Indonesia and the Philippines: Gender, Health and Faith

Religion is central to the lives of billions, a guiding force that influences not only individual spiritual belief, but also public policy. In this project, Pulitzer Center senior editor Tom Hundley explores two rapidly modernizing countries in Southeast Asia where religious belief and tradition play a critical role in defining evolving attitudes toward family planning, reproductive health and the global hot-button issue of abortion.

Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, also has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. As reproductive health professionals, policy-makers and politicians wrestle with the implications of this, a spirited debate within Muslim religious circles on family planning and reproductive health has led to some surprising outcomes.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, a profoundly Catholic country, the contours of the debate on contraception and abortion continue to be dominated by Vatican doctrine. This year, in what is expected to mark a pivotal moment in this fast developing but still impoverished nation, the Supreme Court of the Philippines will rule on the constitutionality of a new reproductive health law that pits the entrenched power of the Roman Catholic establishment against a rising tide of modernization and economic aspiration.

With support from the Henry Luce Foundation, and drawing on the expertise of scholars at Washington University in St. Louis and other institutions, this long-term project will examine how the experience of Indonesia, the Philippines and other countries shed light on the ways in which religion is used—and sometimes misused—to shape public policy on deeply personal issues.