The Catholic Church and the Davao City government are waging a fierce battle against each other over contraception. Women like Hazel Baraw get caught in the crossfire.

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By Germelina A. Lacorte

DAVAO CITY — Life for Hazel Baraw, 28, hardly changed after she got married.

Before, she used to work as domestic helper, earning a measly 500 pesos a month doing the long, mindless, repetitive chores nobody wanted to do inside the house of a middle-class family in Buhangin.

When she married at 18, she thought she was finally giving herself a break.

But one by one, the four children came. Inside one of those huts people call the carpenters bunkhouse in a squalid corner of Buhangins Country Homes subdivision where her husband used to work, Hazel Baraw confronts the same long and repetitive work — unpaid now — she had left behind as a 14-year-old domestic help. Her husbands pay was meager and irregular.

Looking very weak and emaciated now, Hazel Baraw is sick with worry over where to get her familys next meal. With four small children to raise, she could hardly find work to supplement her husbands income. Worse, shes about to have another baby.

So when news about City Halls tubal-ligation program reached the carpenters bunkhouse, women like Hazel Baraw came to the open to avail themselves of the opportunity. “All I wanted to do was to take a rest, have the time to plan and think things over,” she said.

But things are not as simple as they seem. Just the mere decision of what to do with her own body already brings her right in the middle of the war on contraception between the Catholic Church and the state.

Months after the city announced its 5,000-peso financial assistance (later reduced to 3,000 peso) for men and women who opt for vasectomy and tubal ligation, the Catholic Churchs Family Planning Crusade denounced the program, saying it is “contrary to the teachings of God,” and it violates basic moral principles for the protection of human life.

Free IUD Removal. A sign near a Church in Davao City. ( photo)

Tubal ligation, which is done by cutting the womans fallopian tubes to prevent pregnancy, and vasectomy, or the cutting of the tube that carries the sperm, remain forbidden by the Catholic Church, which views the womans body solely as a means for pro-creation, Lyda Canson, chair of the Davao City chapter of the womens group Gabriela.

The Catholic Church has also come up with its own program to encourage more people to remove their IUDs (intra-uterine devices), for free directly countering a City Hall program providing IUDs to women.

“Its a case of two institutions — headed by men — deciding on what to do with the womans body,” Canson said. “Ironic because men do not have the capacity to become pregnant but theyre the ones making decisions affecting pregnancy.”

But the story of how women — not only the innocent and unsuspecting ones like Hazel Baraw — lost their rightful claim over their bodies is a story as old as history itself, Canson added. It dates back to thousands of years when the advent of herding and the invention of private property first came up in the minds of men, she said.

In this country, what a girl will become is already dictated upon her even before birth. To get what she wants, she has to overcome obstacles imposed on her by class, sex, race, religion and culture.

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