holding “meetings” where women were reportedly being told to stay away from reproductive health programs of the local government.

The Church, he added, has also opposed the construction of a birthing center funded in part by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.

MindaNews sought Surigao City Bishop Antonieto D. Cabajog for comment but his aides said he was in Cebu.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines believes artificial contraceptives are abortifacient or can induce abortion. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)