by Liberty Chee
Reproductive health is not new in the Philippine legislative landscape. It has gone through many permutations and versions since the 11th Congress. Reproductive health bills have progressed little in the past decade owing to the strong and organized opposition of the Catholic clergy. However, in the last year, the polemic has escalated to capture the attention of many Filipinos due in part to the strong language coming from the CBCP. In July 2008, the bishops threatened to excommunicate politicians who would support the bill.
The discourse coming from those opposed to the bill often degenerates into the willful distortion of “reproductive health” and spreading misinformation on the content and implications of the bill. This either betrays a complete ignorance of what is written in the legislation or a malicious intent to defeat the bill at all cost. If the Church hierarchy’s arguments against the bill were to be addressed point by point, then they would have no ground for reasonable opposition.
“Pro-life” advocates say they are against the bill because it effectively legalizes abortion. This is not true. The bill explicitly states that abortion will remain illegal in the country. The problem lies in the misinterpretation of contraception for abortion, or implying that the use of contraception is synonymous with committing abortion. But the two are mutually exclusive.
Abortion, as defined by medical professionals, is the termination of pregnancy. This occurs after conception – after the sperm and egg meet. Contraception on the other hand prevents the meeting of the sperm and egg in the first place. Its intent, therefore, is no different from natural family planning methods endorsed by the Church.
Contraceptive methods endorsed by the bill include pills, condoms, sterilization and IUDs. Pills prevent the release of the egg from the ovary. No abortion. IUDs prevent the union of the sperm and egg. No abortion. Sterilization (ligation for women and vasectomy for men) disallows the production of sperm and egg. No abortion. Once a woman conceives, that is, becomes pregnant, contraceptive devices cannot terminate pregnancy. Pills, condoms, sterilization and IUDs are therefore not abortifacient.
There are an estimated half a million induced abortions in the Philippines annually. Most women who resort to this often emotionally scarring and painful process are married and have 2 to 3 children.* The glaring reality is that abortion is a fact in the country. The Church’s opposition to contraceptive devices will not make this go away.
The RH bill actually seeks to prevent abortion by making family planning methods readily available to those who would seek them. The bill seeks to promote both natural and artificial methods. Family planning will reduce unintended pregnancies, lowering the chance for women to resort to induced abortion.
On the Number of Children
Although the bill indicates an “ideal” number of two children per couple, this expression is in no way coercive. Parents will not be penalized for having more children. It is therefore unfair to call the bill draconian.
On Sexuality Education
The bill endorses age-appropriate sexuality education to ensure that young Filipinos have the right information in matters of sex and reproductive health. We cannot assume that upon reaching adolescence, the young will not be curious about the workings of their body. The bill intends to instill values for the youth to exercise responsible decision-making with regard to their sexuality.
Section 12 of the bill lists the general topics of the proposed sexuality education to be incorporated in school curricula:
- Reproductive health and sexual rights
- Reproductive health care and services
- Attitudes, beliefs and values on sexual development, sexual behavior and sexual health
- Proscription and hazards of abortion and management of post-abortion complications
- Responsible parenthood
- Use and application of natural and modern family planning to promote reproductive health, achieve desired family size and prevent unwanted, unplanned and mistimed pregnancies
- Abstinence before marriage
- Prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and other STIs/STDs, prostate cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer and other gynecological disorders
- Responsible sexuality
- Maternal, peri-natal and post-natal education, care and services
Contrary to the lurid imagination of those who, by vocation, are disallowed to engage in sexual acts, “sexuality education” does not entail pornography. Also, only teachers who agree to teach sexuality education will undergo training.
On the Need for a National Policy
There is a pressing need for a national policy to provide reproductive health services to all Filipinos. At present this decision is relegated to local government units, which is why RH is available to residents of Quezon City but not of Manila. A national policy will ensure that RH and family planning services will be made available to all regardless of the political vicissitudes of incumbents who would heed the voices of the clergy but not of their constituents.
* Unintended Pregnancy and Induced Abortion in the Philippines, Alan Guttmacher Institute and UP Population Institute, 2006.