The issue of the Supreme Court TRO has dragged on for so long it has become blurred with legalese, a volley of he said - she said statements and long lists of clarification.
But there is no questioning the effect that it had: hormonal contraceptives were gradually being phased out from drug stores and public health clinics.
Hundreds of thousands of women were being denied their right to use birth control for their health, fertility regulation or to ensure a happy and fulfilling sex life. Those are all valid reasons to demand and expect access to a wide range of birth control methods.
Not being hostage by your fertility is empowerment in its purest form. It is empowerment that encompasses social standing, age or background.
As I write that last sentence, I think of the women in Vitas, Manila that I spent a Sunday afternoon with some months ago.
Through the help of Likhaan Women’s Health Clinic, a number of the women in the community are using contraceptive implants. [The TRO did not prevent NGOs from administering implants. When the TRO was issued NGOs and local government clinics like Likhaan took on the extra load that was left by the DOH as a result of the DOH.]
Implants are their preferred birth control method because they enjoy 3 years of contraceptive protection.
We talked about the benefit of using contraceptives and they gave me the usual replies:
"We're poor, we can't afford many children."
"We need to space pregnancies." [Hindi dapat sunod sunod.]
I nudged them a bit to go beyond the usual cookie cutter replies. I asked them about their feelings. I asked them to tell me if birth control had an impact on their feelings when it comes to sex, their husbands, their children and themselves.
And we had a total riot!
Contraceptives made them more confident about initiating sex, making it more of a two-way street. "Sometimes, it's me who wants it – and why not? He's my husband!" one woman said.
They could space their children and take a leisurely bath and *gasp* even comb their hair without a small gang of toddlers grabbing at them. "Pwede na magsuklay at hindi malosyang!” [I can comb my hair and not look mousy.] another woman quipped.
Another was more graphic when she explained how contraceptives gave her more control over her body, “When you have successive pregnancies, you have one child in your stomach, one at your tits breastfeeding, another grabbing at your skirt. Then your husband comes home and he’s going to want your vagina. What is going to left for you?”
Then I told them about the crisis brought by the Supreme Court TRO that is making contraceptives gradually disappear from clinics and drug stores.
And they fell silent. They came up with all sorts of scenarios, all ending with them helplessly getting pregnant over and over again.
"This is all we have. I hope the government doesn't take it away," they told me.
I asked what they meant by "it".
They had a hard time finding the right word for it. It occurred to me that there is no direct Tagalog word for "empowered".
In the end, the word they found was: happiness. [kaligayahan.]
Reproductive health choices are equal to personal happiness. No government agency has the right to take that away. – Rappler.com