TRO endangering women’s lives

News Release
05 May 2017

Cayetano: TRO on contraceptives putting women’s health and lives at risk

Contraceptive supplies are fast running out in the Philippines and this is endangering the health and lives of millions of Filipino women who use these products not just for birth control, but also to address a variety of women’s illnesses and health needs.

Thus warned House Deputy Speaker Pia S. Cayetano, as she joined fellow women and health advocates in a media forum held in Taguig City to call for the lifting of the controversial temporary restraining order (TRO) on the certification of contraceptive products in the country.

Issued by the Supreme Court nearly two years go on June 17, 2015, the TRO has effectively barred the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) from renewing the certificate of registration of various contraceptives, which is a requirement before these products can be distributed and sold in the market.

“Women have started to feel the shortage. And the eventual total unavailability of contraceptives will affect millions and millions of women who rely on these, number one, not to get pregnant, and also for other health issues that could only be addressed by these products,” said Cayetano, who is principal author of both the Reproductive Health Law and FDA Law.

No more contraceptives by 2020
As a consequence of the long-standing TRO, the registration of 43% of contraceptive products have already expired as of March, while 19% more are set to expire by the end of the year, according to Dr. Junice Melgar, a member of the Department of Health’s national implementing committee for the RH Law, who also attended the forum.

“Slowly, I think they are killing women. Last year, the registration of several products expired already. This year, we expect 62 percent to expire. Next year (2018), a full 90% will be expiring. And by 2020, wala na pong contraceptives, nothing,” Dr. Melgar explained.

For his part, Dr. Esmeraldo Ilem, an obstetrician-gynecologist and consultant at the Dr. Fabella Memorial Medical Center, likened the current situation to the period before the RH Law was passed when government health workers were unable to offer family planning commodities to women who want to plan their pregnancy. “The RH Law changed all that, but then TRO came soon right after. Now we are inching towards the unavailability of family planning products in the future,” warned Dr. Ilem.

SC requirement for FDA “has no basis in law”
Cayetano noted that the High Court’s additional requirement for the FDA to hear the opposition of ‘Pro-Life’ groups before certifying any contraceptive product “has no basis in law,” and will only make the registration process more difficult and tedious.

The Taguig City lawmaker added that the Supreme Court had been misled by ‘Pro-Life’ petitioners into requiring the FDA to hold public hearings, since the process is not even required for registering other health products, such as medicines for hypertension, diabetes or even cancer.

“This is a serious women’s issue that the public needs to understand. Gusto ng Supreme Court, bawat contraceptive brand magkakaroon ng public hearing. But there is nothing in the law that says that, and so the High Court, with all due respect, cannot impose that.”

“That does not happen with other medications, with other health products, in the Philippines and all over the world. So why are contraceptives being singled out? Because the petitioners made it appear that this is a required process (in the FDA) when it is not,” she continued.

“What’s very sad is that the petitioners and those who oppose Reproductive Health always say they are ‘Pro-Life,’ but by making contraceptives unavailable to women, you are not (pro-life) because these contraceptives actually help women have planned pregnancies, and thus help them avoid dire situations where they end up having an abortion. Taking contraceptives also keeps many women healthy, because it addresses particular health conditions that they have,” she added.

Women directly affected by the TRO speak out
The media forum was also attended by women who have been using pills for their personal medical condition.

Ina Cosio, a freelance researcher and writer, was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) in 2011 and had been using two brands of contraceptives to manage her hormonal imbalance.

“In my case, it’s very difficult because I am still single. Unlike other women (who use contraceptives not to get pregnant), I have to sort of regulate my PCOS so that I can regulate my period and eventually (be capable to) give birth. And so the TRO will definitely affect me,” Cosio shared.

Alex Garcia, a 25-year-old marketing specialist, was similarly diagnosed with PCOS five years ago. “My period wouldn’t come, like I wouldn’t have my period for five months, and then when I would have my period, I would have it three months straight. Imagine that,” she recalled, while adding that her highly irregular menstrual cycle was compounded by severe pimples and acne.

“In 2012, I started taking pills (upon the recommendation of my doctor). And so far right now, I would have my period regularly. So imagine if I don’t have the pill anymore if all the supplies run out? I would go back to the cycle of having and then not having a period for a very long time, and also the pimples that gave me very low self-esteem. It is so difficult.”

Rosalie Codera, 41, a mother from Baseco Compund in Manila has seven children and is currently taking pills to limit her pregnancy.

“Sinabihan ako ng doktor na maghinto muna kong manganak kasi manipis na raw yung matris ko. Ngayon ang tine-take ko pong family planning ay yung pills, kasi natatakot din ako na mag-anak nang mag-anak dahil kulang sa budget. Paano ko papakainin mga anak ko? At saka yung yung (sahod) ng asawa ko hindi po minimum. Ngayon nagpi-pills po ako. Pag nawala pa po yung pills, malaking kawalan po yan sa amin.”#

In conclusion, Cayetano summarized the situation of the women: “So I’d like to synthesize what our different resource persons have just stated. We have women here who have different circumstances in their lives, but are all dependent on these reproductive health products which would soon become unavailable in the market. Their lives are directly and personally affected by this TRO.” #

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