RH advocates want contraceptives TRO lifted, say legal limbo baseless

Reproductive health advocates on Thursday turned to President Rodrigo Duterte to help “push” the Supreme Court to make a decision on the temporary restraining order that has hindered the full and effective implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law.

“We call on the government to do whatever can be done to push the Supreme Court,” Amina Evangelista Swanepoel, executive director of Palawan-based reproductive health group Roots of Health, said during a media forum on family planning.

She continued, “I do understand the separation of powers, but we’re not asking him [Duterte] to influence the Supreme Court. We’re asking him to at least call for the Supreme Court to make a decision because this legal limbo—there’s no basis for it. It should not continue.”

Despite the executive order on “the strict implementation” by all concerned government units of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Act, the TRO issued in 2015 has created a looming shortage on female contraceptives as it restricts the Department of Health from distributing and procuring certain types of contraceptives.

It has also prevented the Food and Drug Administration from issuing certificate of product registrations (CPRs).

RH missions

Roots of Health works in small communities around the Philippines and Swanepoel has seen the benefits of making a range of contraceptives available to women and she has had disappointing encounters as well.

“We found that in some municipalities—like when we go on our mission there—they refuse to help us. Of course, because of the TRO, we don’t ask them to participate in any way…but what we ask that before we come to an area that they gather all the women who are interested in family planning in one area so para at least ‘pag dating naming d’on, we can go straight into providing the education and giving services to the women who want it,” Swanepoel said.

Some municipalities, she said, are “so scared of the TRO”  and say that they might be fined or might go to jail “if something happens.”

“There’s nothing in the language or nothing in the experience of TROs that would suggest that, but nevertheless it’s being used as this excuse. It’s just another hurdle that we have to jump over,” she lamented.

Swanepoel recalled, in 2015, a 17-year-old in a small town who was the very first in line to ask about contraceptives. She was already a mother of three and wanted to avail of implants. But upon taking the required pregnancy test before getting the implants, they learned that she was already pregnant with her fourth child.

Swanepoel said that all they could do for her was give her prenatal vitamins.

The second person they met during that medical mission was a 30-year-old woman, who already had 11 children. Swanepoel said that because of the lack of access to contraceptives, this could be the 17-year-old’s future—another 30-year-old mother with 11 kids.

“I really call on the SC to stop trampling on women’s rights. We have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we have the Magna Carta on Women, we have the RH Law—these all confer on Filipinas the right to control their bodies and their health,” Swanepoel asserted.

“This issue is not just about human rights… everything is interconnected. This is also about health, this about development, this is about poverty alleviation—we cannot have any of those things when women cannot control their bodies,” she added. “I call on the Supreme Court to stop playing political games with women’s health and to lift the TRO.”

Swanepoel said that the Supreme Court has put the onus on the FDA and the DOH and she along with other advocates are hoping that the DOH and the FDA can respond aggressively.

The DOH and the Office of the President have filed an urgent motion to lift the TRO in March.

During the same forum, DOH spokesperson Enrique Tayag said that he is confident that the SC will make a wise, favorable decision to lift the TRO and respect women’s rights.