Several weeks ago, I was talking with Marat Safran Foer when the conversation somehow managed to snare us into a trap. You know that sort which involves God and a socially relevant topic? Yes, that sort of trap. The RH Bill trap, specifically.
I know I could never have won that row because I have not read the full text of the bill and Marat knew that I was merely parroting “party-line” arguments the whole time. It embarrasses me now the way poor Krip Yuson must have felt when he admitted to petty plagiarism.
Luckily, I am not Krip Yuson and I can make up for my sheer lack of originality. I read the full text of the final consolidated House Bill 4244. Then I gave myself time to think about it and realized that the bill is truly more than just contraceptives and the word of… God.
If ever I find myself again in the middle of a blood-boiling debate about why I support the passing of the RH Bill, I think I would be ready to do better. Here’s why:
The RH Bill addresses the lack of adequate public reproductive health services. According to a 2008 survey, less than half of births in the Philippines occur in health facilities. The same survey also reveals that 36 percent of births are assisted by a traditional attendant or ‘hilot.’ (I am not terribly good at Math, but I do know 36 percent means around “1 out of 3.”)
Under the RH bill, the Department of Health will assist local government units (LGUs) in employing an adequate number of midwives to achieve a minimum ratio of at least one skilled attendant for every 150 deliveries per year (Section 5). Also, LGUs shall establish or upgrade hospitals with adequate and skilled personnel, equipment, and supplies for emergency obstetric care (Section 6).
Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that complications occur in 15 percent of pregnancies, while 11 women die of childbirth every day. The availability of more skilled medical professionals and wider public access to medical facilities and services will surely be a step toward addressing this reality.
The RH Bill upholds the sanctity of life. Pardon the religious cliché, but according to the 2008 National Demographic and Health (NDH) Survey, those who do not use contraceptives make up 68 percent of unintended pregnancies. By providing access to family planning methods, the RH Bill hopes to ultimately curb the number of abortions.
Also, family planning methods will help parents to decide the right time for them to have another child. According to the WHO, at least two years should pass between births to reduce the risk of infant deaths.
The RH Bill will educate and prepare the youth. Section 16 of the bill requires that appropriate reproductive health and sex education be integrated in all relevant subjects from Grade Five to Fourth Year High School.
I remember that when I was in Grade Five my science teacher did a little lesson on teenage pregnancies. I am sure now that it was not in the prescribed lesson plan, but she must have done the right thing, because none of my classmates then got knocked up before college. I might be grossly mistaken but an incident like that would not have escaped Facebook. You know what I mean.
The RH Bill promotes gender and social equity. According to the 2006 Family Planning Survey, 2.6 million Filipino women would like to plan their families but they lack in information and access to do so. The same survey also shows that 44 percent of births among the poor are unwanted.
In the 2006 Family Income and Expenditure Survey, the poorest families spend only 1.7 percent of the household income on medical care, while the richest families spend 4.0 percent.
Under the RH Bill, poorer couples will have a better opportunity and means to decide how many children they want and can raise. Women would also have more opportunities to advance their education and more time for productive work, since they would be able to plan when they will have children.
Finally, the RH Bill reinforces the right to know and the right to choose. Given adequate and accurate information, we can make sensible decisions that are best for us. By providing access to information and a set of viable options, the RH Bill would let us freely exercise this capacity to know the alternatives and choose wisely and—for devout Catholics—with a clear conscience.
That seems fair enough. And that definitely does not sound bad at all either, does it?