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Friday, October 24, 2008

Reproductive Health Not Limited to Population Control says Women’s and Doctors’ Groups


The Gabriela Women’s Party and the Health Alliance for Democracy asserted that the issue of reproductive health should not be limited to population control but is a part of the people’s right to health and thus, a component of a comprehensive, accessible, and relevant health care system for the people.


Proponents of House Bill No. 5043 or the Reproductive Health and Population
Development Act of 2008 said the bill aims to promote responsible parenthood, informed choice, birth spacing, among others. The bill is pending at the Lower House.

In a forum organized by the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR), Oct. 17, lawyer Clara Rita Padilla of EnGendeRights, Inc., presented the salient points of the bill.

Padilla said under the bill, contraceptives are classified as essential medicines that need to be procured by every local and national hospital.

The bill also directs all public hospitals to make available to indigent mothers, upon request, the procedure of ligation without cost to the patient. It also states that the cost of tubal ligation, vasectomy and intrauterine device insertion (IUD) for indigent clients shall be fully subsidized by PhilHealth.

Private reproductive health care service providers are encouraged to render such services free of charge or at reduced professional fee rates to indigent and low-income patients.

The bill also requires each Congressional district to implement a Mobile Health Care Service funded by the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). As part of the said service, a van would be provided to deliver reproductive health care goods and services as well as disseminate knowledge and information on reproductive health.

Reproductive Health Education will be taught to students from Grade 5 up to Fourth Year High School, including non-formal education.

Also contained in the bill is the employers’ responsibility to provide “reasonable” quantity of reproductive health care services, supplies and devices to all workers whether organized in unions or not.

Ramon San Pascual, executive director of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development Foundation, Inc. (PLCPD), said that as of Oct. 9, there are 130 legislators supportive of the bill, while 81 are against and 27 are neutral.

Pascual said he is hopeful that the bill would be approved by the bicameral committee of both houses of Congress by next year. He noted that legislators have crossed party lines in their vote on the bill. “Even Arroyo’s closest allies are in favor of the RH bill,” said Pascual.

“Wrong framework”

Meanwhile, Dr. Gene Nisperos, vice chairperson of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), criticized the framework of the RH bill.

Nisperos said that while they recognize and appreciate the effort to address the issue of reproductive health, the RH bill is essentially “flawed” in its framework of population management and development.

In its Declaration of Policy, the bill states that the RH policy is anchored on the rationale that sustainable human development is better assured with manageable population of healthy, educated and productive citizen.

Nisperos said that the current level of discussion must be broadened beyond the issue of population control.

Nisperos asserted that the reproductive health issue has political and economic aspects. He said that the poorest experience the worst implications of poor reproductive health care. He said that mortality rates of the newborn, infant, and children under-five are significantly higher among the poor than among the well-to-do.

The Poor Have it Worst

Only 25 percent of poor women give birth with assistance of health professionals while 92 percent of women belonging to the upper class have professionals attending to them.

Nisperos said, “Unless the health of the poorest improves, the population will become increasingly poor and unhealthy.”

He added, “Reproductive health should be part of a comprehensive, accessible, and relevant health care system for the people.” He said that the present health care system does not respond to the needs of the Filipino people, especially poor women.

For this reason, Nisperos said that the Department of Health (DoH), not the Population Commission, should be the primary government agency that will ensure reproductive health.

Nisperos also deplored that the deteriorating health care system has shifted the burden of health care, including reproductive health care, to women themselves.
“It remains the State’s responsibility to ensure the well-being and health of its people,” said Nisperos. He said that the government should provide free reproductive health services and materials.

Citing data from the DoH’s Health Policy Development and Planning Bureau, Nisperos said the Philippines lags behind neighboring countries when it comes to maternal health.

Health Indicators Selected Asian Countries

Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said that reproductive health is part of women’s rights and should be treated as a human right.

Ilagan said that the Philippine Constitution guarantees the right to health of all citizens. She said that United Nations agreements such as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) also recognize reproductive health as women’s rights.

Ilagan, who was a teacher for 41 years, underscored the importance of women’s right to information and of the youth’s right to be educated on reproductive health.

