Tuesday, December 12, 2017
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At Large

Going beyond the law

Last Monday, officials of the Department of Health and its attached agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with the Office of the Solicitor General and concerned women’s groups, filed a motion for reconsideration at the Supreme Court. The motion asks the high court to rethink its decision issued last Aug. 24 not to lift a temporary restraining order on contraceptive implants and to continue to require the FDA to follow “due process” before certifying other contraceptives up for certification or recertification.

The matter goes well beyond legality and the law. Population Commission Executive Director Juan Antonio Perez III says that if carried out, the high court’s impending ban on contraceptives “could result in over 900 additional maternal deaths every year arising from almost one million unintended pregnancies that could have been addressed by the full implementation of the Family Planning Program.”

This would mean in turn a 30-percent rise in maternal deaths in the country, says Perez, an alarming development since the Philippines already ranks among Asian countries with the highest rates of maternal mortality, and has the fastest population growth rate in Southeast Asia.

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Likhaan, a women’s NGO that provides community health services in impoverished communities, says the continuing ban threatens the lives and health of “millions” of Filipino women and their children.

If contraceptives are fully restricted, Likhaan says, “millions of Filipino women will be driven to unintended pregnancy, which could lead to maternal complications or unsafe abortions; and from there to maternal death. Unintended pregnancy is also associated with neglect of care during pregnancy and childbirth, and to babies that may be born or living, but with developmental challenges. Meanwhile, unintended children are known to cause further strains on the economic capacities of families, and result in malnourished children who are also unable to go to school. The pathways from unplanned population growth to governments’ inability to achieve sustained economic growth and equity for all its citizens are well known.”

This is a most dismaying and disappointing development following the passage in 2012 of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RH) Law. For 28 months, suits filed at the Supreme Court contesting the constitutionality of the law, and now questioning the safety of contraceptives, have delayed its full implementation.

In short, by filing suits at the high court, opponents of the RH Law seek to do through the judiciary what they failed to achieve in the legislature.

Says Perez: “Those who opposed the law in the legislative arena are now trying to reverse the judgment of history through backdoor judicial dilatory tactics, but the millions of Filipinos who stand to benefit from the law will surely bring all of this to an end. The inevitable deaths of hundreds of women and unborn infants will surely haunt those who want to undo an essential public health program.”

The Supreme Court issued the TRO in response to petitions from the Alliance for Life and Family Inc. (Alfi), which had sought to block the RH Law in its 14-years-or-so passage through Congress, and then, failing that, questioned its constitutionality.

The tribunal accommodated Alfi when it issued eight amendments to the RH Law even as it declared the law “not unconstitutional.”

But unsatisfied with even this partial victory (which resulted in serious impediments to the law’s implementation), Alfi went on to question the FDA’s power to certify contraceptives for public use, claiming some of these could cause abortion. This, even after the World Health Organization clarified the exact mechanisms of contraceptives including implants, which are not abortifacient at all.

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Likhaan asserts: The requirement for “due process” to be followed by the FDA “makes scientific decisions on contraception subject to the rules of court, to decisions by lawyers who do not fully understand scientific facts and evidence.”

Who best determine what is scientifically safe and healthy for mothers and children? Is it doctors, lawyers, or preachers?

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TAGS: contraceptives, Department of Health, Food and Drug Administration, Likhaan, reproductive health
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