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Common sense and privacy

MOST PEOPLE, I think, consider reproductive health a private affair. Whether they use contraceptives, plan for 12 children, or find themselves struggling with post-menopausal (or post-andropausal) issues, men and women would say that’s nobody’s business but theirs.

But reproductive health, while a private affair, is also very much a public concern. The number of children every couple would have impacts on issues of individual health and family survival, education, the environment, even public services. As a whole, population growth is also a big factor in determining a country’s overall development and wealth.

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Ideally, reproductive health services should simply be a matter of raising awareness and providing needed services. But in the present public opinion environment, RH has become a galvanizing topic, dividing the populace into pro- and anti- camps, and leading to fervid legislative debates.

But as Lea Salonga puts it, reproductive health is also a matter of “common sense.”  And the commonest sense of all is to simply respect the private rights of men and women to determine the course of their reproductive lives—whether to have sex or not, how many children they are to father or mother, how often, and how to cope with the health risks associated with reproduction. Government enters the picture only in the matter of helping couples achieve their desired family size, and in helping young people get the information they need to behave sensibly and responsibly.

Otherwise, most people would rather not talk about sex in public, or even reveal their reproductive status. Until, that is, Catholic bishops and conservatives began calling every supporter of the RH bill evil and immoral, believers in abortion and unbridled sex, terrorists and sinners.

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MAYBE the name-calling and finger-pointing was what spurred hundreds of RH believers to gather at the Crowne Plaza Hotel ballroom Wednesday for the launching of the “Purple Ribbon Movement” in support of reproductive health.

There may have been no need to convince anyone in the ballroom that afternoon, but there was certainly a need to gather supporters in a show of force and solidarity in the run-up to what promises to be—and is turning out to be—a blistering legislative battle. If for nothing else, I hope the affair and the high spirits it generated energized Rep. Edcel Lagman, Rep. Janette Garin and all their co-authors and supporters in the House. And convinced as well Sen. Pia Cayetano, who chairs the committee hearing the bill filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, as well as other supportive senators (no one managed to make it to the event), that there has always been and continues to be public opinion support for the measure.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos, who seemed delighted with the T-shirt he was wearing that bore the slogan “No Woman should Die Giving Life,” emphasized the importance of “letting the missing voices of Filipino women be heard.” It was ironic, he noted, how in the entire public debate over RH, “more attention has been paid to the bishops,” which is why, he said, the Purple Ribbon launch was crucial to “amplifying women’s voices.”

He then called on P-Noy “to lead the campaign for the enactment of the RH bill,” starting with “certifying the RH bill as urgent.” I can’t but agree with this call, since the President has already boldly stated his support for the bill, despite the political risk involved.

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AFTER former Rep. Risa Hontiveros led the ceremony unveiling the Purple Ribbon (a woman’s face encircled by two shades of purple) and speeches by Lagman and Garin, it was time for Health Secretary Enrique Ona to express support for the pending measure. The DOH, after all, plays a crucial role since it is seen as the main service delivery agency for RH services, including training and support for local governments.

According to Ona, families counted among the lowest 20 percent economic status still face a large gap between their actual (5.3) and desired (3.3) family size, with the poorest couples having, on average, two more children than they want. For families in the highest 20 percent economic status, however, the gap is minuscule, with actual (1.9) and desired (1.6) number of children practically the same.

RH may not be as urgent an issue for wealthy couples, who have the will, the means and the opportunity to practice family planning. But shouldn’t we all support efforts to equalize the situation, helping poor couples have the number of children they want, and only the number they believe they can reasonably raise into healthy and productive citizens?

* * *

LEA Salonga, who came with her mother Ligaya, “an empowered woman if there ever was one,” chose to sing John Lennon’s “Imagine” at the event, later leading the “Pledge of Commitment” by everyone.

As usual, she was compelling, giving her own very personal interpretation to the song, which evokes most people’s desire to create a peaceful world where differences of religion, race and ideology are eclipsed in favor of our common humanity.

Indeed, why can’t we all just live together? Why can’t we focus on bigger and more grievous sins against God and humanity instead of getting on the case of couples who simply want to found families in accordance with their beliefs, their desires, and their dreams?

Why can’t we have more respectful dialogue, instead of resorting to name-calling and finger-pointing? Indeed, imagine a world of mutual respect, fruitful and sincere dialog, and respect for our private individual desires.

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TAGS: Catholic Church, family planning, Government, Legislative, reproductive health
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