New polls on reproductive health

Published by rudy Date posted on October 18, 2008

by Mahar Mangahas
from Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The third quarter 2008 Social Weather Survey, fielded Sept. 24-27, had two modules on the topic of reproductive health (RH), one module of three items done on SWS’ own initiative, and a second module of three items commissioned by the Forum for Family Planning and Development (FFPD), a non-government advocacy group.

Last Tuesday, Social Weather Stations (SWS) sent its own RH report to BusinessWorld newspaper, which exercised its right of first publication on Thursday; SWS uploaded the report on its website that day. Last Wednesday,

The FFPD conducted a press conference to report the findings of its separate module; SWS confirms the FFPD materials presented.

The SWS survey asked six questions on the RH topic, the first three of which were FFPD, and the second three being SWS’ own items. The first four items were a battery of Agree/Disagree (A/D) statements, with two of them phrased in opposition to the Reproductive Health and Population Development (RHPD) bill currently being debated in Congress, and with the two others phrased as affirmative to it. The fifth item asked whether the respondent already knew of the RHPD bill. The sixth item asked if the respondent favored it or not. I believe that the A/D battery, being evenly divided in slant, did not introduce affirmation bias to the succeeding items.

Abortion, distribution of contraceptives, and promiscuity. The first test statement of the A/D battery was the anti-RHPD assertion, “The use of legal contraceptives like condoms, IUDs, and pills can also be considered as abortion.” On this, the survey found 33 percent in agreement, and 50 percent in disagreement, in the Philippines as a whole; the others were undecided.

The second statement of the A/D battery was phrased as pro-RHPD: “There should be a law that requires the government to give away legal contraceptives like condoms, IUDs and pills to people who want to avail [themselves] of them.” (In Tagalog, “Gawing katungkulan ng gobyerno ang pamimigay….”) On this, the survey found a strong 68 percent in agreement and only 15 percent in disagreement.

The third statement of the A/D battery was the anti-RHPD assertion, “If family planning would be included in the school curriculum, the youth would become sexually promiscuous.” (The Tagalog for promiscuous behavior was “ay makikipagtalik nang walang pakundangan.”) On this, the survey found 25 percent in agreement, and majority 54 percent in disagreement.

Thus the FFPD module of the three items clearly shows that most Filipinos reject the “abortion” and “promiscuity” arguments against FP, and also advocate government subsidization of it. To my knowledge, this is the first time that the “abortion” and “promiscuity” assertions have been tested in a Philippine opinion poll.

Family planning education and opinion on the RHPD bill. The fourth and last item of the A/D battery was the pro-RHPD “There should be a law that requires the government to teach family planning to the youth.” On this, the survey found 75 percent in agreement and only 10 percent in disagreement.

Then respondents were informed of the RHPD bill (“… a proposal in the House of Representatives that gives the government the duty to promote responsible parenthood through giving enough information to the people, and having safe, legal, affordable and quality reproductive health care services for people who want it”) and asked if they had heard of it or not. The survey found that 46 percent already knew of it, prior to the survey.

The final question, asked of everyone, was on opinion about the RHPD proposal. The survey found 71 percent in favor, 21 percent undecided, and a mere 8 percent opposed. Among those who originally knew of the bill, the score is 84 percent in favor, and 6 percent opposed. Among those who learned of the bill for the first time because of the survey, the score is 59 percent in favor, versus 11 percent opposed. This suggests that public support will grow as information about the bill spreads further.

Thus the three SWS-initiated items, which were included in our survey agenda as a public service independently of the items commissioned by the FFPD, show very strong public support for government action on reproductive health.

The people are not sheep. Cross-tabulations of the results of both the FFPD-commissioned items and the SWS-initiated items show that Filipino opinion on RH is roughly the same for Catholics and non-Catholics, the same for regular (weekly and up) and irregular churchgoers, and the same for the great many who trust, and the few who distrust, the Catholic church.

These findings are not at all unexpected. A 1991 survey of social attitudes towards FP interest groups, done by SWS for the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development, found that “Filipinos do not feel strongly restricted from using family planning methods, either by the rules of their religion, or by the teaching they received in school, or by the advice given by their physicians.”

Filipino interpretation of the teaching of their religion on FP is actually much more permissive than the official teaching of the Catholic church. In 1991, four out of five preferred electoral candidates who favored free choice of FP methods. Analysis of voting intentions showed anti-FP officials in grave risk of not being re-elected.

As Fr. John J. Carroll, S.J., of the Institute of Church and Social Issues, discussant of the SWS study, said: “Although some church officials like to refer to themselves as pastors, in this case the people are not sheep.” (See my book, “The Philippine Social Climate,” Anvil Publishing, 1994, p. 158.)

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