Long-Term: A Look into the Reproductive Health Bill and the Family

Last night, there was a debate on the Reproductive Health Bill and the issue is now hotter than ever (hotter than a normal summery day in the Philippines!). Two months ago, I was invited by my friend Paula to write an article on the RH Bill for the series that she has in her blog regarding the Bill. With the issue gaining ground again, I thought it would be nice to repost my article here.


Writing this article has been quite a journey for me. To put in context, let me tell you a not-so-secret fact about me: I vocally supported the RH Bill, even rallied and campaigned for it, during my college days. Yet here I am to convince you to rethink your position if you support the Bill or encourage you to stand firm if you do not support it. A number of you might ask, “why the change of heart?” The same question has been in my mind for the past months ever since the Bill has gained heat again in the public eye and the answer has been elusive for some time until I researched for this article and the proverbial light bulb on top of my head lit up.

My initial support rested on the Bill’s health aspects which seek to lower maternal and infant mortality rates – ‘treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers and other gynecological conditions and disorders’, ‘maternal, infant and child health and nutrition, including breastfeeding’, the deployment of skilled midwives to assist in live deliveries, and newborn health care. As I reflected on my research materials, it dawned on me what I missed to see on the onset– the bigger picture, the long-term impact. This eureka moment is particularly important for me as I reaffirm to myself that this contains values that I wish to impart to my adolescent sister, to share with my future partner and to teach to my future children.

So what is the big picture? A friend of mine captured it succinctly; allow me to quote him, “Two generations from now, there can be a shift in values [if the Bill is passed and particularly, with its promotion of contraceptives].”  In the encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI cautions against the ill effects of a contraceptive mentality on society. He mentions a “general lowering of moral standards” due to sex without consequences; the danger of losing respect for women and reducing women “to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of own desires” and a false sense of autonomy and dominion over one’s own body[1].

Today’s generation of teenagers is largely affected by distorted values and truths particularly about premarital sex. 46% of grades 9-12 students in the US have had sexual intercourse.[2] Locally, 23% of Filipino youth, ages 15 to 27 years old, admitted to engaging in premarital sexual activity[3] while 35% admitted to having more than one premarital sexual partner[4]. When asked about the circumstances of their first premarital sexual encounter, 42% said they wanted it to happen at that time, 32% did not plan it but it happened anyways, 23% did not want for it to happen but went along with it and 2% said it happened against their will.

Clearly, these numbers are cause for alarm. More and more teens are deciding to forego waiting for marriage before engaging in sex. The good news is, there’s something that can be done. Recent figures show that there is a very significant role that parents can play in influencing their teenagers’ decision whether to stay virgin or engage in premarital sexual activity. In the 2010 national survey for the national campaign to prevent teen pregnancy, eight in 10 teens said that “it would be much easier for teens to delay sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents[5]”. In fact, some literature mentions about how “communication with parents protects against early sexual initiation and against risky behaviors”[6]. Filipino teenagers report relatively few conversations with their parents about sexuality and its different aspects but interestingly, respondents expressed that they value their parents’ opinion more than their friends’.

It is sad that there are not too many open dialogues between parent and child in Filipino households. It is even sadder that the opportunity for this to take place and take effect is threatened by the RH Bill, which weakens and undermines parental authority and right over the upbringing of their children by effectively prescribing children and adolescents the right to “have a satisfying and safe sex life” and “to decide if, when, and how often to reproduce”. Nowhere in the Bill also is there a push to promote dialogues between parents and their children on sexuality which this author believes is an uncharacteristic exclusion of the traditional Filipino familial environment. By undermining the participation of parents, there is almost no need for recourse for parental guidance. Is this the culture that we want where we no longer value what our parents have to say?

Additionally, I think it is important for policy makers to consider a reproductive health education taught side-by-side with the appropriate values putting the sexual act in the context of marriage and authentic love and that will act only as a supplement to the parents’ duty to discuss this intimate topic with their children. A high percentage of Filipino high school students (within 83% to 95%) expressed their interest to learn about managing feelings and emotions and what “falling in love” means more than learning about the biological aspects of sexuality[7]. Their desire to learn more about the emotional aspects of relationships and sexuality further highlights the significance of strong parent-child communication as well as the need for reproductive health education to go beyond being value-neutral.

