#SONA2015: The state of the RH law
Last month, I met a young woman from Tondo, Manila who bravely shared her story with civil society groups and government officials about her unplanned pregnancy at 14 years of age that altered her life. Embarrassed about the pregnancy, Heidi dropped out of school. When she went to Gat Andres Bonifacio Hospital months later to have the baby, she endured verbal and physical harassment from doctors and nurses scolding her for having sex at a young age. Adding insult to injury, the hospital charged Heidi Php10,000 —a prohibitive amount for her parents who work as trash scavengers and were raising six other children. When she left the hospital, Heidi was not provided with any post natal care or family planning counseling. She also never returned to school and is now unemployed spending her day taking care of her son.
While I am a Filipina fortunate to have knowledge and access to reproductive health services, Heidi is just one of countless stories I hear about my countrywomen, predominantly from rural and poor communities, who do not have access to these services and information. The denial of reproductive health services is leaving too many of us women behind and unable to reach our full potential.
RH law implementation
The passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RH law) in 2012 should have marked the start of positive changes for women, allowing us to decide when and if to start a family. But the reality is that we still do not have access to reproductive health services and local governments continue thwarting our right to essential health care.
When President Aquino gives his last State of the Nation Address on July 27, he needs to keep his promise to the women of the Philippines and address the unmet need for contraception - particularly for economically disadvantaged women and adolescent girls like Heidi and ensure universal and affordable access to the full range of contraceptive information, services, and goods through the full and immediate implementation of the RH law.
The Filipino government’s long-standing hostility towards modern contraception contributed to an estimated 610,000 illegal abortions in 2012, with 1,000 women dying from complications from unsafe abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Without modern contraceptive options, women have no control over when to start a family, and the number of young Filipina mothers aged 15-19 like Heidi has more than doubled in the past decade according to the 2013 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey.
Because so much more needs to be done to improve the health and well-being of Filipinas, President Aquino enacted the RH law in December 2012. We lauded this landmark legislation. We should have seen immediate relief, yet what we are encountering are new barriers to reproductive health services.
While the Supreme Court stalled its implementation, the RH law ultimately prevailed, but not without limiting women’s access to services. The court struck down a number of provisions in April 2014, allowing health care providers to deny reproductive health services to patients based on their personal or religious beliefs in non-emergency situations. The Supreme Court’s ruling also now requires spousal consent for women in non-life-threatening circumstances in order to access reproductive health care, as well as parental consent requirements for all minors wanting to access modern methods of contraception.
And in June, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order enjoining the Department of Health from providing specific hormonal contraceptives and prohibiting the Food and Drug Administration from granting any and all pending application for reproductive products and supplies, including contraceptive drugs and devices.
The Supreme Court has effectively gone against what the RH law is supposed to provide women like me and Heidi: universal and affordable access to the full range of modern family planning methods.
After Heidi shared her personal story with community leaders and government officials last month, Dr. Benjamin Yson, acting City Health Officer of Manila, apologized for the barriers to reproductive health services she and other women are facing.
But we have heard enough apologies. Heidi had dreams of becoming a nurse. But she feels too old and ashamed to go back to school now. And even if she could, she has no one to take care of her two-year old son.
The passage of the RH law gave women hope. The hope to get an education, to join the workforce and to decide if and when to start a family. But women in the Philippines are tired of waiting to exercise their fundamental human rights.
President Aquino, you cannot let us down. We need you to implement what you signed into law and make access to reproductive health services a reality. You succeeded in enacting the country’s first national reproductive health law, now you need to make sure it is carried out and benefits women and girls like Heidi. – Rappler.com
Jihan Jacob lives in Quezon City and is a legal fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights.