RH Law to save lives, give the poor a choice

Speech of Senator Pia S. Cayetano (as delivered)
Intervenor, Principal Sponsor of Republic Act 10354
At the Oral Arguments on the Reproductive Health (RH) Law
Supreme Court of the Philippines, Manila
August 13, 2013

 

Only 15 mothers die.

Madame Chief Justice, Honorable Justices.

That is the statement of the petitioners, through Atty. Liban on why the Reproductive Health Law is unconstitutional. According to petitioners, “the problem of maternal death pales in comparison with the number of deaths associated with serious illnesses.”

And so to the petitioners, the stories of these women do not matter.

Ana has eight children.  Her youngest is six months old. She did not want to get pregnant again but she felt she could not deny her husband. And so before her baby turned one, she found herself pregnant. It was a complicated pregnancy. She needed bed rest but with eight kids to look after, she could not stay in bed. One day she just collapsed and started bleeding. Ana and her baby died, leaving behind a husband and eight motherless children.

This is Maria. She was pregnant and suffering from hypertension. She delivered prematurely at five months, but her baby died. Just a year later, she became pregnant again. Once more, she delivered prematurely and sadly lost this baby, too. The doctor told her it would be too risky for her to get pregnant again. But within six months, she was pregnant.  This time, Maria died along with her baby.

Lourdes feeds her baby brown sugar in water. She has seven other children. They eat once a day. Three of them eat in the morning, the other four eat at night.   She is pregnant again and knows, she has no means to feed another child.  A heartbroken Lourdes was forced to give away three of her children.

To petitioners, the lives of these women do not matter. As a consequence, the lives of these children do not matter, either. They are only a very small statistic as far as petitioners are concerned.

But these are real women. They are real Filipinas who have faced the very real dangers and challenges that mothers all over the country face every day.

These are pressing problems that the Reproductive Health Law seeks to address.

Madame Chief Justice, Justices of this Honorable Court, I stand here today not only as an intervenor and the sponsor of the RH Law, but also as a woman, a mother, and the voice of millions of women who died giving birth and the families they have left behind.

I stand here today as the voice of mothers and fathers who desperately seek to plan their families in order to better provide for the children they already have or intend to have.

No mother should have to give away her child.   No mother should have to make the choice between terminating a pregnancy or being able to feed her children.    No woman should die giving life.

Maternal Deaths

Petitioners are quick to defend the right of the unborn and even the potential of life. They are quick to ask government to spend funds for other health issues that plague the nation. Dengue kills some 1,000 people a year, malaria, 63.

And yet when it comes to women, [maternal deaths] which claim fifteen lives a day or over 5,000 lives a year, it is easy for them to look away. To raise all the objections to giving her access to services and the information she needs to have a safe delivery and to give birth to a healthy child.

Why? Why is it so difficult to give women the right to health? Why can’t we be given the benefit of life? Is it because the road to a safe pregnancy and childbirth includes the empowerment of women?

Or is it because of petitioners’ malicious view of women, as shown in their petition, where they say that the Reproductive Health Law discriminates against husbands and fathers because it allows their wives to have pleasurable sexual experiences with other men without getting pregnant?

This is how low petitioners view us women.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains, for centuries, women have had little control over their pregnancies which lead to maternal deaths and complications.

Thus, Congress has decided that fifteen mothers dying, teen pregnancies, malnourished and sickly children born to mothers who did not have access to reproductive health services, women who die from reproductive health related illnesses — are reason enough for the RH Law. The basis is no other than the Constitution: Article 2, Section 12, and all other related provisions call for the urgency of the Reproductive Health Law.

Article 2, Section 12 says, “The State… shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

On Health Hazards and Availability of Contraceptives

In support of their anti-RH stand, petitioners attack the safety of contraceptives, harping on its possible side-effects.

They choose to ignore the fact that all medicines, whether preventive or curative, have some type of side-effect. No medicine is 100% side-effect free.

Following petitioners’ logic, should we now eradicate vaccination due to its side effects? Do we now ban all drugs because of their side-effects?

Suffice it to say, the safety and efficacy of contraceptives has passed the scientific scrutiny of the most stringent drug regulatory agencies like the World Health Organization and supported by prestigious universities and organizations such as Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and the Mayo Clinic.

And then petitioners question the inclusion of various family planning products as part of essential medicines, claiming pregnancy is not an illness.

First, allow me to define Reproductive Health. Section 4(p) of the law defines it as “the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes.”

With that in mind, let me state that indeed, pregnancy is not an illness, but it is a special condition that requires medical attention, and the degree of medical attention needed varies from one woman to the next.

Why must it be included in the essential drugs list? Because local governments and public hospitals can only purchase medicines that are on that list.

