Cordillera female doctors hope for favorable SC ruling on RH law
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Four mothers from the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) died while giving birth in the month of January this year alone, records from the Department of Health (DOH) CAR show.
The youngest of them, a 25-year-old from Baguio City, breathed her last exactly two days after New Year's eve as her pre-term baby boy also died inside her uterus.
In the year 2013, at least 338 women in CAR died while in labor. The act of giving life turned into a nightmare for many families in the region.
DOH-CAR Director Amelita Pangilinan believes deaths like these can be prevented by a well-enforced Reproductive Health (RH) law.
"Kasi, if you look at the profile of our maternal deaths, sila yung maraming anak, sila yung poor... So, ano ba yung pagkukulang? Yun nga, yung access. Sana kung may batas na talagang magbibigay ng pondo for them to avail of these [RH] services," she said in an interview with Rappler.
(Because if you look at the profile of our maternal deaths, they are the ones who have a lot of children, they are the ones who are poor... So, what do we lack? It is in the access [to RH services]. If only there is the law that would allocate funds for them to avail of these [RH] services.)
The RH law – which took 13 years and 4 months to pass – funds the distribution of free contraceptives, requires government hospitals to provide reproductive health (RH) services, and mandates public schools to teach sex education.
The law was temporarily halted by the Supreme Court (SC) on March 19, 2013, following the filing of 14 petitions questioning its constitutionality. SC justices are set to decide on the constitutionality of the assailed law during its annual summer sessions in Baguio City, a known tourist destination in CAR.
Contraceptive prevalence rate
According to the DOH-CAR Commission on Population (Popcom), one of the major reasons why couples in CAR refuse to use modern family planning methods is the fear of side effects.
Much of this fear, said Popcom Regional Director Rosa Fortaleza, is based on "misconceptions."
Fortaleza said that a substantial number of men who were surveyed by Popcom falsely assumed that non-scalpel vasectomy could negatively affect erection, while surveyed women thought pills were abortifacients.
"We address these misconceptions in our information and education campaigns," she said, but added that budgetary constraints prevents their unit from reaching geographically isolated and depressed areas.
While Popcom CAR continuously advocates for varied means of family planning, the regional unit can only go so far. Being a regional commission, identifying the unmet contraceptive needs of couples and addressing their misconceptions becomes a challenge at the barangay (village)-level.
This challenge, Fortaleza believes, can be addressed by the RH law.
"Changing behavior, changing mindsets is not an easy job. Kung walang resources, kung walang taong gagawa, mahihirapan, mas lalong tatagal. So with the RH law, maraming resources ang magagamit for these activities," she said.
(Changing behavior, changing mindsets is not an easy job. If there are no resources, no people to mobilize, it will take longer. So with the RH law, resources can be utilized for these activities.)
For Pangilinan, it is the Catholic Church's attribution of RH services as "evil" and "anti-life" that needs to be addressed.
The Catholic Church is one of the staunchest critics of the RH law, even back when the measure was being debated in Congress.
"Walang mangyayari sa atin hangang hindi ma-change yung pananaw ng church," she said. (Nothing will happen to us until there is a change in the views of the church.)
Pangilinan believes that Catholic priests, mandated to be celibate, should have no say in how couples choose to plan their families.
"Hindi sila naga-asawa. Hindi nila alam what's happening in the bedroom...They have not been through yung talagang stage ng pagri-rear ng family, pagga-gastos para sa anak. Para sa akin, wala silang karapatan na mag-comment," she said.
(They don't marry. They don't know what's happening in the bedroom...They have not been through the real stage of rearing a family, spending for one's children. For me, they have no right to comment.)
Pangilinan pointed to the many struggles the typical Filipino family goes through, as well as the social ills that result from unwanted pregnancies: children who aren't able to go to school and are forced into child labor, malnourishment of children due to the multiple mouths to feed with a family's limited income, and the list goes on.
Empowerment, choices, and a matter of life
DOH-CAR women doctors Pangilinan and Fortaleza said they look forward to a favorable ruling by the High Court.
The decision on whether to access and take advantage of government's services hopefully to be provided by an RH law is ultimately up to the couples, Fortaleza said.
"The principle is anchored on responsible parenthood and the choice of the couple," she said. "The decision – when, how, what – sila pa rin ang magdidecide (they will decide on that). We offer all services. We give them complete information – the advantages, disadvantages. We give them choices, so nasa kanila kung gusto nila (so it is up to them if they want it)."
Admittedly for some couples, the RH law simply empowers them with more choices as it makes both natural and artificial means of birth control more widely available.
But for women like the 25-year-old Baguio resident who died in January 2014 and the 338 others who died in 2013, it could have been a matter of life and death. – Rappler.com