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Voting with our Gonads

By Clara Padilla
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 16:58:00 04/10/2010

Filed Under: Legislation, Family, Women, Health, Eleksyon 2010, Politics, Elections

THE COUNTRY?S presidential battle might as well be fought inside a woman?s womb, the way that the Reproductive Health bill has most candidates and Catholic bishops fulminating from podium and pulpit.

Who you vote to the country?s top post can decide whether Filipino couples and individuals would be allowed to use contraceptives in determining how many children they?d like to have, or whether they?d be using only natural family-planning methods as determined by the bishops.

Supporting the controversial RH bill, the bishops warned, could cost the presidential bets the Catholic vote. Among the most contentious provisions of the bill is one that wants to provide sex education to children starting at Grade 5. The bill wants the government to ?assure adequate funding to promote access to information, supplies and services on contraceptive methods including modern contraceptives.?

Just how do the presidential bets stand on the issue?

The Nacionalista Party?s standard bearer, Manny Villar, a member of Couples for Christ, and Ang Kapatiran?s JC de los Reyes have categorically stated they were not supporting the RH bill. Liberal Party?s Noynoy Aquino says he does not completely support it but clarifies that he believes in providing people the means to make informed choices, with the government and the Church being part of responsible parenthood education. But the decision, he adds, should ultimately be left to the couple.

The administration bet, Gibo Teodoro, had initially said he was supporting ?an honest to goodness population program? but has since aligned his position with that of the bishops. Jamby Madrigal co-sponsored the RH bill, while fellow presidential contender Dick Gordon has signed the bill with the notation ?with amendments.?

So, should you support the presidential candidate who supports the RH bill? Yes, according to lawyer Clara Rita A. Padilla, founder and executive director of EnGendeRights Inc., and a widely published feminist lawyer and women?s rights activist. Padilla has extensive experience in policy advocacy, litigation, research, writing and training. She cites 12 reasons why:

1. The Reproductive Health bill is meant to prevent maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Daily, there are 11 women dying while giving birth in the Philippines. These preventable deaths could have been avoided if more Filipino women have access to reproductive health information and healthcare, or if the births took place in health facilities with the assistance of skilled birth attendants. A comprehensive reproductive healthcare policy seeks to address both issues.

2. The bill helps prevent infant mortality.

Adequate birth spacing is important for the health of mothers and their babies. The survival rate of children born after an interval of four or more years is double that of children born less than two years after a previous birth (25 deaths per thousand, compared to 54 deaths). One of the provisions of the RH bill tackles proper child spacing.

3. The RH bill helps people choose freely and responsibly when to have children.

Knowing which medically safe and effective methods of contraception to use will help individuals and 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.

4. The RH bill actually helps reduce abortion rates.

Contrary to disinformation being peddled around, the RH bill does not support abortion. In fact, the bill will help reduce the number of abortions by providing increased access to information and services on modern contraceptive methods that in turn will reduce the number of unwanted ? and often aborted ? pregnancies. (The basics: Contraception prevents conception so there is no fertilized ovum or fetus to abort).

In the Philippines, unwanted and unplanned pregnancies result in about half a million women inducing abortion procedures every year. At least 79,000 women are admitted to hospitals for complications from unsafe abortion while some 800 women die from unsafe abortion. [1]

The latest Philippine statistics on abortion show the following profile of women who induce abortion: Nine in 10 women are married or in a consensual union; more than half have at least three children; two-thirds are poor; nearly 90 percent are Catholic. [2]

5. Access to emergency contraception gives 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. The denial of access to EC has no basis in medical science, according to the World Health Organization that 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.

6. The bill?s provision on reproductive health education helps prevent early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, especially among adolescents.

The Comprehensive Reproductive Health Care Bill (RH bill) recommends that the government provide mandatory reproductive health education starting at Grade 5.

According to our country?s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), which the Philippines ratified more than 8 [2] years ago, ?teenage pregnancies? present a significant obstacle to girls? educational opportunities and economic empowerment.? [3] It is the government?s duty to ?give priority attention to the situation of adolescents and (to provide) sex education, targeted at girls and boys, with special attention to the prevention of early pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.? [4] Many adolescents are sexually active and are not practicing any contraceptive method. In 2008, there were 47 births for every 1,000 women age 15-19. [5] According to the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study 3 (YAFS 3), 26 percent of women age 15-24 have already begun child-bearing.

[6] Pregnancies of adolescent girls age 18 years and below are considered high-risk pregnancies, with such complications as high blood pressure resulting in maternal mortality at childbirth.

Aside from their tendency to disregard basic prenatal and postnatal care that might increase infant mortality, adolescent mothers also have superficial knowledge of the risks involved in having early sex, such as acquiring STIs and HIV/AIDS through unprotected and unsafe sex.

[7] The social impact of early childbirth for adolescent girls includes disruption of schooling and the resulting lack of career options due to low educational attainment and the lack of necessary job skills. Lack of career options often lead to economic instability and poverty.

7. The RH bill seeks to address the rising number of HIV/AIDS cases.

The number of HIV cases among 15- to 24-year-olds nearly tripled from 41 in 2007 to 110 in 2008.

[8] A comprehensive RH law provides for educational campaigns that discuss risky sexual behavior, the transmission of HIV/AIDS and its prevention and treatment. Access to life-saving supplies including condoms and antiretrovirals is also included.

8. The bill seeks to avoid the negative impact of large families on the poor.

For many poor families, a large family size results in further poverty and lack of access to education and health services, among others. Some studies also show that the eldest or second eldest from poor, large families end up in prostitution to meet their families? needs [9]. Many women from large families also end up being trafficked.

9. The bill will give poor women and families equal access to modern contraceptives and reproductive healthcare services.

While it is easy for middle- and upper-class women to pay for their own contraceptives and other reproductive healthcare services, this is not the case for poor women in the communities, rural areas and in the ARMM.

Most of them are unable to buy contraceptives, cannot afford to pay for antibiotics to treat their reproductive tract infections, or have prenatal and postnatal checkups.

Even a simple pap smear test is beyond their means because they?d rather spend their meager resources on the needs of their increasingly large families.

The RH law will earmark funds to provide wider access to modern contraceptives and reproductive healthcare services where they are most needed.

10. The bill will give all women an equal chance to exercise their reproductive rights based on their needs and physical limitations.

While some women and couples prefer natural family planning (NFP), the method does not always work for all women. For NFP to be successful, women need full cooperation from their partners who must be willing to forego sex when the woman?s monthly cycle would result in unintended pregnancy.

Among poor communities as well, the prevailing culture dictates that men decide on matters of sexuality, with women being suspected of infidelity should they refuse sex to their partners.

Physical limitations such as irregular menstrual periods also discourage the use of NFP among a lot of women, and result in unmet needs in family planning and unintended pregnancies.

About half of all pregnancies in the Philippines (approximately 1.43 million a year) [10] are unintended. The Health Department has noted that Filipino women on average have one child more than they want.

11. The RH bill will prevent national and local government officials from imposing their own religious beliefs on Filipino couples and individuals who are thus not allowed to choose the contraceptive method best suited to them.

Without a clear reproductive healthcare policy, Filipinos are at the mercy of national and local officials who may choose to promote only NFP to the exclusion of other contraceptive choices.

Former Manila Mayor Joselito Atienza effectively banned access to modern contraceptives through EO 003 (Series of 2000) by denying the use of public funds for this purpose.

Most affected by this policy are poor women who cannot afford to buy modern contraceptives on their own, and whose dependent status on their partners prevent them from negotiating to have sex only when allowed by their natural cycle. These officials then practice their piety at the cost of denying couples the choices they can live with.

Our representatives in government must respect our Constitution which states that: ?Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.?

Government officials must be reminded they are mere representatives of the Filipino people and their obligation is to the Filipino people and not the Catholic Church and its bishops who are against the passage of the RH bill into law.

Government officials must respect plurality in our society. They must uphold access to reproductive health information and healthcare services.

12. Supporting the RH bill acknowledges what Filipinos really want, according to surveys.

Results of the Feb. 21-25 Pulse Asia survey show more than 6 out of 10 (or 64 percent) of respondents said they would vote for candidates who promote the use of contraceptives. Meanwhile, 75 percent of the voters among the respondents deem it important that family planning be included in a candidate?s program of action while a mere 6 percent said they will not support candidates backing modern family planning; 30 percent are undecided.

Similarly, the January 2010 Social Weather Stations survey results show 38 percent of Filipinos will vote for candidates who support the RH bill while a meager 6 percent will vote for those who oppose it. [11] Thirty-five percent did not know what the RH bill was about.

The 2008 national and Manila City surveys of the SWS both confirm that majority of Filipinos want the RH bill passed into law, 71 percent and 86 percent, respectively. Given the trend on these surveys, it would appear that more Filipinos who know about the RH bill would vote for a candidate who clearly supports it. ?

For more information on reproductive rights, check out www.engenderights.org and http://clararitapadilla.blogspot.com.


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

[2] Id

[3] August 25, 2006, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Concluding Comments on the Philippines [2006 Cedaw Committee Concluding Comments]; The Philippines ratified Cedaw on Aug. 3, 1981

[4] 2006 Cedaw Committee Concluding Comments

[5] UNFPA State of World Population, 2008

[6] 2008 NDHS

[7] See Cedaw General Recommendation No. 21 Equality in marriage and family relations, i.e., Comment No. 36 and 37 on Art. 16 (2) of the Cedaw Convention

[8] Department of Health-Philippines, ?HIV and AIDS Monthly Report,? Sept. 16, 2009, available at http://www.doh.gov.ph/node/

[9] Preliminary results of the NSO study on children engaged in commercial sex exploitation in Cebu City presented in January 2010

[10] Singh S et al supra note 1

[11] The Jan. 21-24, 2010, SWS survey was commissioned by The Forum for Family Planning and Development.

Copyright 2015 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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