Church leaders to fight Guatemalan family planning law
GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan church leaders and the country's president said they will fight a controversial family planning law in court.
The law, which was pushed through by the Guatemalan Congress in early February, requires the government to make birth control methods available and to teach sex education in school.
The law, first passed in November, was vetoed by President Oscar Berger. However, opposition leaders in Congress took advantage of a technical fault with the veto to order the law's publication. Now, the executive branch and church leaders said they will continue to fight the law in court, arguing that it violates the constitutional right to life.
In a press conference after the law's passage, Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruno of Guatemala City told local media that the law would "open the doors to abortive practices." To illustrate his point, the cardinal held up a box of birth control pills in one hand and a bullet in another, saying that both were killers.
The Guatemalan bishops' conference backed up the cardinal's words in a statement and also said that the law contradicts parents' right to educate their children.
Women's rights groups, on the other hand, applauded the law.
"It's a big advance," said Evelyn Morales of the women's organization Tierra Viva. She said she thought the law would actually help decrease abortions and the number of women who die during childbirth by giving them more opportunities to plan for or prevent pregnancies. She also said it could help decrease poverty.
The World Health Organization says Guatemala has the highest fertility rate in Latin America, coupled with a poverty rate that exceeds 55 percent of the population.
Women in Guatemala have on average about four children. Guatemala also has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Latin America: 240 out of every 100,000 women die during birth, according to the WHO.
Only 43 percent of women and men in Guatemala use contraceptives, according to a 2002 government survey.
Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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