RH Law advocates move amid challenges and gains

FIVE years ago, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 or the RPRH Law in a stunning decision that ended more than 15 years of fighting for its passage and defeating the pressure put up by the Catholic church, its staunchest opposition.

Chi Laigo Vallido, director for programs and advocacy of the Forum for Family Planning and Development (The Forum), one of the advocacy organizations at the forefront of the RH movement, recalled the day the measure was Supreme Court-certified as a law.

“I will never forget the words ‘not unconstitutional’ as then Supreme Court spokesperson Atty. Teodore Te read the decision.”

Like Vallido, Los Angeles based actor-producer Giselle Toengi-Walters was with about 200 other RH advocates outside the SC compound in Baguio City that day. “It’s been five years but I remember with pride how I was part of something greater that I could have imagined.”

The High Court ruled the RPRH Law as lawful after it first stopped its implementation four months as soon as it took effect on March 18, 2013. The Court issued a status quo ante order after Pro-Life Philippines Foundation Inc. and other Catholic Church groups questioned what they claimed was the law’s violation of the constitutional provisions guaranteeing the right to life.

But barely a year since the SC decision, the High Court responded to yet another petition of Catholic groups led by ALFI – Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines resulting in a two-year SC temporary restraining order (TRO) on implants and contraceptives from June 2015 to November 2017. However, pro-RH organizations like The Forum, which works with local community networks in promoting reproductive health and rights, was never stopped on its tracks.

“We need to move forward and implement the law because lives are at risk and because we are seeing slight improvements in our RH situation,” Vallido said.

One proof of this is the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS)’s finding of a significant decline in the fertility of Filipino women to a statistical average of 2.7 children, down from 3.0 in 2013. This decline was associated with an increase in the use of modern family planning methods by over 40% of currently married women, or roughly 2 million women.

But Vallido said there are still many things that need to be done because the other indicators do not look good, such as in 2017 according to Philippine Statistics Authority, there were 1.7 million registered live births or 3 babies born per minute. 

“But far too many babies are also dying. Neonatal deaths based on the 2017 NDHS is 14 per 1,000 live births and 21 for infant mortality. This means that every year, more than 30,000 babies die without reaching their first birthday.”

Teen pregnancies are high. The NDHS said 9% of girls aged 15 to 19 have begun childbearing. Maternal mortality is also still high. Every day, there are 11 women who die from pregnancy and childbirth complications.

Of the estimated 107 million population, the poorest 40% of Filipinos are the ones who have the highest unmet need for family planning, or those who want to practice family planning but are unable to do so due to factors such as lack of knowledge, resources and access to reproductive health services.

Toengi-Walters also shares that the fight is not over yet. “Being on the ground, advocating for the RH Law transformed my views on motherhood as I acknowledge how fortunate I am to be able to choose what is right for my family. A lot of Pinays unfortunately do not have the access to carry out their reproductive rights.”

“Filipinos must start making the RH Law work for them. Improving our health situation would take more than just the RH Law but implementing it well with adequate budget is a step in the right direction,” Vallido said.

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