The Bill According to Lagman

Below is the speech of Congressman Edcel Lagman about the RH bill as it appears on his official website: First District of ALBAY. It has convinced many but I would say with Abraham Lincoln, “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.”

Wednesday, 15 April 2009 12:28

(Speech delivered by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN during a forum on the Reproductive Health Bill  sponsored by the South Manila Inter-Institutional Consortium at UP Manila on 14 November 2008)

The crusade for the passage of House Bill No. 5043 or the “Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development Act of 2008” has been difficult not because it lacks merit since the bill is truly meritorious as it is necessary, beneficial and practicable.

The enactment of the bill faces roadblocks not because it is deprived of popular support because survey after survey reveals that the RH bill enjoys the solid support of an overwhelming majority of Filipinos regardless of social class and religion. The latest SWS survey shows that 71% of all Filipinos endorse the passage of the reproductive health bill.

Neither is the passage of the bill delayed because of lack of supporters in the House of Representatives. In fact, as of today, House Bill 5043 has a total of 113 coauthors, more than a majority of the requisite quorum to approve a bill.

The campaign for the enactment of the RH bill has been made difficult because of the deliberate misinformation campaign being launched against the bill by its critics and the dilatory maneuvers being contrived by its oppositors.

I am therefore thankful for this opportunity to explain not only the salient provisions of the measure but also the chance to counter the misinformation and half-truths being peddled by those against the bill.

The RH bill assures an enabling environment where women and couples have the freedom of informed choice on the mode of family planning they want to adopt based on their needs, personal convictions and religious beliefs.

ELEMENTS OF RH – The RH bill is not principally about condoms and pills. It is certainly not about religion. It is about health and rights and this can be seen clearly in the coverage of reproductive health, as proposed in the bill.

Family planning is only one element of reproductive health. Equally important are the other elements of RH which include: (1) maternal, infant and child health and nutrition; (2) promotion of breast feeding; (3) prevention of abortion and management of post-abortion complications; (4) adolescent and youth health; (5) prevention and management of reproductive tract infections, HIV/AIDS and STDs; (6) elimination of violence against women; (7) counseling on sexuality and reproductive health; (8) treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers; (9) male involvement and participation in RH; (10) prevention and treatment of infertility; and (11) RH education for the youth.

It is a pity that the RH debate has been confined to family planning because its critics primarily oppose the use of modern contraceptives which they claim are abortifacients and will lead to the deterioration of marriage and family life. It is a pity because the other elements of RH, which will similarly protect and promote the right to health and reproductive self-determination, have been largely ignored.

STRENGTHENING OF POPCOM – The POPCOM shall be reoriented to promote both natural and modern family planning methods. Few people know that POPCOM, which is the government agency central to the country’s family planning program, is only promoting for sometime now natural family planning even though only 29% of all women using family planning employ NFP compared to the 71% who use modern contraceptives.

MIDWIVES FOR SKILLED BIRTH ATTENDANCE – The bill supports safe motherhood. It proposes that every city and municipality shall endeavor to employ an adequate number of midwives and other skilled attendants. Skilled attendance at birth will help prevent maternal and infant mortality which are both alarmingly high in the country. Currently, only 57% of Filipino women give birth with the assistance of a trained medical professional.

EMERGENCY OBSTETRIC CARE – Each province and city shall endeavor to ensure the establishment and operation of hospitals with adequate and qualified personnel that provide emergency obstetric care. If we are to make headway in our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to lower infant mortality and improve maternal health, it is imperative to provide emergency obstetric care to those who need them. The miracle of life should not mean death for 10 mothers daily and the importance of facilities that can provide life saving services to pregnant women cannot be overemphasized.

HOSPITAL-BASED FAMILY PLANNING – Family planning methods requiring hospital services like ligation, vasectomy and IUD placement shall be available in all government hospitals. Maternal and infant mortality and morbidity are public health concerns that government can address if effective and long-term methods such as IUDs and permanent methods like ligation and vasectomy are readily available in government hospitals – the health facilities the poor and marginalized regularly utilize.

– Reproductive health products shall be considered essential medicines and supplies and shall form part of the National Drug Formulary. The classification of contraceptives as essential medicines will help the poorest of our women, who continue to have an average of six children, avoid unplanned pregnancies and maternal death. Both the WHO and UNFPA have declared that contraceptive use can prevent 1/3 of all maternal deaths.

