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Who promotes abortion?

“The single biggest promoter of increased abortions in the Philippines is the anti-RH movement,” says a coalition of reproductive health groups. The groups were reacting to statements made by “anti-RH” senator Tito Sotto, who, “based on evidence copied from Facebook, blogs and other similar sources … accuses several organizations and civil society leaders of promoting abortion.”

The groups turn the tables on Sotto, saying that those against reproductive health in the Philippines “fanatically [oppose] family planning, postabortion care and sexuality education—in the guise of being ‘prolife.’ Yet these RH measures are critical to reducing abortions and saving lives.”

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It certainly makes a lot of sense, since giving women access to family planning, giving them the means to act on their reproductive plans, means they would in most cases get pregnant only when they want to, and have only the number of children they want. “Effective family planning minimizes unplanned pregnancies,” the groups say, noting that an unwanted (or coerced or unplanned) pregnancy is frequently “the starting point of most women’s decision to undergo an abortion.”

At the same time, “humane postabortion care reduces repeat abortions through counseling and immediate access to contraception,” the groups say. “Sexuality education by trained schoolteachers cuts down teenagers’ risky sexual behaviors.”

“Talk is cheap,” proclaim the groups. “Reducing abortions requires hard work.”

In fact, during the 10 years of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration, during which efforts to pass an RH bill were frustrated by both legislative rigmarole and the orders of the President, the government “failed miserably to reduce abortion.” Data from a regular national survey on maternal health (the NDHS) show that in 2008, after years of campaigning and hundreds of millions of pesos spent for natural family planning, “less than 1 percent of married women reported using the method. From 1993 to 2008, teenage pregnancy rates rose steadily from 6.5 to 9.9 percent.” This could very well have been the result of the failure of the government to implement a program on sexuality education, after anti-RH protests drowned out the voices of rationality.

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It is difficult to pin down with certainty the total number of induced abortions in this country, owing to its illegal status and the reluctance of women to admit to undergoing the procedure. But the 2008 NDHS reveals that 37 percent of all births—pregnancies that made it to term—were unplanned, equivalent to some 2,300 unplanned births every day. A study puts the number of abortions at the time at roughly 473,000 per year.

In reply, anti-RH groups attribute the growing number of abortions to the “contraceptive mentality,” implying that only women and men whose contraceptive efforts had failed would seek an abortion or support their partners’ decisions. But what about those who wanted to delay or space their pregnancies but didn’t have the money or their partner’s permission to use protection? What of victims of rape or incestuous rape? Or young people who didn’t know any better until they found themselves pregnant or had made their girlfriend pregnant?

Would a woman pregnant with a child she had wanted and planned resort to an abortion?

“Whatever the exact number [of abortions] is, most abortions in the Philippines are preventable and could have been drastically reduced by programs mandated in the RH Bill,” the groups say. “’Prolife’ is a callous misnomer for those who drive women and girls to ignorance, unintended pregnancy, life-threatening abortions, inhumane postabortion care, police harassment, social stigma, imprisonment and death.”

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You might still remember this old poster showing a man with a huge pregnant belly, and the headline: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

But what if more and more convenient means of contraception (aside from condom use, vasectomy and celibacy) were available for use by men? Maybe contraception would not exactly be a sacrament, but I would bet that more men would be fighting to promote and protect their own reproductive rights.

Well, we may very soon be able to test this premise. A report sent to me, accessed through the online magazine “The Huffington Post,” bears this tantalizing lead: “The possibility of a male birth control pill may be creeping ever closer.”

The report says that scientists “have discovered a small molecule that produces a rapid and reversible decrease in sperm count in mice.” Researchers with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Baylor College of Medicine have reportedly discovered a compound, known as JQ1, that “penetrates a boundary in the cells of the male testes and shuts off sperm development in the testicles.” The result, it’s pointed out, is a form of nonhormonal birth control that is “entirely reversible.”

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Readers may remember some columns I wrote some months back about the efforts of researchers from the University of Surabaya in Indonesia to develop a male contraceptive that uses a chemical found in a common plant in the countryside.

The leaves of the plant, researchers found, were usually given to tribal men who wanted to live with their partners but could not afford an elaborate wedding ceremony.

There are many reasons for men wanting to use contraception, and, it seems, a growing number of researchers searching for a “pill for men.” If men had more access to and more choices among available and effective contraception, would male opposition to reproductive health disappear? Certainly, male legislators like Senator Sotto would be a lot less judgmental.

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TAGS: abortion, At Large, opinion, Reproductive Health Bill, Rina Jimenez-David, Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto
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