AMID congressional debates on the Reproductive Health (RH) bill—the administration-backed measure seeking massive state funding for contraceptives—Thomasian women doctors went out of their way to inform the public of the ill effects of artificial methods of birth control.

In Harapan, the RH bill debate aired over ABS-CBN last May 8, Faculty of Medicine and Surgery professors Dr. Josephine Lumitao and Dr. Angelita Aguirre stood up against the controversial bill.

Lumitao, a bioethics and embryology professor, explained why RH bill opponents keep on harping that life begins at fertilization—chemicals pills, for instance, not only prevent ovulation or a woman’s production of egg cells, they can flush out a fertilized egg in case the contraceptive pill fails.

“Once the fertilized egg, or zygote, has been formed, it starts to divide,” she said. “This division is purposeful, coordinated, and [the zygote] will be unable to implant if it weren’t alive because implantation—which other groups claim to be the beginning of life—is a complex process.”

RH bill supporters often argue that the matter of “when life begins” is irrelevant since the pill prevents ovulation, but what they don’t say is that there can be “breakthrough ovulation” since pills are not 100% effective. In that case, the chemical pill has already caused the lining of the uterus to be hostile toward a fertilized egg. This is why pills are considered abortifacients, RH bill critics say.

Moreover, the RH bill promises to provide access to a “full range” of contraceptives, which could include emergency contraceptives or the “morning-after pill” that specifically prevents implantation.

Meanwhile, Aguirre, also a bioethics professor, pointed out that the bill does not uphold family values, and does not say that a person should marry first before engaging in the sexual act.

The bill guarantees access to contraceptives for all Filipinos, married or not — a provision which critics say undermines the constitutional policy recognizing “the sanctity of family life.”

“Ang itinuturo po ay hindi values education. Nakita po namin ang modules, binasa po namin ito. Wala pong sinasabi doon na mag-asawa ka muna bago ka mag-relasyon. Kung hindi ka na makapagpigil, basta hindi ka magbuntis at hindi ka magkasakit, puwede,” Aguirre said.

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Artificial contraceptives are harmful, Lumitao told the Varsitarian.

She said that the use of contraceptives disrupts the natural process of a woman’s reproductive system and can have side effects such as nausea, depression, weight gain, decreased libido, breast tenderness, headaches, and breakthrough bleeding.

“It will not promote health among Filipinos because contraceptive agents are not medicines and, in fact, they may even cause adverse effects like cancer, blood clots, hypertension, and stroke,” she said in a letter sent to the Varsitarian.

Moreover, the use of contraceptives can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. “Women who use contraceptives that contain estrogen have an increased chance of developing blood clots,” she said. “This is especially prevalent in women who use high-dose contraceptives, such as the patch.”

Reproductive health

The RH bill defines reproductive health as the state of “physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes.”

However, according to Lumitao, reproductive health is a level of functional and metabolic efficiency of a person or woman, as far as the process of child bearing and reproduction is concerned.

“It is not limited to absence of pain, injury, or illness, but manifested by giving birth to healthy babies with adequate spacing of children for optimum well-being of the mother and the baby,” she said. “It also includes regular examination and screening procedures to detect or prevent malignant conditions affecting organs of the reproductive tract.”

The RH bill also states that the elements of reproductive health care include “prevention and management of reproductive tract infections (RTIs), HIV and AIDS, and other sexually transmittable infections (STIs).”

However, condoms have a high failure rate in preventing the transmission of STIs, and pills won’t protect women from such diseases at all.

“The pores in the ordinary condoms are bigger than the AIDS virus, so clearly even with the use of condoms, AIDS transmission is likely,” Lumitao said.

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‘Essential medicines’

Despite the harmful effects of contraceptives, the bill wants them declared “essential medicines” that can be procured by the Department of Health.

But Lumitao argued: “Fertility in women is an expression of normal reproductive function and not a disease which needs treatment.”

A provision in the bill says “products and supplies for modern family planning methods shall be part of the National Drug Formulary and the same shall be included in the regular purchase of essential medicines and supplies of all national and local hospitals and other government health units.”

Lumitao said recognizing birth control agents as essential medicines amounts to “misuse of government funds.”

“They are not medicines but agents which can cause side effects or diseases in women,” she said. “The budget earmarked for RH bill is better used for livelihood strategies or health care measures like better pre-natal and post-natal care, iron supplementation to pregnant women, and nutritional support.”

Lumitao said that while contraceptives are “popular,” they are not essential. Contraceptives are easy to use and have a “high effectivity rate” precisely because they are “both contraceptives and potentially abortifacients.”

Contrary to popular belief, the Church allows family planning, but with the use of natural methods which can be highly effective if done correctly. These include the Billings ovulation method, the symptom-thermal method, and the basal body temperature method.

Withdrawal, or coitus interruptus is not endorsed, while the rhythm method, while considered a natural method, can be ineffective.

“Natural family planning methods … need the cooperation of husband and wife and initially are labor-intensive, as [they require] careful monitoring or observation of woman’s cycles. But [they have] no side effects and they [increase] communication and cooperation between the couple. If followed vigilantly, [natural family planning] boasts of a 95 percent effectivity rate,” Lumitao said.

Bill on reproductive health

Despite loopholes in the RH bill, Health Service director Dr. Ma. Salve Olalia said in an interview that there should be a law that puts emphasis on maternal health.

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“The lawmakers should focus [on making laws] that will improve the public health care delivery system, including maternal and child health,” she said.

Olalia added that the Department of Health has “good programs” concerning maternal and child health, and that lawmakers should make sure these programs are carried out.

Lumitao said health strategies to uphold women’s health — like free pre-natal check-ups and iron supplementation, nutritional support for pregnant women, counseling on safe family planning methods, and free screening to detect malignancies — will be more cost-effective than the RH bill.

Youth at risk

Olalia said widespread access to contraceptives could do more harm than good.

The intention purportedly is to reduce so-called “unwanted pregnancies,” but anti-RH campaigners have pointed to the example of societies that have acquired the “contraceptive mentality,” in which people take riskier sexual behaviors.

“The availability of condoms will only expose our youth to more dangers because they will engage in risky behavior, one of which is engaging in pre-marital sex,” Olalia said.

With the known side effects and complications of oral contraceptives, “the youth are at risk of developing life-threatening diseases.”

Sex education starting at Grade 5, which is mandated under the bill, may also introduce values alien to Filipino society.

“The provision of the RH bill to have early sex education in schools is, in reality, early exposure to sex without the proper values formation and without any emphasis for respect for the human body and the God-given procreative capability of man,” Olalia said.

Olalia added that she, together with other critics of the bill, are “terrified” that Filipino family ideals and values will be “destroyed and replaced by utilitarian, selfish, and unchristian beliefs.”

“The Filipino youth, including Thomasian students, will face a world devoid of the values that we, Filipinos, have long treasured and are known for— the high regard for the family and the respect for life,” she said. Rafael L. Antonio and Charmaine M. Parado

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