RH Advocates Lambast Arroyo’s ‘Anti-Women’ RH Policies

Reproductive health (RH) rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and women’s rights advocates joined hands in condemning President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s policies toward reproductive health and women’s rights to sexual education and freedom to choose of what family planning methods they want to use. They said Arroyo’s pro-Church RH policies are very “anti-women, anti-family, and very non-scientific.”

Lawyer Clara Rita Padilla, executive director of EnGendeRights, Inc., a legal NGO that promotes reproductive health rights as basic human rights said the President’s “fanatic” adherence to the stance of the Church against sex education, scientific methods of family planning, emergency contraception (EC), ‘legal’ abortion, and divorce is a wanton disregard of the most fundamental rights of women and their children: the right to health and life.

In the paper that she read at the 8th Usapang Population and Development (POPDEV), led by Forum for Family Planning and Development (FFPD), Inc. and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) last December, she said most of the Philippine laws and policies are heavily pervaded by fundamentalist religious beliefs—mostly of the Roman Catholic Church dogmas—resulting in “complete denial of Filipino women’s rights to access to reproductive health information and health care services.”

“The direct consequence of fundamentalist morals in our society is the discrimination of women and complete disregard of the realities women face,” said Padilla, referring to the growing number of mothers dying due to complications during childbirth and the number of abortions done each year.

Is government pro-life or pro-death?

In spite of the growing number of couples who want to use artificial or scientific methods of contraception such as condoms, diaphragm, intrauterine devices (IUD), sterilization (tubal ligation and vasectomy), pills and injectibles, the government has remained firm on its decision to promote only the natural family planning method or NFP.

In her 2003 speech on the celebration of Women’s Month, the Chief Executive showed her stance on family planning by stressing natural family planning (NFP) as the sole method acceptable.

This is in line with the existing stance of the ever-powerful Roman Catholic Church, which has an estimated more than 60 million members all over the country.

In 2003, former Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit announced that the government would stop promoting IUD implant to mothers, saying such devices are “abortificient” – a view similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church.

This stance of the government adversely affected Filipino mothers and their children. Quoting the study made by the UNFPA in 2007, Padilla said that per 100,000 live births in the Philippines, 200 women die due to complications. She stressed that these complications can actually be prevented.

Besides this, Padilla also revealed that half of the pregnancies in the Philippines are unwanted. This translates to almost 1.43 million pregnancies a year. Because the pregnancies are unwanted, she said, these commonly end up in abortion.

“Since abortion is illegal in the Philippines, most of the mothers undergoing abortion go to abortion clinics which are unsafe,” Padilla explains.

There were 473,000 women who underwent abortion in the Philippines since 2001, Padilla said. Of these, 79,000 were hospitalized due to complications of unsafe abortion, while 800 women died from these complications.

Demonization of RH advocates

FFPD President Benjamin de Leon, however, lamented that continuous demonization of RH advocates, especially those who are providing poor women access to contraception.

“They say that we are abortionists, that we are anti-life,” De Leon said. “Let me tell them (Arroyo and the Catholic Church), that condoms and other artificial contraceptives are not anti-life. They are pro-life for they save mothers and families from dying, not only from child birth complications but to the sting of penury as a result of more children to feed, to clothe and send to school.”

In one of the Servants of the Holy Word parishes in Quezon City, a signature campaign was held last year against adolescent reproductive health education.

All throughout the year, the pulpit of the Church along Kamuning Road bombarded parishioners, especially adolescents, with anti-RH and anti-sex education homilies.

“We are the only Catholic nation which has a lot of lames excuses for not implementing the agreements done in the Cairo Conference,” Padilla said, in reference to the 1988 International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, Egypt—40 years after the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ironically, the Philippines is one of the United Nations (UN) member-states that signed (these agreements),” Padilla added.

She said that Peru, which is also a Catholic-dominated nation, has approved the use of Postinor—a medicine which serves as an EC (Emergency Contraceptive). This is used in cases of rape and where pregnancy would endanger the life of the mother.

Other Catholic nations such as Chile, Hungary, Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Venezuela permit EC, according to Padilla. On the other hand, Spain, Belgium, France, Italy, Poland and Hungary have legalized abortion.

Only on April 24, 2007 did Colombia, Mexico City, and Portugal followed suit. In Portugal, abortion is only permitted within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

“As you can see, Spain has liberalized its laws to allow abortion and yet we are left to contend with our colonial laws,” she said.

However, former Usec. Rosario Gonzalez-Manalo of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), one of the few women advocates who have been in center stage in the fight for the country’s adherence to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), said that abortions must be done with adherence with the legal laws and medical statute.

Gonzalez-Manalo stressed that only if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incestuous relationship, or will endanger the life of the mother, that the “legal” abortion should be carried out.

Meanwhile the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has started CEDAW and RH campaigns and recently put up a Reproductive Health Rights’ Desk.

Director Ana Elzy Ofreneo of the CHR’s Education and Research Group said the Commission needs more help from the advocates and media practitioners to strengthen the move of the agency in advancing the rights of women, especially the poor women in the rural areas, to reproductive health, and support in pushing for the approval of the Reproductive Health Bill which is still pending in Congress.

Reproductive Rights*

1.    The Right to Life. This means among other things that NO ONE’S LIFE SHOULD BE PUT AT RISK OR ENDANGERED BY PREGNANCY, CHILDBIRTH OF GENDER.

2.    The Right to Liberty and Security of the Person. It includes control over one’s sexual and reproductive life. It also recognizes that no person should be subject to female genital mutilation, or forced pregnancy, sterilization or abortion.

3.    The Right to Equality and to be Free from all Forms of Discrimination. All persons are born equal. No person should be discriminated against on the grounds of race, ethnicity, color, poverty, sex or sexual orientation, marital status, family position, physical or mental disability, age, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth of other status.

4.    The Right to Privacy. It means that all sexual and reproductive health care services should be confidential, and all women have the right to autonomous reproductive choices.

5.    The Right to Freedom of Thought. All individuals have the right to make decisions about sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas via media. It includes the freedom from the restricted interpretation of religious text, beliefs, principles, and customs as tools to curtail freedom of thought on sexual and reproductive health care and other issues.

6.    The Right to Information and Education. It relates to sexual and reproductive health for all, including access to full information on the benefits, risks, and effectiveness of all methods or fertility regulation, in order that all decisions taken are made on the basis of full, free, and informed consent.

7.    The Right to Choose Whether or Not to Marry and to Found and Plan a Family. It includes the rights of persons to protection against a requirement to marry without his or her consent and the right to access to reproductive health care services.

8.    The Right to Decide Whether or When to Have Children. It includes the rights of persons to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have access to reproductive health services.

9.    The Right to Health Care and Health Protection. This includes the right to health care of clients to the highest possible quality of health care and the right to be free from harmful traditional health care practices.

10.    The Right to the Benefits of Scientific Progress. It includes the right of sexual and reproductive health service clients to new RH technologies that are safe, effective, and acceptable.

11.    The Right to Freedom of Assembly and Political Participation. It includes the right to form and join a non-governmental organization (NGO) to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. Individuals have the right to seek to influence communities and governments to prioritize sexual and reproductive health rights.

12.    The Right to be Free from Torture and Ill Treatment. All women, men, and children have the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and not to be subjected to medical or scientific treatment without free and informed consent. It includes protection from violence, sexual exploitation, and abuse. Contributed to Bulatlat