Our maternal mortality rate which is pegged at 162 deaths out of every 10,000 live births is both alarming and insidious. Fourteen percent of all deaths in the female population can be attributed to pregnancy and childbirth-related causes (DOH and NDHS 2003). This is unacceptable. No woman should die giving life to another human being.

It should be underscored that modern contraceptives are included in the World Health Organization Model List of Essential Medicines. Their inclusion in the National Drug Formulary will enable government to purchase contraceptives and not merely rely on unpredictable donations.

– RH education in an age-appropriate manner shall be taught by adequately trained teachers from Grade 5 up to 4th Year High School. As proposed in the bill, core subjects include responsible parenthood; natural and modern family planning; proscription and hazards of abortion; reproductive health and sexual rights; abstinence before marriage; and responsible sexuality, among others.

Sexuality education seeks to assist young people in cultivating a positive view of sexuality; provide them with information and skills about taking care of their sexual health; and help them make sound decisions now and in the future. It has also has been shown to make adolescents more sexually responsible and adds a level of maturity to their attitudes towards sexual relations.

Formal education on RH and sexuality is necessary because of the parental default at home where conversations on sex is traditionally taboo.

Moreover, an SWS survey released only last month shows that 76% of Filipinos approve of the teaching of family planning to the youth.

– The State shall encourage two children as the ideal family size. This is neither mandatory nor compulsory and no punitive action may be imposed on couples having more than two children. This also approximates the desired number of children by women and couples which is 2.5 children.

– Employers shall respect the reproductive health rights of all their workers. Women shall not be discriminated against in the matter of hiring, regularization of employment status or selection for retrenchment. Employers shall provide free reproductive health services and commodities to workers, whether unionized or unorganized.

These are all restatements and improvements of existing provisions of the Labor Code and relevant jurisprudence.

– Community-based workers shall undergo additional and updated training on the delivery of reproductive health care services and shall receive not less than 10% increase in honoraria upon successful completion of training. This will improve the ability of our barangay health workers to deliver relevant RH information and services.

– No marriage license shall be issued by the Local Civil Registrar unless the applicants present a Certificate of Compliance issued for free by the local Family Planning Office certifying that they had received adequate instructions and information on family planning, responsible parenthood, breastfeeding and infant nutrition.

–  (1) A health care service provider who: (a) knowingly withholds or restricts the dissemination of information and/or intentionally provides incorrect information regarding RH programs and services; (b) refuses to perform or provide legal and medically-safe RH services on any person of legal age on the ground of lack of third party consent, provided that in the case of DSWD-certified abused minors and pregnant minors, no prior parental consent shall be necessary; (c) deliberately causes the failure of the delivery of RH services through negligence or neglect; and (d) refuses to extend RH services and information on account of the client’s marital status, sexual orientation, age, religion, personal circumstances, and nature of work. Objections of health care service providers based on ethical and religious grounds shall be respected but he or she shall immediately refer the person seeking such care and services to another professional as long as the person is not in an emergency condition.

(2) Any public official who shall prohibit or intentionally restrict the delivery of legal and medically-safe RH services.

(3) Any employer who shall require or cause a female applicant or employee to involuntarily submit herself to any contraceptive method as a condition for employment or continued employment.

(4) Any person who shall engage in willful disinformation with respect to reproductive health care and rights or the provisions of this Act or cause such disinformation.

Now that I have discussed the most relevant provisions of the RH bill, I would like to answer some of the misconceptions about the measure.

The bill is not 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. It will empower couples with the information and opportunity to plan and space their children. This will not only strengthen the family as a unit, it will optimize care for fewer children who will have more opportunities to be educated, healthy and productive.

The bill does not favor modern family planning methods over NFP. Both natural and modern family planning techniques are contraceptive methods. Their common purpose is to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the bill does not impose a bias for either method.

The bill does not legalize abortion and will not lead to its legalization. It is false and malicious to claim that the RH bill legalizes abortion. The measure repeatedly underscores that abortion is illegal, criminal and punishable, and is not part of the menu of legally permissible and medically safe family planning methods.

It is likewise misleading and inaccurate to claim that the use of contraceptives will eventually lead to the legalization of abortion. Catholic countries like Panama, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Paraguay and Ireland all prohibit abortion as a family planning method even as they vigorously promote contraceptive use. Muslim and Buddhist countries like Indonesia and Laos have likewise liberalized the use of contraceptives but still continue to criminalize abortion.

