Reproductive health and poverty: Knots and gaps

ariel nepomuceno_1January 9, 2016, is a crucial day for antipoverty and health advocates.

The issuance of Executive Order (EO) 12 by President Duterte aims to implement the provisions of the reproductive-health (RH) law, which were not covered by the temporary restraining order released by the Supreme Court (SC). Furthermore, the said EO seeks to step up concrete actions to promote modern family planning for the poor in this country.

It needs no overemphasis to recognize how important this move is to the current government’s poverty-alleviation program. The EO tapped various agencies, such as the departments of health (DOH), and the Interior and Local Government, and the Commission on Population, to work closely with local government units to accomplish the objectives of the RH law. Likewise, supporting this initiative is the Department of Education, which was tasked to carry out gender sensitive and rights-based sexual education as part of the curriculum. On the other hand, the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s mandate was to fuse the applicable aspects of the law into its social and poverty agenda.

Essence of the law

The law requires orientation and training be done by public-health workers and for government health centers to provide free birth-control devices and products, like pills and condoms, to those who wish to avail themselves of these. Schools are also ordered to teach sex education. While abortion is not allowed, post-abortion medical care and attention is stipulated in the law.

The drivers for the passage of the RH law have always been around issues of RH education and rights of women, for many years now, the plethora of scientific, medical and sociopolitical research has established the evident link between poverty incidence and economic development to that of responsible family planning and population-growth management policies of governments all over the world.

 Local dilemma

IN the Philippines the World Health Organization and the DOH have seen the recent rise in teen pregnancy, abortions, miscarriages and serious illnesses, like acquired immune deficiency syndrome or human immunodeficiency virus infection, all related to lack of education and awareness about reproductive health.

This predicament certainly has ripple and long-term effects. Unwanted pregnancies and the pressure of early family life deprive the youth of a chance to go to school, get a decent job, live a respectable life and contribute to society in the long run. More population growth, coupled with insufficient public resources, shall ultimately lead to escalating impoverishment and misery. This is an inescapable fact of history. It makes no sense denying this reality.

 Opposition to the law

The rigorous opposition of the Catholic Church and other religious groups to the RH law was elevated to the SC as expected. About 15 actions were filed in the Court precisely for this purpose. Among other arguments, the central issues are whether there is a real need for the law, and whether contraceptives are abortifacients. The ultimate reckoning point is, indeed, where does life begin?

It was, therefore, a big disappointment to the government and RH advocates when the SC issued a 120-day status quo order against the implementation in 2013 and then an indefinite extension of such order. In 2014 the Court approved the law, but many of its provisions were declared invalid.

Policy direction

SO despite all the flak against Duterte regarding alleged human-rights violations and his nontraditional way of fighting the evils of drugs, crime and corruption, his political will and no nonsense intention to promote reproductive health and responsible parenthood were admired and lauded by his most outspoken critics.

While there may be fundamental differences in opinions about the whys, hows and what ifs of the RH law, the time has come for this legislation, or whatever that is left of it, to be executed. The statistics and data about the need for it are too compelling to disregard. We are all waiting. And the rest of the world, as well.


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