Tag Archive | "maternal mortality"

Senator Enrile, Pregnancy is Not a Disease

The anti RH Senator Juan Ponce Enrile recently came out to defend Senator Tito Sotto from the allegations of plagiarism. In his defense of Sotto, Enrile questions the use of contraception for preventing pregnancy, putting forward the question: “Is pregnancy a disease that needs to be cured?”

“What disease does an IUD or a condom cure or prevent? I challenge the proponents to explain that to the public. Is not the purpose of these methods to reduce the population of the country,” Enrile asked. “In the case of a contraceptive pill, is pregnancy a disease that needs to be cured? Why do we need to prevent it?”

While Enrile prefaces his question with the case of birth control pills I think its fair to extend his question to other forms of birth control as well. Why should some women need to prevent pregnancy if its not a disease?

Perhaps he would find the answer to this question easily if he just asked his fellow anti RH legislator in congress, Zambales Representative Mitos Magsaysay.

No Senator Enrile, pregnancy is not a disease but pregnancy always carries a risk to women’s lives. With medical advancements that risk has been mitigated but for some the risk still runs too high. For some mothers, becoming pregnant means risking leaving their families motherless. For some women, contraception is what they need to have a healthy sexual relationship with their husband while ensuring their own lives aren’t put in jeopardy by a pregnancy.

Beyond contraception, the RH bill has other measures to mitigate the risk of childbirth. It provides for more midwives to attend to births. The RH bill would give sex education and access to reproductive health services to the poor. If it survives the period of ammendments, the RH bill could provide mobile hospitals that can attend to the maternal needs of women further away from hospitals. All these measures can help lower the risk of childbirth.

Evidence also matters in legislation.

Enrile, you asked if pregnancy is a disease. No it isn’t. Yet pregnancy carries with it risks to the life of the mother. Sometimes a significant risk, as attested to by Mitos Magsaysay’s own ligation. We need to do better by the mothers of the Philippines. Look at how our maternal mortality statistics compares to countries around us in Asia. We’re doing very poorly in lowering our maternal mortality rate and according to the latest statistics from the Department of Health, our maternal mortality rate is on the rise again.

I find it hard to believe Senator Enrile isn’t aware of the risks to maternal health. Has he been ignoring the debates all this time? Has Senator Pia Cayetano’s level headed presentation of facts on the RH bill fallen on his deaf ears while he raptly pays attention to Senator Sotto’s crying and presentation of old data from the 70s? To Sotto’s presentation of questionable sources? And I find it astounding that Enrile can question some women’s need to prevent pregnancy while someone from the anti RH camp has done that very thing.

Image captured from ANC’s coverage of Enrile’s opening statements during the Chief Justice trial

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Anti-RH Spin to Make Your Head Spin

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:

  1. the RH bill duplicates existing laws, policies and programs (LPPs)
  2. which succeeded in reducing maternal mortality
  3. therefore the government should improve existing LPPs
  4. except that the government should not pass the RH bill
  5. not because of religious objections
  6. 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.


* WHO, using three different methods, estimated the maternal mortality ratio (maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births) for the Philippines at 120–280 in 2000, 60–700 in 2005 and 61–140 in 2008.

Image used: Enrico Rastelli, available at Wikimedia Commons

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