Moreover, there is an inverse correlation between contraceptive use and abortion. The regular and correct use of contraceptives drastically reduces abortion rates since unplanned and unwanted pregnancies are avoided. Consequently, women do not have to resort to abortion and the State will find no need to legalize abortion.

The bill does not endorse abortifacients. Hormonal contraceptives are BFAD-approved, medically safe and legal. The primary mechanism of pills and injectables is to suppress ovulation. If no egg is released, how can there be an abortion? They also prevent the sperm from reaching the egg. If fertilization is avoided, how can there be a fetus to abort? Articles in peer-reviewed medical journals testify that IUDs do not cause abortions because they stop fertilization. A recent study revealed that not a single fertilized egg was recovered from the fallopian tubes of women using IUDs proving that they are amazingly successful in preventing fertilization.

In fact, the UNDP, UNFPA and WHO have submitted to the House of Representatives an expert opinion on the mechanisms of modern contraceptives and they state that contraceptives “cannot be labeled as abortifacients” as none of these methods have been shown to cause abortions.

The bill is truly anti-abortion. It will tremendously reduce the incidence of abortion in the country which in 2002 has been recorded to be about 470,000 and the UN estimates that it has reached 800,000 today. Data also show that it is not single women and teenagers but poor, married, Catholic women in their 20s who most often undergo abortions because they cannot afford another child.

Contraceptives do not have life threatening side-effects. Medical and scientific evidence show that all the possible medical risks connected with contraceptives are infinitely lower than the risks of an actual pregnancy and everyday activities. The risk of dying within a year of riding a car is 1 in 5,900. The risk of dying within a year of using pills is 1 in 200,000. The risk of dying from a vasectomy is 1 in 1 million and the risk of dying from using an IUD is 1 in 10 million. The probability of dying from condom use is absolutely zero. But the risk of dying from a pregnancy is 1 in 10,000.

The bill will not promote contraceptive mentality. The bill does not prohibit pregnancy. Critics are mistaken in claiming that because contraceptives would be readily accessible, people would prefer to have no children at all. Couples will not stop wanting children simply because contraceptives are available. Contraceptives are used to prevent unwanted pregnancies but not to stop pregnancies altogether. Timely pregnancies are assured.

Sexuality education will not spawn “a generation of sex maniacs” nor promote promiscuity. Age-appropriate RH education promotes correct sexual values. It will not only instill consciousness of freedom of choice but responsible exercise of one’s rights. The UN and countries which have youth sexuality education document its beneficial results like understanding of proper sexual values; initiation to sexual relations is delayed; abstinence before marriage is encouraged; multiple sex partners is avoided; and spread of sexually transmitted diseases is prevented.

The bill does not claim that family planning is the panacea to poverty. It simply recognizes the verifiable link between a huge population and poverty. Unbridled population growth stunts socio-economic development and aggravates poverty. The connection between population and development is well-documented and empirically established.

UN Human Development Reports show that countries with higher population growth invariably score lower in human development. Last year, the Philippines, as the 12th most populous country, ranked No. 84 out 171 countries in the Human Development Index rankings made annually by the United Nations. This year, we are down to No. 90. Among Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines fared the worst in the latest rankings. Singapore remained in the 25th slot, Indonesia improved by 1 rank and Vietnam and Brunei each improved their position by four levels. But while Malaysia, Myanmar and Cambodia all slipped two ranks and Thailand fell down by four slots, the Philippines went down by six points.

The Asian Development Bank in 2004 also listed a large population as one of the major causes of poverty in the country. Recent studies also show that large family size is a significant factor in keeping families poor across generations.

However, the authors of the bill do claim that the bill will help promote sustainable human development. The UN has stated that “family planning and reproductive health are essential to reducing poverty” The UNICEF also asserts that “family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available to the human race.”

Family planning will not lead to a demographic winter. The proposition that the use of modern family planning will wipe off the Filipino race in a catastrophic “demographic winter” is a scare tactic which fails to comprehend the dynamics of population momentum wherein the country’s population will continue to grow even if the population growth rate is increasingly reduced to below replacement levels.

An RH law will not be superfluous. It is a myopic view that since contraceptives are available in the market, there is no need to enact a law on reproductive health and family planning. This contention overlooks that availability does not mean access, particularly to those who are uninformed or could not afford to buy reproductive health supplies. Availability does not assure adequate and accurate information on family planning and reproductive health which are basic universal human rights.

