“RH law is women-beneficial. Let us always remember that if women in the country are in a better lot, the country would be a better place as it has been proven that countries which take care of the well-being of their women, who have healthy women, are more progressive.” — Dr. Jean Lindo, Gabriela-Davao Chairperson
By CHERYLL D. FIEL
DAVAO CITY, Philippines — They thought their long struggle for a Reproductive Health Law will finally come to fruition by Easter Sunday. However, this was doused by Supreme Court’s recent status quo ante order and clamor by the Catholic clergy to oppose the law and its legislators.
Women rights advocates especially in Davao are wary that these might stretch the debate on RH rights at the expense of pregnant mothers in need of health care.
The Reproductive Health Law or the “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012” (Republic Act 10354) became the most debated in the history of Congress for two decades, bringing the women’s movement in direct confrontation to the Catholic Church. The law was passed last December.
But the Supreme Court order released a status quo ante, which means, “bringing the status before the dispute started,” effectively putting the implementation of the law on hold for 120-days to pave the way for oral arguments to be heard by the High Court come June.
Davao women advocates here once again find themselves head on against the Catholic Church as they believe it had a hand in the petitions for the recent High Court suspension order.
Davao region chairperson for Gabriela — a broad network of women’s organizations — Dr. Jean Lindo made an appeal to Catholics “to not be afraid to show support in the push for the RH Law.”
At the rate that Filipino women are dying of childbirth everyday due to pregnancy complications, which is 14 per day, Lindo said the 120-day suspension of the implementation of the RH law would mean letting another 1,680 women die. It would also mean letting another 263 women die of complications of unsafe abortion.
“The Catholic Church would have made a lot of difference to the lives of women by pushing for the RH law. Sadly, it has focused instead on demonizing the women, especially the advocates of the law,” she told davaotoday.com in an interview.
“If the Catholic Church claims to advocate for social justice, then it should have thrown its support behind a law that would have promoted women’s health,” Lindo said, adding that the law is needed given that women are most vulnerable in this condition of widespread poverty.
Violence against women, the context
She explained that the economic situation made worse by the prevailing macho-perspective in society have created a hell of a situation for many Filipino women subjected to sex and violence.
“Undeniably, in such circumstances it is the women who mostly end up being beaten up by their partners, get pregnant unintentionally, or acquire STI (sexually transmittable infections),” Lindo said, adding that it is in such instances that the RH Law can protect women.
Citing a 2008 study by the Guttmacher Institute and UP Population Institute’s Study on “Meeting Women’s Contraceptive Needs in the Philippines,” Lindo said 54 percent of the pregnancies are not intended, numbering to 1.9 million.
Of that figure, 560,000 underwent abortion, where 90,000 women died in the process, and 1,000 died of complications. Another 1,600 died of miscarriage, and 33 percent have short gaps in between each birth resulting to additional deaths and harm to newborns.
Lindo pointed out such statistics show the need for access to reproductive health care information and services, and reproductive health and sexuality education among the young as well. She stressed that accessible family planning programs could mean empowering women and enabling a hold of their reproductive lives.
Lindo debunked claims that the RH law allows use of abortifacient substances.
“Abortion is out of the question in the RH Law. In fact, if it is mentioned in RA 10354, it states that it is illegal and punishable,” Lindo added.
She noted that abortifacients are different from contraception, “The former expels the fetus, while the latter, prevents pregnancy.”
She wished bishops will learn from clergy in other countries. “The use of contraception is even allowed in Italy, the seat of Catholicism,” Lindo said.
She said abortion is treated as a public issue there where the number of women who resort to it are eight out of 1,000 pregnancies, compared to the Philippines’ 29 out of 1,000.
Lindo stressed that there are options to family planning methods that will be made available: natural or modern, and that the law upholds religious freedoms and guarantees free and informed choice. “So what they are saying that it violates right to religious freedom is totally untrue,” Lindo said.
Reproductive health and sexuality education among the young, Lindo added, is beneficial. “Studies show that if the young have information and are aware of the consequences of sexual behavior, are less likely to engage in early sex, in premarital sex. They know how to assert and are most often in the best position to prevent sexual abuses against them,” Lindo said.
She also said this is valuable given that prostitution is on the rise due to worsening socio-economic conditions.
Janet Laurel of the non-government organization Talikala, a support group for women and girls who are forced into the sex trade here in Davao, could not agree more on the benefits of RH Law.
“The RH law will be of great help to prostituted women, in terms of access to reproductive health services. Implementation of the law would mean that they do not have to pay for a regular check for STIs,” Laurel said.
The law, Laurel added, answers to women-specific need for reproductive health care, citing that threats to health are always present due to their gender-assigned role of birthing.
The need to legislate
Those opposed to the RH law are saying that there is a way for women’s health to be promoted by local government units even without the benefit of legislation. The local government of Davao, for instance, has been cited for its numerous ordinances and programs providing for women’s health.
Lindo, however, said “Davao is the exception, not the rule. We want local government units all over the country to be obliged to spend for women’s health. It is not a choice for the government, it is its responsibility to protect women’s health,” Lindo stressed.
Where, at present, budget of health is less than three percent of the country’s Gross National Product (GNP), compared to spending in other countries for health at 17 percent of their GNP, legislation, as Lindo pointed out, is crucial.
Legislating reproductive health care for women, according to Lindo, would ensure allocation of government budget for reproductive health services, such as access to maternal health care, caring of newborns in crisis situations, emergency obstetric care, trainings for midwives and barangay health workers, and reproductive health care information, among others, as provided in the RH Law.
“That is why we are saying that the implementation of the RH Law saves more lives of women!” said Lindo.
Gearing for the battle ahead
Lindo said they are also flexing now for the possibility of the anti-RH block to bat for a permanent restraining order.
“But, the women’s movement would not stop. That we can promise. The women’s movement will continue to push for the RH law as this is long overdue. What we have now is even a watered-down version of the piece of legislation, but we still rallied behind it, if only to ease the suffering of women,” Lindo said.
As for the Catholic Church’s attempt to “undermine” candidates supporting the RH Law by branding them as “Team Patay,” Lindo said, they are not one bit, demoralized.
She said their organization and its networks will also work doubly hard to pitch candidates who support the RH Law as the real “Pro-lifers.” “What could be more pro-life than working to prevent more deaths of women?” she asked.
Lindo said she is confident that there are those even among the Catholic clergy who are supportive of the RH Law. “I am pretty sure that not 100 percent of the religious adhere to the official stand of the Catholic Church on the reproductive health law. There are even priests who are supportive but are just being discreet about it,” she said.
She is asking the support of not just the women, but the cross-section of society to support the law so that it may be finally given a chance.
“RH law is women-beneficial. Let us always remember that if women in the country are in a better lot, the country would be a better place as it has been proven that countries which take care of the well-being of their women, who have healthy women, are more progressive,” Lindo cited. (Cheryll D. Fiel/davaotoday.com)