Home Speeches Reproductive Health The RH Bill: Calling A Spade A Spade
The RH Bill: Calling A Spade A Spade Print
Reproductive Health
Monday, 20 April 2009 16:21
(Speech delivered by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN
before members of the Inner Wheel Club on 16 April 2009)

Each time I begin a talk on House Bill No. 5043 or the Reproductive Health bill, I make it a point to first disabuse the minds of the audience by underscoring that reproductive health as a concept is not about sex. Neither is it about religion. Nor is the bill primarily about condoms and pills. This seems to surprise most people who continue to equate reproductive health with sex, contraceptives, hedonism and promiscuity.

For an issue as controversial and as important as reproductive health, we must refrain not only from trading insults with critics or meandering into peripheral subjects. Our language must be clear and unambiguous. Let us call a spade a spade – reproductive health is fundamentally about health, rights and sustainable human development. The bill is fully transparent. There are no caveats and the authors have no hidden agenda. 

I am heartened that the Inner Wheel Club, which is the largest women’s voluntary service organization in the world, has decided to hold a forum on the RH bill because the casualties of the lack of a national policy on reproductive health and family planning are primarily women, especially those who are poor and uneducated.

Inner Wheel is much more than just a ladies’ club and its history is truly instructive – it was created primarily for wives and daughters of Rotary Club members which, until 1989, was an club which excluded women from its membership.

Millions Filipino women today are still excluded from the select group of women who can freely exercise their right to reproductive health because of lack of information and pertinent services. As accomplished, educated and well-off women, you can do so much to improve the lives of your less fortunate sisters by promoting and protecting their right to reproductive health and supporting the RH bill.

RH is a fundamental human right

The RH bill is anchored on the principle that everyone has the right to reproductive self-determination – meaning the right to decide when and how often one becomes a parent or the right not be a parent at all. Should a couple decide that they want to plan and space their children, the State must be able to provide them with relevant and timely information on all methods of family planning which are legal and medically safe. Once the couple has decided on the method best suited to their needs, personal convictions and religious beliefs, then the State must once again be prepared and equipped to provide them with quality reproductive health and family planning services.

Moreover, should a woman, who bears the brunt of pregnancy and childbirth decide to become a mother, the State must be able to provide her with the services she needs for safe motherhood.

At the heart of the bill is freedom of informed choice. Neither the State nor the Church has the authority to tell the people or the faithful what family planning method to adopt. The choice belongs to couples, particularly to women.

Again, I would like to underscore that there is more to RH than just family planning. It encompasses several other equally important elements such as the promotion of breastfeeding; infant and child health and nutrition; prevention and treatment of STDs and reproductive tract and breast cancers; prevention of abortion; sexuality education for the young; and assistance to couples with infertility problems, among others.

This is the essence of the RH bill – being able to provide an enabling environment that will protect and promote the right of individuals and couples to make informed decisions when it comes to planning their families and safeguarding their right to reproductive health.

Right to RH remains illusory for poor Filipinos

The time has come for the enactment of the RH bill because although, reproductive health has long been considered a basic human right, this remains illusory for millions of Filipinos, especially the poor. Consider the following results of the Family Planning Survey 2006:

1.    2.6 million Filipino women would like to plan their families but lack information and access to do so.
2.    Poorest Filipinas are still having an average of 6 children (this is almost 3 times their desired number of children).
3.    44% of the pregnancies of the poorest Filipinas are unwanted.
4.    According to the latest study of the Guttmacher Institute of New York in collaboration with the UP Population Institute, more than half of the Philippines’ 3.4 million pregnancies are unintended and 92% of them occur to women who either use no method or use a traditional method.
5.    Among the poorest women who would like to avoid pregnancy, at least 41% do not use any contraceptive method because of lack of information or access.

What the RH bill is all about

So much has been said about what the RH bill is all about, most of which are completely false and even bordering on malicious misinformation. It would be best then to get the facts straight from the horse’s mouth:

1. The bill is pro-poor, pro-women and pro-life. The principal beneficiaries of this bill are the poorest of the poor and the marginalized. RH and family planning significantly improves maternal health and lowers maternal morbidity. Having the ability to plan and space children will afford women more employment and educational opportunities and will significantly lower abortion rates. The bill will also prevent infant and child deaths. Family planning will also mean larger investments in children’s health and education and better health outcomes for children.

