Junk the Anti-Choice Bills Restricting Access to Contraceptives and Increasing the Revised Penal Code Penalties on Abortion

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Press release by Clara Rita Padilla

May 28, 2011 – The senate bills of Enrile, Recto, and Revilla protecting the life of the so-called unborn will be heard on Monday, May 30, 2011, while the anti-choice bill of Amado Bagatsing (HB 3667) was heard last week in a Technical Working Group (TWG) hearing with Representatives Roilo Golez, Pablo Garcia, and Rufus Rodriguez supporting the anti-choice bills.[1] The House Committee on Revision of Laws Chair is reportedly pushing to do away with the TWG hearings despite having three bills restricting access to contraceptives to further delay the passage of the RH bill into laws.

“These bills effectively equate contraception with ab ortion and restrict access to contraceptives,” said Attorney Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona expressed his bias against the reproductive health care (RH) bill by taunting in a newspaper interview that the constitutionality of the passage of the said law would be adjudicated by the Supreme Court.

Legislators, justices, and other government officials who are pushing for the protection of the unborn have no business to sit in government. As government officials they should uphold our constitution which guarantees the separation of church and state and non-est ab lishment of religion. Legislators who want to pass such protection of the unborn are trying to enact legislation that establish the views of the Catholic Church hierarchy,” said Atty. Clara Rita A. Padilla.

Those who voted for Senators Enrile, Revilla, and Recto and Representatives Amado Bagatsing, P ab lo Garcia, Roilo Golez, and Rufus Rodriguez should learn their lesson and not support these politicians in the next elections. Those who believe in respecting, promoting, and upholding the rights of women should use their power as citizens to vote for people who will uphold the rights of women. Women are the ones who bear the brunt of the delayed passage of the RH law and any restriction on their access to the full range of contraceptive methods. Women are ones who die from childbearing, pregnancy, and unsafe abortion. This prevailing discrimination against women and total disregard for women’s rights by government officials who support these restrictive bills must stop. Those who fight for the human rights of women must stand up and fight for women’s rights. These bills violate human rights standards and they are an affront to the rights of women,” said Atty. Padilla.

In the United Kingdom case of Smeaton v. Secretary of State for Health, the judicial challenge by the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child claiming that emergency contraceptive pills contravened the Offenses against the Person Act of 1861 was dismissed by the High Court. The England and Wales High Court ruled that emergency contraception is not considered ab ortion under the scope of the current medical and legal science. [2] Justice Munby ruled that “[u]p until the attachment stage, the embryo is not attached in any way to the woman herself.”[3] He added, “[c]urrent medical definitions given in medical dictionaries support the view that pregnancy begins once the blastocyst has implanted in the endometrium and more particularly, that miscarriage is the termination of such a post implantation pregnancy.”[4] The court ruled that “the morning-after pill cannot cause a fertilized egg which is implanted to de-implant – that is, it cannot work after the process of implantation is complete.”[5]

The Judicial Section of France’s Conseil d’Etat on 25 April 2001 dismissed complaints against the authorization by the French l’agence du medicament of the marketing of two morning-arter pills, Norlevo and Tetragynon both containing levonorgestrel.[6] In both cases, the Conseil d’Etat held that the product was a hormonal contraceptive and not an ab ortifacient.[7]

At least one United States federal court has held that “[a]bortion, as it is commonly understood, does not include the IUD, the ‘morning-after’ pill [EC pills], or for example, birth control pills.”[8] I
UDs prevent pregnancy. They do not cause miscarriages. Pregnancy begins with the implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterine wall. In medical practice, IUD is not used once a pregnancy is established.

The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines affirm IUD use is safe for women who are at low risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The laws and policies of countries worldwide provide women’s access to IUD. More than 100 million women worldwide use IUDs. Contrary to claims that IUDs are ab ortifacients, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has definitively stated that IUD is not an abortifacient.

Researches have shown that prevention of fertilization is the dominant mode of action of IUDs. The WHO cited that the “antifertility effects” of IUD “take place before the ova reach the uterine cavity.” Evidence show the pre-fertilization action of IUDs by interfering with sperm motility and survival, hindering ascent of sperm to the fallopian tubes (where fertilization occurs), and impeding egg development.

Women have a right to contraceptives. Under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Beijing and ICPD Conference documents, the Philippines is obligated and committed to provide information and access to family planning methods. Denying access to IUD is a blatant violation of the woman’s freedom to decide whether and when to bear children. Such denial risks women’s lives and health.

The Philippine government should not countenance the acts of government officials who seek to restrict access to modern contraceptives. Such restriction of access to modern contraceptives is an imposition of one’s religious morality on the whole Filipino populace. The legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government demand good governance and not such conduct of imposition of religious morality prejudicial to public service. As the government officials, they should ensure women’s access to the full range of contraceptives.

