Disrespecting the right to RH
Tomorrow, five nongovernment organizations—Catholics for Reproductive Health, Philippine Center for Population and Development, Philippine Legislators’ Committee for Population and Development, and Philippine NGO Council on Population Health and Welfare—will gather at the Supreme Court on a matter of grave importance to women, men and young people.
Together with former health secretary Espie Cabral, representatives of these groups will file a motion to intervene on the temporary restraining order issued by the high court on the provision by the Department of Health of contraceptive implants. This TRO issued a year ago also bars the Food and Drug Administration from issuing licenses to new brands of contraceptives, and renewing any licenses that may lapse in the meantime, threatening all women’s access to all forms of modern contraceptives.
Recently, the high court refused to act on petitions to lift the TRO, the existence and enforcement of which have greatly hampered the full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law passed four years ago.
This, even if, as legal opinions state, it is perfectly legal and valid for health centers in municipalities and cities to provide implants to women who request them. That is, so long as the implants do not come from the Department of Health. If private groups, including the UN Fund for Population, provide the devices, it is all right for municipal and city health officers to provide them to women desiring the protection they offer.
But sadly, that is not how things work in reality.
A report made public by the Commission on Human Rights last week concerning an investigation of the implementation of the RH Law found that observance of the law’s provisions remains spotty and irregular.
In “Let Our Voices Be Heard,” the report on the national inquiry that started last March, the CHR found that the law “is not being implemented uniformly, and that there are national and local policies and practices that negatively impact women, especially the most marginalized.”
Local governments, the inquiry found out, have formulated and issued “policies … which show disregard for and disrespect of women’s choice of contraceptive methods and commodities despite availability of resources.”
In its report, the CHR said health center personnel in some local government units routinely deny family planning services to clients. In Sorsogon City, an executive order issued by Mayor Sally Lee resulted in the withdrawal of all artificial contraceptives in city and community health facilities. In Manila, meanwhile, the city government “continues to bar local funding for artificial contraceptives,” transferring responsibility for this to the national government and to private entities. Couple this with the natural fear of government employees to be found defying the law, and we find clients frequently being denied services even for methods declared legal.
The commission found that, aside from imposing “an added financial burden on women to purchase commodities,” women need also cope with unwanted pregnancies, being forced to give up their children for adoption, and, in essence endangering their health and lives with too many and too frequent pregnancies, even when they are too young or too old to survive pregnancy and childbirth.
While the CHR findings cover contraceptive methods and commodities other than the implants, it is especially relevant for women who want to rely on implants for their contraceptive needs. This is because demand for implants had been rising rapidly before the TRO was issued. Indeed, according to health experts, implants, which provide protection for up to three years, were fast catching up with the numbers of women availing themselves of injectable contraceptives—the current leading method—which provide protection from one to three months with every shot.
Even while the justices debate the safety and efficacy of implants—the petitioners have alleged that implants are “abortifacient”—women, young and old, continue to face deadly risks from serial pregnancies. Some stories in tomorrow’s column.
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