2. The bill promotes safe motherhood and better health for infants and children. The WHO and the UNFPA assert that correct and consistent use of contraceptives will prevent one-third of all maternal deaths and family planning helps prevent 1 million infant deaths worldwide.

3. The bill will promote sustainable human development. The UN stated in 2002 that “family planning and reproductive health are essential to reducing poverty” and “countries that invest in reproductive health and family planning and in women's development register slower population growth and faster economic growth”.

4. The UNICEF underscores that “family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available to the human race.” The return of investment in family planning and contraceptive use is high. In fact, it leads to net government savings as medical costs associated with unintended pregnancies would fall from P3.5-B to P600-M.

5. Expanding access to contraception could result in 800,000 fewer unplanned births; 500,000 fewer induced abortions; 200,000 fewer miscarriages; and 2,100 less maternal deaths.

Clarifying misconceptions: what the RH bill is not

Now that I’ve discussed the core concepts of the proposed measure or what the RH bill is all about, it would also be enlightening to talk about what the bill is not about which will effectively clarify the numerous misconceptions about HB 5043.

Misconception 1: the bill is anti-life.

•    It is pro-quality life. It will ensure that children will be blessings to their parents since their births are planned and wanted.

•    The bill is not against the birth of children. It does not advocate that women and couples stop having children. What it only aims to do is to help women and couples achieve their fertility goals.

•    It promotes safe pregnancy and safe childbirth since high risk and unintended pregnancies are avoided.

Misconception 2: Bill is biased for modern methods of FP.

•    Section 3(a) of the bill provides: “In the promotion of reproductive health, there should be no bias for either modern or natural methods of family planning.”

•    The bill will even democratize family planning because it will make available to couples all possible family planning methods and not just natural family planning methods preferred by the Catholic Church and which are currently the only methods promoted by the Commission on Population.

Misconception 3: Bill legalizes abortion.

•    The bill underscores that abortion is illegal, criminal and punishable, and is not part of the menu of legally permissible and medically safe family planning methods.

•    Promoting contraceptive use will not lead to the eventual legalization of abortion. Numerous Catholic countries like Panama, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Paraguay and Ireland all prohibit abortion as a family planning method even as they vigorously promote contraceptive use.

•    Contraceptive use and abortion have an inverse correlation: regular and correct use of contraceptives reduces abortion rates since unplanned and unwanted pregnancies are avoided. The RH bill is in fact anti-abortion.

Misconception 4: Bill endorses abortifacients.

•    Pills and IUDs are BFAD-approved, medically safe and legal.

•    The WHO declares that contraceptives “cannot be labeled as abortifacients”.

•    Critics of the bill have been claiming that contraceptives prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg which they equate with abortion. But according to the Department of Reproductive Health and Research of the WHO not only are contraceptives not abortifacients, “there is no evidence to date that has supported the hypothesis that these lead to the disruption of implantation.”

Misconception 5: Contraceptives kill.

•    Medical risks connected with contraceptives are infinitely lower than the risks of an actual pregnancy and everyday activities.

(a)    Risk of dying within a year of riding a car is 1 in 5,900.
(b)    Risk of dying within a year of using pills is 1 in 200,000.
(c)    Risk of dying from a vasectomy is 1 in 1 million.
(d)    Risk of dying from using an IUD is 1 in 10 million.
(e)    Risk of dying from condom use is absolutely zero.
(f)    But the worldwide risk of dying from a pregnancy is 1 in 10,000.
(g)    In the Philippines, the lifetime risk of dying from maternal causes is an alarming 1 in 100.

Misconception 6: Bill claims to be panacea to poverty.

The authors of the bill do not claim that it is a magic wand that will solve all our problems.

•    The bill simply recognizes the verifiable link between a huge population and poverty.

•    Unbridled population growth stunts socio-economic development and aggravates poverty.

(a)    The Philippines is the 12th most populous country in the world but we rank 102nd out of 179 countries in the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Program.
(b)    According to the Asian Development Bank, a large population is one of the major causes of poverty in the country.
(c)    Large family size is a significant factor in keeping families poor across generations. (Phil. Institute for Development Studies)

Misconception 7: Sexuality education will promote promiscuity.

Most of you here today are mothers and I am certain that regardless of the topic, you fully realize the necessity of honesty and frankness when it comes to talking to children. In fact, I am sure that you will agree with me that children have the remarkable ability of responding with equal candor and when they feel that adults are being honest.

