On Tuesday, August 6th, Supreme Court Associate Justice Roberto Abad compared the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law (RH law) to the annihilation of Jews in the Holocaust. He emphatically argued that proponents of the RH law wanted to get rid of the poor by controlling their ability to procreate.
This is not the first time that the honorable Justice has made questionable statements about the RH law. On the second day of oral arguments in July, Justice Abad equated hormonal contraceptives to poison in women’s bodies.
Many believe that bizarre statements like these do not deserve a second thought, much less a reiteration. But teasing out the ideas woven into Justice Abad’s statements could have a silver lining. We should take this opportunity to further discuss the merits of the RH law and to debunk misleading claims about it.
Are they equal?
As a history buff, I could not help but spend some time to explore the historical underpinnings of Justice Abad’s claims. It is true that the Holocaust was about the annihilation of the Jewish people, as perpetrated by Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler. It is also true that prejudice and racist beliefs against Jews was the main motivation for the Holocaust.
It isn’t, however, true that the RH law is equal to — or even anywhere close to — the Holocaust. Such a claim is just unfounded and, quite frankly, irresponsible to say.
Benefit of the doubt
Now, we must admit that at some point in history, discrimination and the reproductive and sexual health movement did cross paths. This is embodied in the life and works of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), the founder of Planned Parenthood in the United States. Sanger was a birth control activist who is widely recognized as one of the most successful champions of reproductive rights in America and elsewhere.
Sanger, however, is criticized for supporting eugenics, a movement and philosophy that believed in “purifying” — or in Sanger’s own words, “regenerating” — the human population through selective reproduction and breeding. She and many famous Americans, Britons, and yes, Germans (most prominently Adolf Hitler), believed that the most desirable of human traits needed to be promoted by limiting the reproduction of the “unfit,” which at that time included the mentally ill, the physically disabled, immigrants, criminals, racial minorities, and the poor.
RH law promotes rights
From this illustration we see how the RH law is clearly not comparable to the Holocaust or the eugenics movement because they do not share the same goals or motivations. To make it completely clear, the RH law is not after poor people. It wasn’t crafted that way and it will never be used to meet that end.
On the contrary, it is actually pro-poor in the way it promotes the fundamental rights of women, girls, and disadvantaged populations.
For instance, the law is not coercive. It doesn’t undermine freedom of choice by forcing women to start taking contraceptives or use condoms. At best, the RH law is a nudge that helps women and men consider, and make informed decisions about, their reproductive and sexual health, which are vital components of a person’s overall wellness.
The RH law also solves the issue of access (or the lack of it) that has been a significant challenge for many low-income families. By targeting public health facilities including hospitals, barangay health centers, and public schools, the law makes sure that those who really need life-saving and life-changing reproductive health services will receive it.
At present, information about and access to the different methods of fertility control are restricted to a few folks who have money, a computer with Internet access, and those who have a regular source of medical care. This disparity between haves and have-nots should be eliminated or at least narrowed to the best extent possible — and the RH law does this exactly.
The RH law also promotes safety by ensuring that only tried and tested methods of family planning will be paid for and offered to people. Thus, Justice Abad’s concern over “poison in women’s bodies” will be properly averted through the full implementation of the law. Similarly, the law provides for prenatal and newborn health services that will allow women to give birth to healthy children, and help families determine their future.
What the law prohibits
The RH law doesn’t promote abortions or abortifacients of any type as stipulated clearly in the law’s definition of reproductive rights. The law even instructs the Food and Drug Administration to determine which contraceptive methods induce abortion, destroy a growing fetus, or prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. The final provision will most likely prohibit the sale of emergency contraception or “morning after pills,” which is unfortunate in my opinion, given its utility in cases of rape or incest.
The RH law also has strong provisions against health workers, nurses, and doctors withholding information from patients and refusing to perform medically-safe services. It also has an anti-discriminatory clause insofar as access to quality reproductive health care services should not be affected or determined by a person’s marital status, gender, age, religion, beliefs, or nature of work.
RH law is pro-poor
Finally, and most importantly, the RH law responds to a need that the poor themselves have identified.
As a Rappler article by JC Punongbayan clearly articulates, the poor’s reproductive health outcomes are worse compared to people from middle and upper classes. For instance, poor families are having more children and bigger families than they intend to. Pregnancy related complications are also more common among the poor.
Related to this, in a previous article I attempted to underscore the unmet need for contraception among Filipino women today by presenting data on induced abortions and unwanted pregnancies. According to estimates, almost 500,000 induced abortions take place every year in the Philippines, which is a clear signal for pregnancy prevention information and resources.
I invite everyone to read the RH law in its entirety to understand what the law is and what it is not; what it promises to do and what it safeguards against. Many smart, accomplished people are obscuring the truth and deceiving the public, whether intentionally or not.
And because the success of this law depends on whether or not people will utilize these reproductive health services, we must be vigilant against misinformation. Respect opinions but don’t be afraid to correct falsehoods.
Alas for this discussion, suffice it to say that the RH law is not equal to the Holocaust. – Rappler.com
Anton Avanceña is a global health graduate student at the University of California, San Francisco.
For more on Margaret Sanger’s colorful and complex life story, the author recommends Jean H. Baker’s Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion (2011) and Ellen Chesler’s Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America (1992).
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