Should Congress and Church be afraid of RH bill?
One of the major reasons why we fail as a country is that we tolerate a two-class society: the Haves and the Have-nots (e.g. the Poor).
Those that Have can afford more education (much of it privately provided), more health services (privately delivered), better quality housing (privately built). For the Poor, they have to rely on government for these services and more.
Reproductive Health in the Philippines is one such two-class issue. Those that Have, buy their own RH services. The Have-nots, on the other hand, will have little access to RH services, if any, if government does not provide.
This week, the RH Bill comes to a vote in Congress. And we will see if Congress chooses to debate and vote on public policy, or decide that class interests are more important to their own political survival.
What do ordinary Filipinos think about reproductive health?
Public opinion surveys by the Social Weather Station (SWS) reveal that Filipinos “favor giving couples access to all legal means of family planning from public health services” (68% in January 2010: 78% in Metro Manila, 68% in the rest of Luzon, 68% in the Visayas and 61% in Mindanao).
Put another way, 82% say that “the choice of family planning method is a personal decision of the couple and no one should interfere with it” versus 8% who disagree (SWS, June 2011).
All income groups are in the majority in favoring access to RH services (75% ABC classes, 68% D class, 65% E class). And within this sample, 69% of Catholics surveyed favor RH as do 64% of non-Catholics.
Choices and consequences
RH is also linked directly to better health outcomes. Research shows that the non-availability of RH services has undesirable health consequences.
Poor women are more prone to unexpected pregnancies than women of better-off existence. Access to information and contraceptive methods would help them avoid unexpected or unplanned pregnancies. But when poor women are faced with the desperate situation of an unwanted pregnancy in the face of their own difficult living situation, the undesirable occurs – abortion.
Reproductive health measures – both information and contraception – can eliminate this situation if these were in fact available to these women.
Blocking the RH Bill will not only keep the means for planned pregnancies from these women, it will also contribute to the large rate of abortion which a country as Catholic as the Philippines should be ashamed of and should work to prevent.
There are over 500,000 induced abortions performed each year in the country (Guttmacher Institute, 2009). These are not only among young unmarried women (as the critics are quick to conclude) but more so among many older, married (and yes, Catholic) women who feel that they no longer want to bring up more children into their already-stretched poverty existence.
Within this undesirable situation, over 4,000 Filipinas die every year from clandestine abortions as well as from complications in delivery. Again, many of these cases are of middle-aged women with unwanted pregnancies.
Because of their access to information and methods, better-off women are better able to control their fertility rate (the number of children on average) than poor women.
The richest 20% of all women desire to have 1.6 children on average versus an actual fertility rate of 1.9 children. The poorest 20% of all women, on the other hand, desire only 3.3 children on average but are actually delivering 5.3 children per average family or two more children than desired, acording to the 2008 National Health and Democratic Survey.
One of the longer-term MDG (Millennium Development Goal) commitments that is going in the wrong direction for the Philippines is maternal mortality or the number of pregnant women who die at childbirth.
From an initial starting point of 209 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000, this rate has risen (rather than fallen) to 221 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the 2011 Family Health Survey.
Note, though, that the MDG target for the Philippines is 52 by 2015. It was below 100 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births during the Cory Aquino and FVR years.
An RH law that provides RH information and services will greatly help arrest this decline and put us back on a trajectory to realize this MDG goal (though not by 2015).
RH Bill not against Church
Proponents of the RH Bill have been very clear what the RH Bill is NOT in response to critics including the Church.
- The RH Bill is NOT a population control bill.
- The RH Bill is NOT coercive in any way.
- The RH Bill does NOT violate the Constitution.
- The RH Bill is AGAINST abortion.
In a March 2011 letter to the chairman of the House Committee on Population and Family Relations, proponents of the RH Bill agreed to revise a number of provisions criticized by opponents:
One, there is now NO reference to the ideal number of children per family. A couple can have as many or as few children as they desire.
What is important is that couples have the information and methods – but not including abortion – to make informed decisions about the number of children they wish to bring into this world.
Two, there are NO employer requirements to provide RH services for workers. This is already covered by Article 134 of the Labor Code.
Three, there are NO penalties for non-compliance with the law by health workers who cite religious grounds for their actions or non-actions.
Four, appropriate reproductive health and sexual education will now start with Grade 6 (instead of Grade 5). Parents of minor children may also voluntarily withdraw their children from attending these classes.
In a September 2008 SWS survey on public perceptions on introducing reproductive health education in public schools, 76% said they were in favor versus 10% against.
A rejection of the RH Bill may be seen by the Church as a great victory. But a victory of what and for what? Will our state of our health, particularly of poor women, improve by rejecting the RH Bill or could it worsen?
If Congress feels that the bishops speak for the welfare of the poor, then perhaps it is time to tax the Church and let Her pay a larger share of public education, public health, public housing and public services in general for this is what the poor need most as they bring more children into this world.
The irony of this debate is that while the Church speaks of a preferential option for the poor elsewhere, its refusal to provide them appropriate RH information and services will actually contribute to the continuing high levels of poverty in the country.
The irony for Congress is that a vote against the RH Bill will be a vote for a continuing two-class system in the country.
The irony for the Philippines, the first democracy in Asia, is that a rejection of the RH Bill will mean that the poor will have no real choice when it comes to family welfare.
Congress should pass the Reproductive Health Bill because it is good for all Filipinos, but especially for poor women who really are the driving force and backbone of Philippine families and children who are the future of this country. - Rappler.com
Juan Miguel Luz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a trustee of the Philippine Center for Population and Development. PCPD is in favor of the passage of the RH Bill. The author acknowledges the notes of Mary Racelis that are used in the article.
For more updates on the issue of the RH Bill, view our #RHBill Debate Microsite.
Read on for other views on the RH Bill debate:
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- RH bill backers hit bishops' 'science'
- Catholics clash over controversial RH bill
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- Minority solons withdraw support for RH bill