Correct and timely information on sexuality is crucial if we are to help our children and young people become sexually responsible adults.

•    Age-appropriate RH education promotes correct sexual values, which is the antithesis of promiscuity.

•    International empirical studies document the following benefits of sexuality education among the young: (1) understanding of proper sexual values is promoted; (2) initiation to sexual relations is delayed; (3) abstinence before marriage is encouraged; (4) multiple sex partners is avoided; and (5) spread of sexually transmitted diseases is prevented.

•    The United Nations Population Fund asserts that these beneficial effects “become even greater when parents can talk honestly with their children about sexual and reproductive matters.”

If we want to decrease the number of teenage pregnancies and effectively combat the spread of STDs and if we truly want young people to act more responsibly, then it’s about time we adults grew up and trust young people enough that pertinent information and correct values about sex and sexuality will not make them immoral and promiscuous.

Countries whose schools teach sexuality education continue to reap the benefits of providing young people with accurate information at the appropriate age because it encourages responsible behavior and tends to delay the onset of sexual activity.

Moreover, comprehensive sexuality education has been shown to help adolescents make more sensible sexual decisions and adds a level of maturity to their attitudes towards sexual relations.

Vox populi, vox Dei

The people have spoken – they favor family planning and want the RH bill passed.

The latest SWS national survey reveals that 71% of Filipinos are in favor of the RH bill; 76% agree that there should be a law requiring government to teach family planning to the youth; and 68% believe that there should be a law that compels government to distribute contraceptives.

A Pulse Asia survey released early this year also shows similar statistics – 93% of Filipinos consider it important to have the ability to plan their families; 82% believe government should give people information and access to all family planning methods; and 63% want the RH bill to be passed with only 8% against.

It is important to underscore that more Catholics favor the bill’s passage as compared to non-Catholics. Seventy-one percent of Catholics support its enactment versus only 68% of non-Catholics who endorse the bill (SWS). Clearly, an overwhelming majority of the Catholic faithful believe that using contraception does not make them bad Catholics.

Since Ann Arbor school is located in Parañaque, let me disclose the results of the SWS survey conducted in Parañaque only last month: 87% of residents agree that there should be a law on reproductive health and family planning; 85% want schools to teach family planning; and 87% believe that government should provide contraceptives to those who want them.

Indeed, if the voice of the people is the voice of God, then there is no reason the RH bill will not be ultimately enacted into law.

Smaller families = positive effects on
women’s wellbeing

Giving women the opportunity to plan and space their children will almost always improve their general wellbeing. Studies conducted by Family Health International show that high parity or having many children has negative effects on all measures of women’s welfare. These detrimental effects encompass nutritional status, level of education, income, employment opportunities and social activities.

Smaller families indeed make for healthier, more educated, better-employed, more productive and more socially mobile women. It must be underscored that the more educated, the healthier and more financially independent a mother is, the chances that she will pass on these characteristics to her children increase markedly. 

The authors of HB 5043 are counting on enlightened academics, teachers and parents and women like you to support the measure because it is genuinely pro-women, pro-poor and pro-life. We are counting on you because you know for a fact that RH is essential to women’s overall health and if it is neglected, primary aspects of women’s general welfare and wellbeing will be irrevocably compromised. We are counting on you because most, if not all of you, have exercised the most basic right to plan your families and we know that you would not wish to deprive poor Filipino couples of the same right.

The Philippines is the only remaining middle income country in this part of the world that does not have a national policy on reproductive health. This is not only unfortunate, it constitutes a grave social injustice because family planning and reproductive health saves the lives of women and infants, optimizes childcare; prevents the aberration of abortion, leads to remunerative work for women and gives children a fighting chance of living dignified lives.

Help us pass the RH bill by helping clarify misconceptions about the measure and educating others about what it is really all about. Encourage open-minded debates on the issue and champion the rights of the millions of poor women who are consigned to lives characterized by unremitting pregnancies because of the lack of RH information and services.

The theme for Inner Wheel year 2008/2009 is “Realize your visions and make a difference.” You can do both – achieve your dreams and make a difference in the lives of women for whom dreaming has become a luxury they can ill-afford by supporting the passage of the RH bill. In doing so, you will be helping poor Filipino women fulfill their simple dream of a better life for their children.

Make an impact on the lives of others by being a part of the passage of the RH bill and helping achieve our common dream that the birth of every Filipino child will be a cause for celebration.