THE Reproductive Health Law of 2012 was landmark legislation that guaranteed universal access to sex education, maternal care, contraception and fertility control.
The law would have given women control over their own bodies—and the freedom to decide whether to have children and when to have them. The law would have enabled couples to better plan their families, so that they would not have more children than they could afford. On a national level, the RH Law could have raised per capita income by keeping population growth in check to rates more appropriate to our limited resources.
Today, almost five years after the law was enacted, that promise remains unfulfilled, largely because the Supreme Court has chosen to stand in its way.
In 2015, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order preventing the Department of Health from procuring, selling and distributing the contraceptive implant, Implanon, in response to a petition filed by anti-abortion groups that claimed it caused abortions. Specifically, it stopped the Food and Drug Administration from “granting any and all pending applications for reproductive products and supplies, including contraceptive drugs and devices.”
When the Health department appealed to have the order lifted, the Supreme Court rejected the motion and in August 2016 effectively expanded its effect by putting the renewal of licenses on hold for other contraceptives.
At a forum this month, the director of the DoH Family Health Office, Junice Melgar, said the Court’s TRO was “killing women”—an apparent reference to the country’s high maternal mortality rate of 114 per 100,000 deliveries in 2015.
Last year, Melgar said, the registration of several products had already expired. This year, some 62 percent will expire and in 2018, 90 percent will expire. By 2020, there will be no contraceptives left, she said.
Viewed through the lens of the country’s high maternal mortality rate, the scarcity of contraceptives poses a real danger to millions of women, who by law should be able to easily and legally avoid unwanted pregnancies.
The question is, why is the Supreme Court standing in their way?
In a speech in January, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said the Court was looking at ways to ensure fair and speedy resolution of legal gridlocks, but did not refer specifically to the two-year-old TRO on contraceptive drugs and devices.
With due respect to the Chief Justice, isn’t two years enough time to decide an issue? How can an indefinite ban that has already lasted two years be considered “temporary?”