[Dash of SAS] RH Law: In limbo

Ana P. Santos
The fate of the RH Law rests on the Supreme Court

IN LIMBO. Depending on what the SC decides, the RH Law can either turn into a story of triumph or simply be the story about the bill that took 14 years to sign into law and yet, still remains in limbo. Graphic by Mara Elize Mercado/Rappler, Background image from Shutterstock

MANILA, Philippines – This is the story of Rosalie Cabinyan, a wife and a mother in her 40s. 

Among her neighbors in Tondo, Manila, Cabinyan is better known as “’yun babaeng madaming anak” (the woman with a lot of children).

In her neighborhood, it is not unusual for a couple to have anywhere from 2 to 11 children, but Cabinayan stands out.

Cabinyan has given birth a total of 22 times; she lost 5 of her children due to illness, or for reasons she cannot fully explain.

She has been giving birth since she was 16 years old. She and her husband only wanted to have 3 children, but she says, “buntisin lang talaga siguro ako” [I’m very fertile and get pregnant easily]. She pretty much accepted spending more than half her life bearing children as her fate.

Birth control was not something she has thought of–out of fear, out of shame, out of ignorance.

She was scared to try birth control pills because her kumare told her it would give her goiter. She’s never really thought about verifying this with a doctor and has simply taken it to be truth. Sheepishly, she says she would never discuss using condoms with her husband.

Her compact home is alive with laughter with her many kids running around. The laughter usually comes to a stop when it is time to eat because on certain days, there is not enough to eat. “Some of the (younger) children cry. I can’t do anything but cry along with them.”

 

Young mother

This is the story of Laura Jane Duran. A few months shy of her 16th birthday, she gave birth to her first child.

She says she once dreamed of being a scientist someday. But looking at her baby and how she is now saddled with the responsibility of childcare, she says this will remain just a dream.

Duran also lives in Manila, in the same vicinity as Cabinyan. Here, she is like many other girls who start having children in their early teens. They are children having children. Some of them don’t know how they got pregnant; some know about birth control as “family planning” but think that it is only for married couples and not for teenagers who are having sex; most have accepted being a child-mother as their lot in life.

A long battle

This is the story of a battle that has been waged for 14 years for women like Cabinyan to control her fertility so she and her husband could limit the children they have to a number they want, a number they can realistically afford.

Respondents to the survey were 621 women of reproductive age representing 10% of the households in the area. 

It is a battle that has been fought for adolescent girls like Duran to have information so that their dream to become a mother would not have to come at the price of her dream to be somebody in the world.

The RH law

The Reproductive Health Law would have protected women like Cabinyan and Duran; it would benefit their husbands and their children.

Last December 21, 2012, President Aquino quietly, discreetly, signed the RH Bill into law. Presumably, he did not want to upset the Catholic block but wanted to keep his promise to do right by the women like Cabinyan and Duran.

One year ago, today, 19 March 2013, the Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order (SQAO) freezing the implementation of RH Law for 120 days. Before the order lapsed, the Supreme Court extended the SQAO “until further orders”.

In the one year that the has passed since the RH Law has been languishing in the Supreme Court, three disasters—both manmade and natural—struck the Philippines: the Zamboanga siege, the Bohol earthquake and super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

“If the RH Law had been implemented as planned, there definitely would have been lesser pregnancies, more RH services and systems in place. It would have been easier for the government to deal with these disasters,” said Beth Angsioco chairperson of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP).  

What women are saying

DSWP did a baseline survey on Payatas women’s RH knowledge, perspectives, and experiences.

The key findings of the survey include:

  • Despite the fact that 85% of respondents are Catholics, the church and its leaders have little influence on their RH decisions;
  • Almost all respondents consider family planning as important but only 25% of them are able to continuously use contraceptives to plan their families;
  • Women want only 1-3 children but the average number of living children per respondent at the time of the survey was already 3.25; and
  • 42% of respondents experienced teen-age pregnancy, with 26% of pregnancies occurring when they were 12-15 years old. 

The survey covered 621 women of reproductive age, representing 10% of the household population in the area.

RH Law: When?

Depending on what the SC decides, this could turn into a story of triumph; a story of a government that chose to listen to the demands of its people and the needs of its women; a story of a nation’s progress to separate the interests of the few from the interest of the State.

Till then, this will simply be the story about the bill that took 14 years to sign into law and yet, still remains in limbo. – Rappler.com


Ana P. Santos is a regular contributor for Rappler apart for her DASH of SAS column, which is a spin off of her website, http://www.sexandsensibilities.com (SAS). In 2012, Ana was awarded a media grant to write about women who are most affected by the absence of an RH Law. Read the complete story on Rosalie Cabinyan and Laura Jane Duran here. Follow her on Twitter at @iamAnaSantos.