In any case, if petitioner did their research, they would know that contraceptives in general have been included in the essential drugs list for many years, even before the RH bill was being discussed. Thus, we simply institutionalized an already existing practice.

Petitioner would make it appear that women will be forced to use contraceptives against their will. Suffice it to say, that Sections 2, 3 (a), (e), (f), and (h) make it very clear that everyone has a free choice on this matter and no one will be coerced into using any type of contraceptive.  The law cannot be any clearer than that.

As to the claim that the enumeration of certain family planning products in Section 9 as part of essential medicines is a pre-determination by Congress that all contraceptives are safe and are not abortifacients, let me clarify:

The list is a general enumeration of the types of family planning products already included by the FDA and the WHO in its essential list of medicines. They have been determined to be safe and effective and non-abortifacient. This does not in any way preclude the FDA from doing its job and making a determination that a particular brand is substandard, ineffective, unsafe, or works in a way that is different from what is declared. Congress never intended to arrogate upon itself the power to determine pharmacological facts, and neither should this court. That is the duty of the Food and Drug Administration.

Other Health Concerns Covered by the RH law

I believe we can all agree that teenage pregnancies deprive a young girl of her right to a full life, including opportunity to study and to find gainful employment later on.

In Fabella Hospital alone, 2,126 teenagers gave birth in 2010. This figure increased to 2,532 the next year. In Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, there are teenagers who have given birth to five, six and seven children.

These are teenagers, children aged thirteen to nineteen. They are supposed to be playing with their friends, studying in school, enjoying their childhood. Not being responsible for their own children.  But that is a sad reality in this country.

In the case of HIV/AIDS, the incident is dropping everywhere around the world, but sadly not in our country. We are one of nine countries with an increasing incident of HIV/AIDS. At present, we have a reported number of 21,837 cases of people living with HIV/AIDS.

TO CONCLUDE

In the guise of protecting the unborn and shielding women from the ills of contraceptives, petitioners overstep their bounds and transgress the rights of women enshrined in our Constitution.

In the case of Civil Liberties Union v. Executive Secretary, this Court ruled that no one provision is to be separated from all the others. That all the provisions bearing upon a particular subject are to be brought into view and to be so interpreted as to effectuate the greater purpose of the instrument.

Madame Chief Justice, Honorable Justices, this is our reality.

  • Fifteen mothers die every day.
  • 12 women die from cervical cancer every day.
  • Teenage pregnancies are on the rise: Over 200,000 teen pregnancies in the year 2010.
  • Of the 3.1 million pregnancies a year, 1.4 million pregnancies are unplanned.
  • And nearly half a million abortions occur in the Philippines.
  • Ten years ago, there was a new case of HIV every three days.  Now, a Filipino gets HIV every 2 hours.

Madame Chief Justice, Honorable Justices, this is our reality.

Contraceptives are readily available for the rich, but are effectively withheld from the majority of Filipinos due to poverty – a clear case of unequal rights of the rich and the poor, and a patent example of social inequity.

Case in point: In the city of Manila, former Mayor Lito Atienza declared that only natural family planning methods would be adopted and promoted by the city. This is a clear violation of a woman’s right to choose. But for the lack of a law, this situation prevailed during that time.

The RH Law seeks to bridge this gap by giving the poor what was once exclusively for the rich: a choice.

Honorable Justices, to deprive women of access to family planning which petitioners want you to do, violates so many provisions of the Constitution:

The Right to Health (Art. II, Sec. 15), and the State’s obligation to adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development  and other social services available at affordable cost (Art. XIII, Sec.11), and the duty of the State to protect the life of the mother (Art. II, Sec. 12), just  to name a few.

Madame Chief Justice, Honorable Justices, we held seven hearings over the span of one year and thereafter, defended it for another year-and-a-half. Eleven senators interpellated me. Eight made amendments. Seventy-two amendments were proposed.  Fifty-four were accepted. Thirteen were put to a vote.

A similar process was observed in the House of Representatives. Thereafter, we had a bicameral conference. Each provision was debated upon and passed.

This law before us today is truly a product of our democratic process. This is the legislative process in its full glory as envisioned in the Constitution. This is a product of Congress’ collective wisdom.

This piece of legislation will not solve all the health problems in our country, as petitioners appear to expect from us. In fact, it will not save every mother’s life or totally eliminate teen pregnancies and abortions. But it will – yes I am certain – it will address these problems. It will save lives and give Filipinos, especially the poor women the means to protect themselves and plan their families.

We earnestly beseech this Honorable Court to rule in favor of the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law. Thank you, your Honors.

Photo: Sen. Pia Cayetano (right) confers with her fellow Reproductive Health (RH) Law sponsor and intervenor former Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman before the start of Tuesday’s oral arguments on the RH Law at the Supreme Court.

 

 

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