Denials and delay

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Friday, April 11, 2014


JUST in time when the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality (YAFS) study was released, indicating that the number of teenage pregnancies doubled in the Philippines in the last decade, the Supreme Court also declared the Reproductive Health law as constitutional.

The law, albeit a water-down version of the content proposed by progressive women’s group, makes reproductive health education mandatory in schools and requires local governments to have emergency obstetric care and maternal death reviews. This is necessary considering the that the lifetime risk of maternal death in the country is one in every 140, roughly translated as 11 mothers dying each day because of hypertensive disorder, severe hemorrhage and other labor related problem.

The law was signed on December 2012 but its implementation was suspended by the Supreme Court after church groups have filed petitions arguing it was unconstitutional.

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It struck down several provisions, including Section 7 (b) on providing access to family planning and reproductive health services to ‘minors who have been pregnant or had a miscarriage without a parental consent.‘ It also declared unconstitutional the provisions penalizing any public or private health care service provider who refuses to perform legal and medically-safe reproductive health procedures on a person of legal age whose spouse did not consent to the procedure.

In what could only indicate a backtrack on the gains of women’s right to decide on her own body, the Supreme Court made it legal to require women to secure the consent of their husbands in order to undergo procedures like ligation.

Also, local chief executives and heads of public hospitals can lawfully hinder the full implementation of a reproductive health program without any liability. This means that LGU officials who opt to promote only ‘natural family planning’ can do so unencumbered.

The YAFS study shows that around 14 per cent of girls aged 15-19 are either pregnant for the first time or are already mothers. It also shows that one in three youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are having sexual intercourse before marriage, compare to 23 per cent a decade ago.

Despite this, reproductive health services for adolescents and youth are nil, with health service providers usually unable and oftentimes hesitant to respond to their health needs. Hindering access to family planning and reproductive health services to adolescents should be the last thing in mind.

The RH bill is a step towards the fulfillment of the right to universal access to a continuum of quality care and comprehensive reproductive health services, including supplies and information through all levels of health care and public provisions. This cannot be done by skipping off an important segment of the population. While adults continue to grapple with the idea that providing adolescents and youth with information on reproductive health will encourage risky sexual behavior, teenage pregnancy is rising.

We can respond better other than denying the right of adolescents and youth to reproductive health services. Email comments to roledan@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on April 12, 2014.

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