Nisperos said, “The recognition of women’s rights, including reproductive health, must be framed on the overall pursuit of human rights, including the right to health and the right to development. These rights can only be realized if we dismantle the unequal and unjust socio-economic and political structures that cause poverty and the marginalization of women.” (Bulatlat)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bishops becoming isolated in battle over birth control


By Christine F. Herrera

THE Catholic Church is increasingly becoming isolated on the issue of family planning as other major religious groups have joined forces to support the reproductive health bill in Congress.

So far, that alliance includes the Iglesia Ni Cristo, the Jesus is Lord Movement, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and Muslim leaders who see value in curbing the country’s rapid population growth.

The bill, which seeks to establish a national policy on family planning, has also won support from various government agencies, the academic community, and civil society, workers’ and women’s groups.

The Catholic Church opposes the bill because it supports artificial birth control methods such as the use of condoms, and has launched a vociferous campaign against it.

But the measure’s principal author, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, says the divisions are not theological.

“This is not a religious war. Most of the co-authors are also devout Catholics,” Lagman said of some 108 lawmakers who had agreed to co-sponsor the bill.

“But there is an emerging victory of progressive advocacy over orthodox dogma.” The bastion of opposition to the bill, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, has not conceded the fight, and a ranking member yesterday urged lawmakers who support the bill to resign and “stop pretending they are representing the people.”

Mati, Davao, Bishop Patricio Alo said these lawmakers should listen to their constituents, referring to the fact that most Filipinos are nominal Catholics. But Lagman countered that Alo was refusing to see that many Catholics wanted to control their fertility and plan their families.

He added that 90 percent of Catholics in a recent Pulse Asia survey said the state should finance the use of modern contraceptives, which are expressly prohibited by the Church.

All the authors and the religious groups supporting the bill reject abortion as a method of family planning, but they realize something must be done to slow down population growth, estimated at about two million babies a year.

Religious leaders outside the Catholic Church informed Congress of their support once they made their official positions known to their respective members. Eddie Villanueva, leader of the Jesus is Lord Movement, had his son, Rep. Joel Villanueva, co-sponsor the bill on Wednesday to signal his support. Iglesia members have also confirmed that their leaders are encouraging them to lobby Congress to pass the bill.

“We, in the Iglesia Ni Cristo, recognize that the population problem, especially in our country, is real. There is a problem because apparently our country’s resources cannot cope with the rapidly growing population,” the Iglesia said in a position paper it submitted to the House committee on health. “While it is sometimes said that the population explosion is not the cause of poverty in our country, you will certainly agree that it is not the solution either.

“In view of this, the Iglesia Ni Cristo supports the efforts of government and non-government organizations to curb the population growth to a sustainable level in order to ensure a decent life for our people. We do our part by exhorting the members of the Iglesia Ni Cristo to become responsible parents and to have only as many children as they can afford to sustain.”

In a scathing rebuff against the Catholic lobby, the Iglesia leaders urged their members to reject the “natural method” supported by Catholic bishops, nuns and ultra-conservative lay organizations as the acceptable alternative to modern methods of family planning such as the use of condoms, contraceptives and injectables.

The influential Catholic Church, through the Couples for Christ, has used P50 million in state funds to exclusively promote the natural method of family planning. Nuns and members of the Catholic Women’s League have also gone to Congress to denounce the proponents of the bill.

But big business, led by the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, has been among the first to throw its support behind the bill.

Among the government agencies that endorsed the Lagman bill are the Interior and Social Welfare departments, Commission on Population, National Academy of Science and Technology, National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, Commission on Higher Education, and the National Economic Development Authority.

“A major factor affecting the delivery of reproductive health products and services in the country is the lack of a comprehensive and definite policy on reproductive health,” Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral has said in position paper.

“Along with this comes the persisting unresolved issue of population increase, which also exacerbates the problems of malnutrition, illiteracy and unemployment.” With Arlie Calalo

Can Catholics support the RH bill? Yes!

Mary Racelis | 10/06/2008 6:56 PM

Can one be a Catholic and still support the Reproductive Health bill?

Growing numbers of professional and educated lay Filipino Catholics believe they can. Increasingly uneasy that the unshakeable position of the Church contradicts directly their own understandings of Philippine realities, many are actually reading the bill to see for themselves – and emerging as its supporters.

