It has been said that the devil is in the details – like the details in the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law (RH Law). Moving the law from signed legislation to implementation has been like navigating a narrow passageway between the devil and the deep blue sea filled with pro-life groups.
The RH Law was quietly signed by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III in December 2012 – over two and a half years ago – but its roll out has been met with opposition at almost every turn.
The President’s signature had barely begun to dry when the law’s constitutionality was questioned. After months of deliberation and debate about when fertilization takes place and when life begins, the Supreme Court finally upheld the the RH Law.
Last June, the Supreme Court acted on a motion filed by the Alliance for the Family Foundation, Philippines, Inc (AFLI) on the manner of implementation of the RH Law and issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) banning the Department of Health (DOH) from “procuring, selling, distributing, or administering, advertising and promoting the hormonal contraceptive Implanon and Implanon NXT.”
The original proposal by the AFLI was to ban all contraceptives based on a claim that they are abortifacients, but that was rejected by the Supreme Court which issued the TRO only on implants, a hormonal contraceptive that is inserted in the upper arm.
The TRO is a huge blow for thousands of women who have chosen implants as their trusted birth control method and for even more women who are lined up to get implants.
In 2014, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation agreed to subsidize the cost of implants until 2016, allowing an estimated 600,000 women to benefit from the 3 years of contraceptive protection offered by the implant.
The Gates Foundation has been actively supporting access to contraception. At the 2010 Women Deliver conference in Washington, D.C., Melinda committed to donate $1.5 billion over a period of 5 years to improve women’s contraceptive access across the world.
Melinda, who is Catholic, has gone on record to say that she has reconciled going against the Church’s teachings on birth control with her faith in the name of social justice.
Junice Melgar, executive director of women’s health NGO, Likhaan, has said that the implants are very well-received by women in the communities they service.
“It is very convenient,” said Melgar. Unlike the pill, there is no risk of a drop in efficacy because you forget to take the pill and unlike the IUD, there is no need for an invasive insertion procedure.
“You’re talking about cultural factors here, about the hiya (embarrassment) some women feel about their insides and private parts being probed for an IUD insertion,” said Melgar.
The toothpick thin implants are inserted subdermally in the upper arm and allow a woman to enjoy 3 years of contraceptive protection.
The TRO will stand until it is lifted by the Supreme Court, and the DOH will be banned from procuring, distributing, and administering implants. All public health clinics under the DOH will be prohibited from doing the same. Non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations will be left to take up the slack, filling in the gap left by the DOH.
Akbayan and other groups like Likhaan and the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines have committed to pool manpower and resources to compensate for the shortfall in RH services as a result of the TRO. (READ: A year after the RH law, why the silence?)
Currently, efforts are being prioritized in areas identified as having the largest contraception needs.
Sorsogon: Now pro-life
While no one was looking in February 2015, Sorsogon issued an executive order declaring itself a pro-life city, banning pills, condoms, injectables, IUDs and all other forms of modern contraception because they are abortifacients.
Officers of Likhaan conducted a field visit a few days ago and reported that only natural family planning (NFP) like beads and the rhythm method were offered public health centers. Midwives and barangay health workers are forbidden to administer or dispense modern birth control. Barangay captains act as watchdogs to ensure implementation. (READ: PH accountable for Manila’s RH violation)
Residents who don’t want to use NFP are advised to buy their contraceptive supplies at a drug store or go to a private clinic.
“Masamang masamang ang loob ng mga nanay dun,” said Ellen San Gabriel, a Likhaan program officer (The mothers feel really bad.)
During interviews Likhaan conducted, one woman disclosed that she nearly died from her last pregnancy due to complications. She does not want more children. Some women criticized the mayor, Sally Lee, for drafting an ordinance that highlights the inequality that separates them.
“Kasi mayaman sya, pwede sya bumili ng pills. Paano na kami?” (She’s rich. She can afford to buy pills. But what about us?)
This is like déjá vu.
Years ago, when he was still mayor of Manila, Lito Atienza passed a similar ordinance declaring the city of Manila as pro-life. I visited a Manila clinic back then and saw for myself that public only offered natural family planning methods.
“The executive order and the pending ordinance are clearly in violation of the RH Law. The DOH will do everything within its means to make sure that the women of Sorsogon City are able to exercise their reproductive health rights,” said former DOH Secretary Esperanza Cabral.
Women’s private parts are private
Just about every part of a woman’s private parts has been subjected to public debate and scrutiny.
Why this rapid need to control women, to take away her right to decide when it comes to her body and her future? Why the constant bamboozling with guilt and bullying?
You will have your own answer as I will have mine.
But for the pro-life groups opposing birth control and promote, as TV host John Oliver said, ”the idea that sex devalues those who have it, particularly women” their defense has always been life: the life of the unborn, the sanctity of life and even the sacredness of sperm. (Any counter arguments on the blessedness of ovarian eggs?)
Simply put, they value life a lot, but they hate the idea of a woman having the right and the power to choose even more. – Rappler.com
Ana P. Santos is a former banker turned public health journalist focusing on women’s issues and sexual health rights. It’s a mouthful and for the most part, she’s simply referred to as a “sex columnist.” She blogs (and rants) at www.sexandsensibilities.com and tweets @iamAnaSantos.