Albert Francis E. Domingo, MD

my flight of ideas

Usec. Herbosa, on the RH Bill Debates

Posted on | August 4, 2012 | No Comments

The RH Bill debates are not only among the most controversial, they are literally among the “sexiest” discussions held by government officials this year – partly because many of the opponents prefer to discuss the sex aspects of the proposed policy, rather than the health and development aspects. So, how many Filipinos actually understand what is at stake when the RH Bill comes to a vote?

Despite their lengthy titles, House Bill 4244 and its Senate counterpart are accurately called Reproductive Health bills because their main objective is to protect the HEALTH of woman and girls.

This would be achieved by making available to them affordable, quality and medically-safe and effective health care services, information, medicines and supplies necessary for their health particularly related to the bodily systems specific to females. Under the law, the national and local governments would dedicate resources to providing maternal and neonatal health care kits, education about gynecological health, emergency obstetric care for every 500-thousand people, and ensuring that local governments hire enough midwives to assist in child birth, among other measures.

To be clear, the word “reproductive” is used not because the policy aims to control reproduction but because it relates to the health of the reproductive system of women and girls, i.e. the parts of their bodies that are specific to women and girls, and their specific needs. It could just as accurately be called the gynecological-obstetrics bill but that’s a mouthful that would be understood by too few people.

The main objectives of the bills on Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health are health protection, responsible parenthood (the capability of parents to provide the basics for their children), and population and development.

These three are related because the health of the mother directly impacts the entire family. The same goes for the size of a family and the health of family members – they affect everyone in the family. Families among the poorest of the poor cannot afford to feed the children or send them to school. In fact, they need the assistance of the Conditional Cash Transfer program. Any family with a sick or disabled family member, for example, a child born with a disability because of poor neonatal care, would have to dedicate resources to caring for that family member, which cuts down on resources available for food, education, even transport. While teaching Filipinos to be responsible parents, the government also aims to empower them to actually be responsible.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona has said (to PMA, May 2012) some 2.2 million Filipino mothers “have an unmet need for family planning.” He said, “Reducing unmet need will also help us reach our MDG (Millennium Development Goal) of reducing maternal mortality and improving maternal health.” Ona added that studies have consistently shown that mothers with unplanned and mistimed pregnancies become more at risk for maternal deaths.The Philippines has a responsibility to the Filipino people to work for the welfare of all especially the marginalized and most vulnerable, to alleviate poverty, and to use limited government resources for the best policies and programs to respond to the needs of the nation.

The Philippines has an obligation to meet the Millennium Development Goal targets including reducing maternal and child deaths, and raising gender equality. Time is running short to meet these goals which have a deadline of 2015. The Philippines also has human rights obligations to provide health services, to protect against gender discrimination which includes specific services and protections for women where needed including in terms of work conditions and health care.

The RP-RH bills would make it possible for women of the Philippines to safeguard and promote their health in this time when millions of Filipinas suffer from or are vulnerable to health threats such as breast and cervical cancer, infections, HIV/AIDS, and pregnancy-related risks for those who have certain diseases/conditions such as kidney conditions.

Despite efforts of opponents of the law to misrepresent the law’s objectives and possible effects, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health bills before the House of Representatives and the Senate are NOT meant to increase promiscuity or immorality, allow or encourage abortions (which would remain illegal), or even to encourage Filipino women to pursue their pleasures and careers at the expense of their families. On the contrary, these bills are drafted to respond to the realities in the Philippines based on empirical data of the National Statistics Office, the World Health Organization, NEDA and other credible organizations showing the current levels of maternal and infant mortality; the relationship between poverty, high numbers of children in a family, and the incidence of illness in the family and limited ability of children to finish school; among other indicators of national and human development.

“Let me just emphasize that we are not forcing them to have smaller families. What the government would like to ensure is that the moment these couples, especially the poor, decide to plan their families, the means and methods they choose to use to carry out their reproductive decisions are made available to them,” said Ona to the National Conference of Catholics for Reproductive Health in March 2011.

In fact, those who want to ensure that people do not resort to abortions, the so-called anti-abortion camps, should support the RP-RH bills because these legal measured are also aimed at decreasing the frequency of reasons why a woman would seek an abortion. Under the RP-RH bill, women would have options that would enable her to choose when to get pregnant, using natural or medical options. THE LESS UNWANTED PREGNANCIES OCCUR, THE LESS ABORTIONS WILL BE SOUGHT BY WOMEN and the less incidences of deaths and other harm caused by these abortions, usually carried out in illegal procedures which are unsanitary and not safe.

Increasing the availability of contraceptives is only one aspect of the RH Bill, it is not the be all and end all of the policy. The government does not intend to force women to take contraceptives or make use of all the medicines, supplies and services covered in the RH Bill –it only intends to make such necessary medicines, supplies and services available to everyone, to close the gap in health care for women and for the poor.

(Originally posted on August 4, 2012 by Department of Health Undersecretary Teodoro J. Herbosa as a status message on his Facebook timeline. Usec. Herbosa’s contact info may be found online at the DOH website.)


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