Poor women speak on RH; is anyone listening?


In the seemingly endless agonizing of religious officials and associated lay followers over when life begins, whether some contraceptives are abortifacient, or which contributes more to poverty—inequitable resource distribution or population increase—almost totally ignored are the voices of those who bear and care for more children than they want—our poor women.

How ironic that the women most affected by the decisions of political and religious leaders about their wombs and sexual behavior, are accorded the least say on their expressed need for reproductive health services. Although it is their lives that hang in the balance, celibate males and conservative Catholic laity unabashedly speak for them in these matters. Let us for a change listen to poor women’s voices, as articulated in empirical studies like Likhaan’s “Imposing Misery: The Impact of Manila’s Ban on Contraception.” (2007) It details some of the effects of former Mayor Lito Atienza’s Executive Order 003 passed in 2000 declaring total commitment and support only to natural family planning methods.

Rosario (fictitious name to protect her identify) speaks: “I feel anxious and fearful of the chance of getting pregnant if I don’t have money to buy pills, unlike before when I used to get injectables for free, which were very convenient and effective for months …. I got depressed when the mayor banned family planning. It was a big loss for many mothers…”

Laarni, already in her eighth pregnancy, explains, “My life was put at risk when I gave birth to my fifth child … The doctor … said that this should be my last pregnancy or else my children would suffer if I die…. The doctor really wanted me to have a ligation but she couldn’t do anything since it was banned in the hospital.”

Lita expresses her anxieties, “Bawat pagbubuntis ko, kabado ako. Iniisip ko pag nanganak na ’ko at mailabas ang bata, doon ako mawala.” (I get nervous with every pregnancy. I think that the moment I give birth will be the time I will die.)

Socorro reflects, “The mayor’s policy has made it more difficult for women like me. He does not understand how it is to be poor.”

Asked to comment, a City Hall official replies, “In Manila, we are pro-life. We take care of our women.”

The presence of half a million women of child-bearing age in Manila’s slum settlements deprived of modern contraceptive services affirms the urgent need for a reproductive health law that is national in scope. No local mayor, governor or barangay captain should have the power to restrict access sought by their constituents. Being poor, those women suddenly denied free pills, injectables, IUDs, male condoms and ligation from government centers were faced with four choices: buy food or buy expensive contraceptive pills in drug stores, seek RH services in adjacent Metro Manila cities, risk another pregnancy, or go for an unsafe abortion.

In 2010 the Commission on Human Rights called on the City of Manila to revoke EO 003 “and ensure that artificial birth control devices … be made available to all adult citizens who are residents within its jurisdiction, in health centers and hospitals….” Further, stated the CHR, the City of Manila should issue an apology to all women and men denied access to facilities and services as a result of the EO, and to the children of the families affected. Although the ban appears to have been relaxed in practice under current Mayor Alfredo Lim, EO 003 apparently remains on the books.

Likhaan’s “Very Intimate Stories; Accounts of Women Who Had Abortion” (2003), revealed that of 30 poor women with 165 pregnancies, there were 66 attempted abortions of which 51 succeeded. Sixteen women had undergone from 2 to 5 abortions. Their reasons? Losing their livelihoods or living in extreme poverty worsened by a fire or demolition. Most hid the abortion decision from family members and the community, confiding in only one or two relatives or friends. Secrecy was imperative because abortion was illegal, the subject of neighborhood gossip and condemned by the Catholic Church.

“Oo nga, kasalanan sa Diyos ’yan. Pero siguro hindi mo naman gagawin ’yan kung walang dahilan. Kasi para sa akin, mas kasalanan kung halimbawa bubuhayin mo siya na maghihirap din siya.” (Yes, this is a sin against God. But after all, one wouldn’t do this if there were no reason. In my view, it’s more sinful to give life to a child who will be poor.)

“… Pero siguro maiintindihan din ’yon ng Diyos kasi hindi ko totally kasalanan ang nangyari sa akin. Kumbaga biktima lang ako ng karahasan, ng rape.” (…but I guess God will understand this because what happened was not totally my fault. As a matter of fact, I was simply a victim of rape.)

Women who opt for abortions anticipate the pain and suffering—maybe even death—that lie ahead. Yet, their faith sustains them. “Bahala na lang makaintindi sa akin ang nasa itaas.” (I’ll just leave it to The Being Up There to understand my situation.) If the 473,400 women who in the year 2000 underwent induced abortions had availed themselves of modern family planning, the 9 percent who died as a result might have been saved. What of the thousands of Filipinas who entered their reproductive years in the intervening decade? And the more than 4,000 women this year—or 11 per day—who still face death or disability for lack of life-saving reproductive health services? What indeed does society say to the masses of children deprived of their mothers’ loving care?