An RH law is not unconstitutional. House Bill No. 5043 is being faulted for being violative of the Section 12, Article II of the Constitution which reads:

“The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.” (underscoring supplied).

The constitutional challenge is baseless for the following overriding reasons:

1. The RH bill does not violate or intrude into the “sanctity of family life”. On the contrary, it discharges the obligation of the State to protect and strengthen the family.

The family is more than a natural unit. It is a social institution whose well-being is impressed with public interest and concern.

Verily, it is not immune from legislation. It has to be amenable to the State’s exercise of police power for its protection and development. Hence, there are relevant laws like the Civil Code of the Philippines; Family Code of the Philippines; the Child and Youth Welfare Code; and the Special Protection of Filipino Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, among others, which are all protective of family life and the welfare of children.

The RH bill aims to protect the family from poverty and ill-health by helping women and couples achieve their fertility goals.

2. The use of legal and medically-safe contraceptives, which are not abortifacients, and which are tested by and registered with the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD), does not violate the constitutional provision on the obligation of the State “to equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

The purpose of this provision is to preempt the Congress and the Supreme Court from legalizing abortion. This bill definitely does not legalize abortion.

The anti-abortion intent of this constitutional provision is admitted both by its principal proponent, Commissioner Bernardo Villegas, and Commissioner Joaquin Bernas who initially proposed a related provision as Section I of the Bill of Rights which read: “The right to life extends to the fertilized ovum.” (underscoring supplied).

This Bernas proposal did not materialize. Its non-adoption unmistakably manifests that the concept that life begins at fertilization was not constitutionalized for lack of concurrence from the Commissioners.

After the deletion of the Bernas proposal in the Bill of Rights, another formulation was included in Article II on the Declaration of Principles which originally read: “The State shall protect human life from the moment of conception.”

It is important to note that under the foregoing draft, it is suggested that human life begins “from the moment of conception”, not anymore from the fertilization of the ovum.

This also confirms the thinking of the Commissioners that the “fertilization of the ovum” is not the same or synonymous to “conception”. The two refer to different stages of the reproductive process.

As finally adopted, the Constitution provides that the State “… shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

It is important to note that the phrase “the moment of” preceding “conception” was deleted. Its deletion was the result of the Commissioners’ uncertainty as to the precise beginning of conception. Hence, they decided to defer to medical science and subsequent legislation the determination of the start of conception.

Verily, the bill does not offend the constitutional intent prohibiting abortion. In fact, it repeatedly reiterates the national policy against abortion. Moreover, the RH bill is even an anti-abortion measure because it respects the option of women and couples to use legal and medically-safe contraceptives which reduces abortion rates by 85%.

The bill will address the population problem. Some critics of the bill have gone so far as to say that our problem is only population distribution. The issue on population is not a simple matter of “population density” but more importantly, it is a question of sustainable human development. Concededly, there are still vast unpopulated areas of the country but these are places hostile to human development because there are no infrastructures in place, no schools, no hospitals, and no visible means of livelihood and employment.

The bill will help foreclose the need for overseas employment. Critics of the bill commend labor migration as the beneficent result of “population power”. This is a misplaced accolade to inordinate fertility. Dollar remittances from OFWs should not blind us to the incalculable social and economic costs of labor migration.

Moreover, the so-called “population power” has just exploded in our faces as the bleak scenario unfolds with OFWs returning home because there is a depressed market for overseas employment as a consequence of the collapse of Wall Street.

Family planning, as a vital component of reproductive health, does not only ensure the health of mothers and children. Family planning saves lives. The WHO and UNFPA have declared that close to 200,000 maternal deaths and 1 million infant deaths worldwide could be avoided annually if women use contraception.

The following is a direct quote from a WHO position paper on contraceptives: “It is universally recognized that contraception is the most effective intervention to prevent unintended pregnancy, abortion, child and maternal mortality and morbidity.”

We need to enact HB 5043 because it promotes and protects the right to health, the right to informed choice, the right to reproductive self-determination and the right to sustainable human development.

As members of the academe, it behooves you to study the issue of reproductive health and take a definitive stand. We are so close to enacting a truly responsible and responsive policy on reproductive health and population development. The enactment of HB 5043 into law shall truly be precedent-setting. Be part of history and help us hasten the bill’s passage by taking a stand and publicly supporting the RH bill.

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