Philippines: Likely progress on reproductive health and rights?
FRIDAY FILE: A pending law in the Philippines may make women and girls’ reproductive rights and health more secure. AWID spoke to Junice Demetrio-Melgar of Likhaan Center for Women’s Health about the pending Reproductive Health Bill, 2001.
AWID: What is the situation of women and girls’ reproductive health and rights in the Philippines?
Junice Demetrio-Melgar: It is dire. Maternal mortality is high: 162 deaths/100,000 live births in 2006 [i] or an estimated total of about 4,600 deaths in 2008[ii]. Maternal deaths are declining very slowly; and serious maternal complications (at least 15% of all pregnancies) are higher than other causes of women's morbidity in 2005.[iii] This means pregnant women - especially the poor and young - are unable to access the necessary, life-saving maternal care services.
Fifty four percent (or about 1.9 million in 2008) of pregnancies were unintended[iv] and abortion is pervasive despite it being prohibited by law without any explicit exception. In 2008, 560,000 induced abortions were estimated to have taken place; 90,000 women were hospitalized, and 1,000 died as a result of these abortions.
Abortion has been criminalized in the Philippines since the 1930s when the abortion law was copied from the Spanish Penal Code. However, contraception was part of the government's family planning program since the early 1970s. After the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994, the government, through the Department of Health, introduced an integrated health and human rights approach in its Reproductive Health Program. This program integrated ten services including maternal care, family planning, STI-HIV prevention and services, sexuality education, adolescent reproductive health services, prevention and care of victims of violence against women, prevention and management of abortion complications (PMAC) and men's involvement in reproductive health.[v] In 2000, the Secretary of Health allowed the registration of the emergency pill for use in crisis centers for women and started the post-abortion PMAC program in Department of Health hospitals.
New challenges are the upsurge in HIV and AIDS and persistent adolescent pregnancy, the only age-specific fertility rate that is not declining.[vi]
JDM: The current version of the Bill focuses on reducing maternal mortality through increased access to essential and emergency maternal care, contraceptives and post-abortion care, mandatory sexuality education for adolescents, and increasing health system support by ensuring adequate midwifery personnel, adequate birthing centers and hospitals, and government funding for the poor.
AWID: What advocacy work are women’s rights organizations and networks doing to promote the passing of the Bill?
The basis of the objection of Church leaders and conservative Catholic groups is the Pope's teachings in Casti Connubi[viii] which instructs that all sexual relations be "open to the possibility of life" and allows only "natural" family planning methods. Religious conservatives consider every pregnancy a gift of God and reject the concept of "unintended" or "unwanted" pregnancy. They consider contraceptives as abortifacients - despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary - and want the unborn protected at all times, without consideration for the mother's equal right to protection. The craziest among them accuse the Reproductive Health Bill of wanting to effect genocide and promiscuity and bestiality!
We actively and constructively engage the Catholic congregation. We try to convince the public and legislators about the unreasonableness of the official Catholic position and the harm that it causes to women's lives.
AWID: Please tell us about the "Occupy Congress" campaign organizing women’s organizations to lobby for the Bill.
[i] National Statistics Office 2006.
[ii] Guttmacher, 2009.
[iii] Likhaan, 2005
[iv] Guttmacher, 2009
[v] Department of Health Administrative orders on Reproductive health in 1998 and 2000.
[vi] National Demographic and Health Survey 2008
[vii] According to polls by the Social Weather Station and Pulse Asia.
[viii] Pope Pius IX, and Humanae Vitae (Pope Paul VI)