And so, despite the universal right to health, thousands of our women will continue to die because crucial services remain beyond their reach. Facing another pregnancy, many will conclude that they have no option but abortion. Given this tragic reality, RH advocates are simply but firmly urging moral leaders to re-examine their stance that by opposing contraceptive services, they are protecting women. Thousands of poor women are telling them otherwise.

Mary Racelis teaches social anthropology at the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines.

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  • Mang Teban

    I can see how eager and curious some people are in this forum to understand certain points in the discussion that Prof. Mary Racelis thought nobody was listening. That is both a good sign and a bad sign. A good sign because there is an opportunity to explain both sides. A bad sign because some readers subvert the forum into a mud-slinging contest. Sana puro good sign na lang. ..

    • Vincent Bautista

      says the expert on conservative mudslinging

  • Woo Hoo

    may probisyon sa RH Bill na HINDI PWEDE PILITIN ang sino man na gumamit/pagamitin ng kahit na anong serbiyso sa RH Bill kapag ito ay labag sa paniniwala nila.

    matanong ko lang: bakit ba takot na takot kayo na mabigyan ng CHOICE ang tao?

  • Woo Hoo

    kasi kung ayaw nila, bubugbugin sila ng mga asawa nila.

    pinalalabas pa ng mga self-righteous anti rh bill dito na kasalanan ng babae pag siya ay nabuntis.

    ignorante na nga, mapaghusga pa. ano ka ba naman Danny.

    • Anonymous

      dapat lumaban ang babae kasi… right niya yan, di ba?… bakit parang no choice lagi ang babae, at no choice lagi ang mahihirap kundi lulunin nalang ang sinasabi ng mga NGO na kumukupkop at gumagamit sa kanila?… kabailntunaan tuloy. 

      • Abbey Victoriano

        Are you out of your mind? May right lumaban ang babae, yes. Pero kung HINDE NYA kaya dahil mas malakas sa kanya yung lalake – pano nya magagamit yung right nya lumaban?

  • Christian Henry Lacson

    ang rh bill magpopromote ng sex sa kabataan dahil safe na at sure na
    hindi makakabuntis. bibigyan pa nga actually ng mga means to avoid pregnancy gaya ng ginawa ni lisa hontiveros na pamimigay ng condom for free. mawawala na ang pagiging sacred ng sex dahil magiging common nalang ito at ordinaryo. ang numbers ng hindi na virgin before the age of fifteen will rise and nobody would care because everybody is doing it.have sex and get away with it without being afraid na makakabuntis ka o mabubuntis ka sinceeasily accessible or free nmn ang mga contraceptive measures. mas maraming kabataan na ang mag iindulge sa sex kc
    ituturo nga natin ung mga tamang praan para hindi mabuntis. tama yan at
    maganda, mamatay na ang maria clara na image ng pinay at magiging
    liberated na, sinong lalaki ang aayaw? ang mga anti rh bill ay dala ng
    kultura natin na pagiging conservative, pag naipasa yang bill na yan, im
    sure phil will be transforming from a conservative nation into a rather
    liberated country like most of the europian and western countries. just
    presenting the possible effects.

  • Vincent Bautista

    between an underpopulated rich country and an overpopulated poor country. i choose the former. interesting the cbcp and their trapo constituents choose the latter, despite being sickeningly rich themselves.

  • Anya Laya

    ironic nga naman how in public debates men are given more airtime. give time to women’s stories too. :) 

  • Jane Lim Madjuki

    Hindi kung ano’ng contraseptives ang kailangan ng mga tao sa pinas. kundi self control. how ever i am PRO RH Bill. Rh bill is only a prevention. not a murder! how can you murder someone without a life? it’s for the better. Population is one element for good governance but it depends on the quality, whether if they are educated or these people are helping their country to be Stable in any aspects. but one sad fact is education in our country is only for those who can afford. Larger Population= less resources. and most especially mabigyan ng kaukulang pansin ang mga kababaihan. RH BILL is one way of protecting us, women..

  • Anonymous

    the best way to manage population is to take the people’s mind off sex, ratgher than always focusing on SEX. Mahirap nkontrolin ang libog kapag nakahiga na kayo… ang solusyon, huwag munang mahiga

    • Abbey Victoriano

      Eh pano ang magasawa? They have the right to have sex any time they want to because they’re married. In fact, one of most significant sign that married couples have a healthy relationship is that if they have sex regularly. Why take away that right? SEX is a GIFT for married couples. They shouldn’t be deprived of it, and they should ENJOY it fully. Plus, it’s impossible for humans to take their mind off of sex because we are NATURALLY sexual.

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