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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

R We Ready for the RH Law?

By Clara Rita A. Padilla
Philippine Daily Inquirer - Sunday Magazine
First Posted 03:28:00 03/23/2008

Six more reasons why Filipino women need a Comprehensive Reproductive Health Law

1. To prevent maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth

About half of all pregnancies in the Philippines (approximately 1.43 million a year)[1] are unintended. The Health Department has noted that Filipino women on average have one child more than they want. According to the UNFPA State of the World Population 2007 report on the Philippines, at least 200 Filipino mothers die for every 100,000 live births, compared to only 17 deaths in the US, six in Canada, four in Spain, five in Italy, 41 in Malaysia, 30 in Singapore, and 44 in Thailand. These preventable deaths could have been avoided if more Filipino women have had access to reproductive health information and health care.

2. To help couples choose freely and responsibly when to have children

Knowing which medically safe and effective methods of contraception to use will help couples determine freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children. This in turn should ensure that all children are wanted and loved and will be properly provided for by their parents.

3. To prevent unwanted pregnancies and reduce abortion rates

Increased access to, and adequate information on, contraceptive methods—both natural and modern—will reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, eliminate the need for abortion and prevent maternal deaths.

4. To give rape victims a better chance to heal from their ordeal

Giving rape victims access to emergency contraception (EC) like levonorgestrel can help them prevent unwanted pregnancies. So far, the Arroyo administration has deliberately failed to act upon a request to register levonorgestrel since it was made in December 2006. The denial of access to EC has no basis in medical science. The World Health Organization defines EC as a method of preventing pregnancy. It does not interrupt pregnancy, and is therefore not considered a method of abortion, according to this respected health institution.

5. To prevent early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases especially among adolescents

The Comprehensive Reproductive Health Care Law recommends that the government provide sex education targeted at girls and boys, with special attention to the prevention of early pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. According to our obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which the Philippines ratified more than 25 years ago, “adolescent pregnancies present a significant obstacle to girls’ (when it comes to) educational opportunities and economic empowerment.”[2]

6. To free women’s bodies from being held hostage by politics

For the longest time, foreign donors have provided for the contraceptive needs of Filipino women, until the phase-down of condoms in March 2003, pills in 2007, injectables in 2008, and IUDs on a later date, with projections that stocks will run out six months after the last shipment. It is now up to the government to take up the slack. But rather than antagonize the Catholic Church, our politicians toe its line of prescribing only natural family planning methods, no matter how inadequate, unsuitable or ineffective they are to most women.

The administration’s policy of refusing to give women access to contraceptive methods that suit them has seeped down to local politics and ordinances, as in Exec. Order No. 003 Series of 2000, which has the city of Manila refusing to dispense modern contraceptives in government clinics.

Such policies reflect religious fundamentalism in our laws, where the beliefs of the majority are imposed on others. But shouldn’t government respect plurality in our society and respect the rights of its citizens, no matter what their faith? Why are politicians allowed to sacrifice women’s health to forward their careers? The passage of a Comprehensive Reproductive Health Care Law in the 14th Congress should address these anomalies. Hopefully, our senators and representatives will do their part to help change women’s lives. Or you can write them and make it happen.

[1] Singh S et al., Unintended Pregnancy and Induced Abortion in the Philippines: Causes and Consequences, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2006.

[2] August 25, 2006 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Concluding Comments on the Philippines