[DASH of SAS] Running out of birth control and running out of time

Ana P. Santos
What women need to do as birth control pills and other hormonal contraception options disappear from drug stores

If you tried to buy your birth control pill and were told that it’s out of stock, get ready for the possibility of contraceptives being out of stock – permanently.

We are running out of birth control and we are running out of time. A temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court that has been in place since 2015 is causing birth control pills and other hormonal contraception options to disappear from drug stores and pharmacies.

If the TRO remains in place, there will be a total contraception ban.

In June 2015, a the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Department of Health from procuring, distributing the hormonal contraceptive Implanon and Implanon NXT.

The TRO was in response to a petition by the conservative group Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines who claimed that implants cause abortion.

The following year when the Department of Health (DOH) filed a motion to lift the TRO, the Supreme Court expanded the coverage of the TRO and effectively suspended product registrations on contraceptives.

The impact is that product registrations (which functions as a license to sell) for all hormonal contraceptives certified by the Food and Drug Authority, cannot be renewed nor can product registrations for new contraceptive brands be applied for. 

The Commission on Population (Popcom) estimates that 31% (or about 15 brands) of contraceptive certifications expired as of December 2016.

“Another 31%* will expire in 2017 (29% in 2018 for a total of 91%). By 2020, only 2% of certifications will be valid. That is the schedule of the gradual elimination of contraceptives from both government clinics and commercial drug stores as a result of this TRO,” said Dr Juan Antonio Perez, Popcom executive director.

If the TRO remains in place, the only remaining birth control options will be condoms, surgical procedures like vasectomy or tubal ligation, and abstinence. (READ: When you run out of birth control pills)

Lapsed Product Registration

TOTAL*

Pill

Injectable

IUD

Implant

Vaginal Ring

Lapsed as of July 2016

30%

11

2

0

0

1

Lapsed as of Dec 2016

2%

0

1

0

0

0

To lapse in 2017

30%

11

3

0

0

0

To lapse in 2018

30%

12

2

0

0

0

To lapse in 2019

6%

2

0

1

0

0

To lapse in 2020

2%

0

0

0

0

0

(*allow for minor discrepancies due to rounding)

What you need to do

An estimated 13 million women – which may include you – will be affected by a looming contraceptive stock out. The first thing you need to do is see your doctor then do the folllowing:

  1. Talk about alternative birth control methods now

  • Don’t wait until your pill can no longer be found on shelves. Talk to your doctor and explore other birth control options. If you prefer the pill, get ready with your medical history and how your body has reacted to your current pill so that your doctor can prescribe a brand that will work best for you. If budget is a concern, take note of the price point of the pill that your doctor will prescribe.

  • At this point, where contraceptive supplies are dwindling, you may want to explore long-term birth control. For example, you can ask your doctor if an IUD is a viable option for you. IUDs can offer about 5 years of contraceptive protection. Implants, which are effective for 3 years, are another option. (The first TRO on implants applied only to DOH clinics and hospitals where implants are given for free. You can still get an implant from your private doctor but be ready to hand over a couple of thousand pesos for doctor’s fees and the implant itself.)

  • If you are a breastfeeding mother taking a progestin only pill and are finding supplies erratic, consider using condoms as a back-up option. Talk to your doctor about other progestin-only options.

  • If you are taking birth control pills for other medical conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), consult your doctor as soon as you can.

2. Make your own appeal for the TRO to be immediately and unconditionally lifted

If you are outraged about the possibility of no longer having birth control options available in the Philippines, make your voice heard. Call for the TRO to be lifted immediately. Here are some things you can do:

  • Help gather 1 million signatures

Sign this petition making an appeal to the Supreme Court to lift its TRO. Once you have signed, pass on to at least 10 of your friends when you sign so you can help spread the word. 

Use the hashtag #DontTakeAwayMyBirthControl when you post this petition or any articles related to the Supreme Court TRO.

  • Write to the Supreme Court

Tell the the High Court why you need birth control. Are you a woman who needs to take birth control pills to manage a medical condition? Are you a woman who can manage her budget and take better care of her family because she can manage the number of children she has? Are you a person who thinks women should have the right and the freedom to choose to use birth control because among other things? It’s 2017!

      Send a letter to the Supreme Court at pio@sc.judiciary.gov.ph

  • Engage with your local municipal health authorities

There are reports that certain municipalities are moving to file their own resolutions to appeal for the lifting of the TRO. Check on the efforts of your local municipality and see how you can help or participate. Maybe they are doing their own signature campaign, see how you can help gather signatures.

What you can’t do is do nothing. The health and well-being of millions of Filipino women are at stake. The country is running out of birth control options. We are running out of time.

– Rappler.com

Ana P. Santos is Rappler’s sex and gender columnist and independent journalist. In 2014, she was awarded the Miel Fellowship by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington, D.C.