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Abortifacients and the RH Bill: The Real Relationship

One of the issues delaying the passage of the RH Bill is the question of when life begins, or more importantly, when the protection of life begins. It’s no help that our constitution uses the imprecise term conception, allowing a lot of room for discussion as the pro-life argue that it refers to fertilization while others maintain that it means implantation, and this debate has taken long enough at the expense of the rest of the provisions of the bill which have nothing to do with the fertilized ovum, such as providing for midwives, emergency obstetric care, and maternal and newborn health care in crisis situations.

While the World Health Organization has already answered that “to date, there is no scientific evidence supporting the contention that hormonal contraceptives and IUD prevent implantation of the fertilized ovum,” the pro-life continue to claim otherwise and even assert that since the bill seeks to provide for these contraceptives, the bill is therefore unconstitutional. I have argued in a previous post that they are actually objecting to the pill, not the bill, and this is just a follow up. If we look at two sections from both Edcel Lagman’s House Bill 96 and the final consolidated RH Bill, HB 4244, we will see the important difference that renders the pro-life’s objection moot:

Sec. 4. Definition of Terms Modern Methods of Family Planning – refers to safe, effective and legal methods to prevent pregnancy such as the pill, intra-uterine device (IUD), injectables, condom, ligation, vasectomy, and modern natural family planning methods which include mucus, Billings, ovulation, lactational amenorrhea, basal body temperature, and Standard Days methods. Sec. 4. Definition of Terms Modern Methods of Family Planning refer to safe, effective and legal methods, whether the natural, or the artificial that are registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the DOH, to prevent pregnancy.
Sec. 9. Family Planning Supplies as Essential Medicines Hormonal contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectables and other safe and effective family planning products and supplies shall be part of the National Drug Formulary and the same shall be included in the regular purchase of essential medicines and supplies of all national and local hospitals and other government health units. Sec. 10. Family Planning Supplies as Essential Medicines Products and supplies for modern family planning methods shall be part of the National Drug Formulary and the same shall be included in the regular purchase of essential medicines and supplies of all national and local hospitals and other government health units.

While HB 96 specifically identifies pills, IUDs and injectables as essentials, HB 4244 only uses the general term “modern family planning methods,” which it defines as referring to safe, effective and, most importantly, legal methods. The significance of this is that the protracted debates on the question of when the protection of life begins as well as the alleged abortifacient effects of certain contraceptives can be detached from the debate on the bill itself. If specific contraceptives are proven to be abortifacient and banned by the FDA, they obviously won’t be purchased and distributed by the government even with the passage of the RH Bill since only legal methods shall be provided for.

Fr. Joaquin Bernas, one of the members of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, says:

“There are those who argue that contraception kills life. That is true if the contraceptive means used have the effect of expelling a fertilized ovum. Those who argue that contraceptives currently in the market kill life must be able to point to the precise contraceptive devises that are abortive. A sweeping generalization is irresponsible.”

While a sweeping generalization is already irresponsible, dragging the RH Bill into the abortifacients issue and saying that it promotes abortion is downright insane, especially with the final consolidated version. That issue is separate from the RH Bill and should be discussed in another venue. I hope people will see that. Because that means one less objection, and handling objections in congress takes time, and meanwhile mothers are dying for lack of maternal care for which the RH Bill seeks to provide.

Lastly, the bill explicitly recognizes that abortion is illegal and punishable by law. What many people may not know is that about 500,000 induced abortions are happening in the Philippines each year. By providing education and information on reproductive health and access to modern family planning methods, the RH Bill aims to significantly reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and the resulting illegal abortions. So while the RH Bill will not promote the use of abortifacient drugs and devices,  it also actually seeks to prevent the need to even resort to abortion.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.