Atty. Padilla said, “The anti-choice legislators have been spreading disinformation by claiming that contraceptives are ab ortifacients. What the anti-choice are propagating is not based on medical science. What government officials should bear in mind is their duty to raise discourse to the level of international human rights standards, realities women face, public health, medical science, and legal reform. Our standard in governance and laws, as decided by the Supreme Court, is secular standards. Our government officials are obligated to maintain public good and uphold human rights.”

The criminal law on ab ortion is an outdated colonial law that violates the rights to health and life of Filipino women. It was a direct translation of the old Spanish Penal Code of 1870s that used to criminalize ab ortion—in the time of the Spanish friars and conquistadores. Without knowing the full consequences of such a harsh and restrictive law, our congress enacted the criminal provision in our Revised Penal Code of 1930. At the time the law was adopted, Filipino women did not even have the right to vote, there was no Universal Declaration of Human Rights and no international human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1976), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1976), CEDAW (1981), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1990). These came much later.

The international human rights standard is to liberalize abortion laws to make it safe and accessible to women and thereby lessen maternal mortality related to unsafe abortion. The Philippines is duty-bound to fulfill its treaty obligations to uphold the right to equality, equal protection of the law, non-discrimination of women, right to health and life under the ICCPR, ICESCR, CEDAW, and CRC. Recognizing that the criminalization of ab ortion does not lessen the number of women inducing ab ortion but only makes it dangerous for women who undergo clandestine and unsafe ab ortion, in 2006, the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee),[9] urged the Philippine government to “consider reviewing the laws relating to ab ortion with a view to removing punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo ab ortion and provide them with access to quality services for the management of complications arising from unsafe ab ortions and to reduce women’s maternal mortality rates in line with the Committee’s general recommendation 24 on women and health and the Beijing Platform for Action.”[10]

In 2008, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)[11] expressed its concern that “abortion is illegal in all circumstances, even when the woman’s life or health is in danger or pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, and that complications from unsafe, clandestine ab ortions are among the principal causes of maternal deaths.” The Committee encouraged the Philippines “to address, as a matter of priority, the problem of maternal deaths as a result of clandestine abortions, and consider reviewing its legislation criminalising ab ortion in all circumstances.”

With the stark realities of not having access to sexuality education, poor and adolescent women and girls not knowing how to properly manage their fertility and where to get the proper information and services, with policy restrictions in place such as the Manila EO 003 denying access to modern contraceptives and discouraging ligation to the poor women who need them, with the prevalence of rape, and the overall impact on reproductive health with more than half of all pregnancies being unintended and statistics ranging from 17% to one-third of these unintended pregnancies ending in ab ortion, 560,000 women who induced ab ortions, 90,000 women hospitalized and 1,000 women who died from complications from unsafe ab ortion in 2008 alone,[12] we simply cannot be scared by the religious right or succumb to conservative discourse. The women who were hospitalized and maltreated by doctors and nurses and the families of the women who died due to complications from unsafe ab ortion, the rape victims who were tortured from the pregnancy resulting from rape have long been waiting for humane laws, policies, and practices. Not providing access to safe and legal ab ortion to women, especially poor women, who want to terminate their unwanted pregnancies is much like sentencing these women to death—since ab out a thousand of them die every year.

“We should prevent unwanted pregnancies through sexuality education and increased access to the full range of contraceptive methods, provide access to skilled birth attendants, provide emergency obstetric care, overturn policies that restrict access to reproductive health information and services, pass a comprehensive RH bill, and implement it to the full extent. At the same time, we should provide access to safe and legal ab ortion either on certain grounds (rape, danger to the health and life of the woman, fetal impairment) or on broader grounds to do away with judicial and medical interpretation,” concluded Atty. Padilla.***

[1] Representatives Garcia and Rodriguez have their own bills restricting access to contraceptives.

[2] See England and Wales High Court ( Administrative Court ), Smeaton v Secretary of State for Health [2002] EWHC 610 (Admin),(18th April, 2002) at 3.

[3] Id. at 20.

[4] Id. at 27.

[5] Id. at 3.

[6] Id. at 52, citing Decision of the Judicial Section of France’s Conseil de’Etat, 25 April 2001.

[7] Id at 52, citing Decision of the Judicial Section of France’s Conseil de’Etat, 25 April 2001.

[8] United States , Margaret S. v. Edwards, 488 F. Supp. 181, 191 ( E.D. La. 1980).

[9] The committee tasked to monitor the implementation of CEDAW by the Philippines as a state party.

[10] 2006 CEDAW Committee Concluding Comments.

[11] The committee tasked to monitor the implementation of CESCR by the Philippines as a state party.

[12] Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), Meeting Women’s Contraceptive Needs in the Philippines, 1 In Brief 2 (2009), http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/2009/04/15/IB_MWCNP.pdf

Contact Person:
Atty Clara Rita “Claire” A. Padilla
Executive Director, EnGendeRights, Inc.
Telefax: (+632) 3762578
Mobile Landline: (+632) 6645696
Email: [email protected]; [email protected]
Website: www.engenderights.org
Blog: http://clararitapadilla.blogspot.com

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