Most aspirants pro-family planning, anti-abortion

By Lilita Balane, Newsbreak

Posted at Oct 21 2009 12:42 AM | Updated as of Oct 22 2009 01:19 AM

But none seems to consider maternal health as priority

MANILA - Five presidential aspirants on Tuesday declared their position on highly sensitive issues such as birth control and abortion—with most of them favoring state funding for the former and unconditional opposition to the latter—but they hardly impressed reproductive health specialists.

Dr. Junice Melgar, executive director of women’s health organization Likhaan, said she was expecting to hear how the so-called presidentiables would address deaths in women if they get elected in 2010.

However, she said, it seems that maternal health is not a priority on the agenda of former President Joseph Estrada, Senators Francis Escudero and Richard Gordon, environmentalist Nicolas “Nick” Perlas, and Olongapo City Councilor Carlos delos Reyes.

“It was very frustrating. I expected a presidential debate where presidential candidates will really be clear in their position on maternal health, and will see it as a national issue that is linked to poverty and other issues impeding the country’s progress,” Melgar said at the end of the forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines and the United Nations Development Program.

The forum was organized to know the position and platform of presidential aspirants to alleviate poverty, provide access to primary education, and improve maternal health.

These three are among the Millennium Development Goals that the Philippines has committed to obtain by 2015. With only 6 years left to 2015, the MDG report for 2009 showed that the Philippines would “least likely to achieve” its goal to reduce the high number of maternal deaths.

It’s a right

A 2008 study of the international reproductive health research group Guttmacher Institute showed that 11 mothers die every day in the Philippines.

Reproductive health advocates claimed that pregnancy-related deaths could be prevented if pregnant women, especially those who are from the poorest families and living in the rural areas, have easy access to family planning services, pre-natal check-ups, emergency obstetric care, and skilled birth attendants.

Melgar said many of the unintended pregnancies lead to abortion, thus placing women’s lives at risk. Studies show that 54% of the pregnancies in the Philippines are unplanned.

With the problem already presented to the presidentiables, Melgar said she was expecting that they would provide specific health reforms, particularly on reproductive health.

However, she said, the five presidential aspirants ranked poverty as top issue and, under that, maternal health. “It seems that they don’t understand that maternal health is a right,” she said.

Other than cutting down the high number of pregnancy-related deaths, the MDG also requires the Philippines to give access to universal reproductive health services, including natural and artificial family planning methods. Melgar said that the long pending reproductive health bill in Congress adopted this by creating programs that would promote reproductive health through education and allot fund for contraceptives.

Support for RH bill

Of the 5 guests, only Estrada is fully supportive of the RH bill, and only De los Reyes is completely against it. The three others—Escudero, Gordon, and Perlas—have some reservations about certain provisions of the measure.

Perlas, for his part, believes that the RH bill needs further amendments. He said that opposing parties of the RH bill have different definitions of terms used in the bill. While the Catholic Church insists that the bill promotes abortion, lawmakers who support it claimed that the bill clearly considers abortion a crime.

Common to all the presidentiables was their stand against abortion, except for Escudero, who said that he would allow it only to save a mother’s life.

All the aspirants, except for De los Reyes, think that the government should spend for contraceptives.

De los Reyes said: “I do not agree that the government should spend on contraceptives, nor for the government to declare contraceptives as essential medicine.”

Safe contraceptives

However, they want that all contraceptives should be guaranteed safe by studies.

“If they (people) cannot afford these options (natural and artificial family planning methods), government should provide them,” Escudero said.

Gordon said that the government should ensure that all contraceptives, in the market and in clinics, are known to be safe so that they will not cause health problems in the future.

Meanwhile, the 4 presidentiables (Estrada, Escudero, Gordon, Perlas) support the teaching of sex education in schools, preferably to high school students. Gordon said that it is appropriate to teach it students who are entering puberty.

The RH bill would require students from Grade 5 to Fourth Year high school to take a mandatory age-appropriate reproductive health education. (Newsbreak)