Fr. Melvin Castro, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), argues that the RH bill is not needed since maternal deaths have declined significantly, and the government only needs to improve existing reproductive health services for women. For the past few weeks, anti-RH campaigners were also arguing that the RH bill is not needed since it duplicates existing laws, policies and programs of government.
Now let me see if I can make sense of the anti-RH side’s “not needed” arguments:
- the RH bill duplicates existing laws, policies and programs (LPPs)
- which succeeded in reducing maternal mortality
- therefore the government should improve existing LPPs
- except that the government should not pass the RH bill
- not because of religious objections
- but because… (back to #1).
Maybe the anti-RH folks enjoy creating twisted mind-benders. Or they’re just patching together anything, coherence and honesty be damned, to obscure the religious nature of their objections.
Based on official government statistics, an estimated 6.5 to 11 maternal deaths occurred per day in 2010. The anti-RH group Filipinos for Life produced a lower estimate by the simple trick of using registered births in its calculation, ignoring the warning from its source, the National Statistics Office, that the published number is lower than actual due to late or non-registration.
Using a new statistical model, the World Health Organization (WHO) did come up with a lower estimate of maternal mortality for the country in 2008: 2,100 at the middle of the range, some 5.8 maternal deaths per day. Because of the inherent difficulties in recording maternal deaths, which the WHO report extensively discusses, varying methods which come up with varying but overlapping estimates is not unusual.*
But on the crucial part of the WHO report, on what has to be done, the anti-RH groups are characteristically silent. Perhaps because at the end of the estimation exercise, the WHO advocated for enhanced commitment to RH measures, almost all of which are in the RH bill. Here’s part of what the WHO said:
The international community has been increasingly concerned about the fairly slow progress in improving maternal health. During 2010, the United Nations Secretary-General launched the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, which seeks to catalyse action for renewed and enhanced commitments by all partners for adequate financing and policy to improve women’s and children’s health. The commitments would support the following elements to accelerate progress towards MDG 5:
- Country-led health plans – development partners to support governments to implement country-led plans to improve access to reproductive health services.
- A comprehensive, integrated package of essential interventions and services – women and children should have access to a package of integrated services including family planning, antenatal care, skilled care at birth, emergency obstetric and newborn care, safe abortion services (where abortion is not prohibited by law) and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV services.
We have an ongoing tragedy whether 5 or 11 maternal deaths occur per day. Half of all pregnancies are unintended, which means family planning—using artificial or natural methods—can potentially prevent up to half of these deaths. To overcome the routineness of maternal deaths which anti-RH groups exploit, think of the thousands of deaths as two to four shiploads sinking every year. Half of the women do not even want to be passengers at all. And of the willing passengers, more than half can be saved with measures in the RH bill.
Image used: Enrico Rastelli, available at Wikimedia Commons