Catholic NGO workers, social workers, and social science researchers working in poor rural and urban communities overflowing with malnourished, out-of-school children and youth have particular problems with the Church position. They find it difficult to accept that poor mothers and fathers who want to avoid a fourth or fifth pregnancy or wait a few years before the next one, should be condemned for choosing reliable, contraceptive family planning methods.

One urban poor woman was asked what the Church might say about her practice of saving part of her meager earnings to buy birth control pills every month. Her reply: “Ang simbahan ba ang magpapakain sa mga anak namin?(Will the Church feed my children?)”

Then there is the deafening silence of the Church on how to respond to the thousands of poor women who undergo clandestine, unsafe abortions for lack of access to modern family planning. In 2000, 473,000 women had induced abortions, 79,000 of them winding up in hospitals from complications, and 800 leaving as corpses.

The World Health Organization estimates that this already alarming 2000 statistic may by 2008 be as high as 800,000! Yet the Church remains in denial. Its spokespersons claim that their calculations yield “only 200,000” induced abortions.

Meanwhile, desperate women eking out a meager living for four to eight children and possibly supporting an unemployed or chronically drunk husband as well, consider the prospect of another child to be unthinkable - and go for an abortion.

Safe and effective choices

The bill recognizes this reality by offering poor women safer and more effective choices for preventing unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. Because it enables women to reject the unsafe abortion route, the bill can legitimately be called anti-abortion. The Church’s position, on the other hand, poses the ultimate irony. By opposing contraceptive options for women but offering no other viable alternatives, it is in effect contributing to those 473,000 abortions.

The low priority given to women’s needs results in their appalling health status. Ten die each day, or 3,650 per year, from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes. One Filipina out of 140 faces the risk of maternal death in her lifetime. Contrast this with one in 500 for Thai women, and one in 560 for Malaysian women.

Maternal mortality rates in the Philippines are unacceptably high at 162 per 100,000 live births. The corresponding ratio for Thailand is 110 and for Malaysia 62. Skilled attendants are present at birth for 60% of Filipinas, while the comparable figures for Thai women reach 97% and Malaysian women 98 %. Buddhists and Muslims seem to do better by their women than Catholics.

Moreover, when a mother dies in labor because she has not gone for prenatal check-ups, her baby is also likely to die in the first year if not the first month of life. Surviving toddlers are similarly at risk. An estimated 10 million Filipino women incur post-partum disabilities every year owing to poor obstetric care. Class disparities come starkly to the fore as fully 96% of women with higher education receive post-natal care from a health professional, compared with only 33% of women with no education.

Comprehensive family planning services

Catholics who support the bill appreciate the accountability it demands of government in mandating as national policy specific benefits to women and families, “more particularly to the poor and needy.” Examples include mobile health care services in every Congressional district, and one emergency obstetric hospital per 500,000 population.

Midwives and skilled birth attendants must be available in every city and municipality to attend to women during childbirth in a ratio of one per 150 deliveries per year. Maternal death reviews will be conducted locally in coordination with the Department of Health and Popcom. Hospitals will handle more complex family planning procedures.

Given these and other benefits, educated Catholics feel vindicated in supporting a bill that offers women and families comprehensive health and family planning services as a matter of right and choice. Church proclamations alleging that House Bill 5043 is “anti-poor,” “anti-women,” “pro-abortion,” and “immoral” ring hollow in the face of empirical evidence to the contrary. The bill reads exactly the opposite as pro-poor, pro-women, anti-abortion, and respectful of human life.

Moreover, its provisions satisfy Catholic consciences as being compatible with the Church’s social teachings, including the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person, the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, integral human development, and the primacy of conscience. In this light they urge that the Church listen to them as responsible Catholic laity who offer their Church the advantage of evidenced-based approaches to the evolving needs of 21st century Philippine society.

By ceasing its attacks on the bill, allowing it to pass, and concentrating instead on monitoring implementation, the Church will convey an important point to its uneasy, increasingly critical lay members – that despite its hierarchical structure and celibate, all-male leadership, it can still respond meaningfully to the needs and aspirations of poor women and their families. At the very least, let us hope the Church resists the temptation to “shoot the messengers” who dare to articulate alternative but realistic Catholic views.

Mary Racelis is a sociologist with INCITEGov, Pasig City.

as of 10/07/2008 12:32 AM