Further exacerbating the problem of early exposure to sexual activity is access to contraception – something firmly espoused in the Bill. Arguably, increased access to contraception “does not decrease long run pregnancy rates[8]” and can promote sexual activity instead by releasing users from sexual inhibitions and misleading them to believe that they have dominion over their own bodies. Combined with the value-neutral sex education that the Bill proposes, the contraceptive mentality spells disastrous consequences for our teenagers and their view on love, sexuality and family. Since contraceptive use emboldens its users, it can actually increase the number of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, which can subsequently end up in abortion. In a Swedish study, it has been found that teen abortion rates rose to 22.5 per thousand from 17 thousand between 1995 and 2001 even with the provision of free abortions, free contraceptive counseling, low cost condoms and oral contraceptives, and over-the-counter emergency contraception[9].

What starts off as willingness to compromise one’s sexuality in exchange for ‘seemingly authentic’ love can eventually escalate into the willingness to compromise marriage in order to ‘test-drive’ a partner ‘just to see if it works out’. In the United States, the percentage of children being born to married couples declined rapidly by 34% in a 43-year period[10]. Locally, 17% of Filipino youth agree that it is alright for unmarried people to live together even if they have no plans to marry[11]. A phenomenon that Akerlof, Yellen and Katz calls “reproductive technology shock[12]” brought about by contraception, birth control, and legal abortion, is also what they argue to cause an increase in out-of-wedlock births as well as a change in the male-female relationship. According to them, women who did not resort to birth control or contraception were at a disadvantage while men, who are biological fathers of children born out of wedlock increasingly reject their paternal obligation. And now we see the degradation of a family from a mere decision to compromise one’s virginity that has extended into a decision to compromise marriage. In essence, this type of mentality cheapens our regard for the sexual act and marriage as well as, ultimately, for human life. Is this the culture that we want where we are governed by mere selfish desires even at the expense of the true and authentic love?

At the end of this article, I want you to ask yourself: “Is this what I want those who belong in the succeeding generations to believe in and make as their lifestyle?” Would you want your children or even grandchildren to forego marriage, to disregard your parental guidance, to be or get someone pregnant when they do not even know yet what it means to take responsibility for themselves, to resort to abortion and carry it in their conscience for a lifetime? And finally, would you want them to stop believing in authentic love and hoping for its long-term pleasure just so they can satisfy their short-term desires? If you say no to any of these questions, then maybe it’s now your time to re-examine or re-affirm your position on the RH Bill, think long term and voice out why you DO NOT support it.

[1] From the talk of Fr. Melvin Castro, Executive Secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life as well as designated spokesperson of the Catholic Church on the RH Bill, available athttp://www.pcjparish.org/Talk%20of%20Fr.%20Melvin.html

[2]U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey Overview” (2009), p.3, available at http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/pdf/us_overview_yrbs.pdf

[3] Demographic Research and Development Foundation, University of the Philippines Population Institute “2002 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study” (2002) available at http://www.drdf-uppi.net/DownloadsD/filipino%20datasheet.pdf

[4] Ibid.

[5] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, “With One Voice 2010: America’s Adults and Teens Sound Off About Teen Pregnancy” (December 2010), p.5, available athttp://www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/pdf/pubs/wov_2010.pdf

[6] Relationships, Love and Sexuality: What the Filipino Teens Think and Feel; de Irala; Osorio, Alfonso; Lopez del Burgo, Cristina Lopez; Belen, Vina; de Guzman, Filipinas; Calatrava; Maria del Carmen; Torralba, Antonio; 2009

[7] Ibid.

[8] Peter Arcidiano et al, “Habit Persistence and Teen Sex: Could Increased Access to Contraception have Unintended Consequences for Teen Pregnancies?” (Oct. 3, 2005), p.29, available athttp://econ.duke.edu/~psarcidi/teensex.pdf

[9] Edgardh, K. et al “Adolescent Sexual Health in Sweden”, Sex Trans Inf 78 (2002): 352-6, Quoted in Ang Kapatiran Party, “A Position Paper on the Reproductive Health Bills” (November 2010), p.5, available at http://angkapatiranparty.org/resources/AKP_Position_Paper_on_RH-Abortion_Bills_rev06.pdf

[10] Rector, Robert “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty” (September 16, 2010) available at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/09/marriage-america-s-greatest-weapon-against-child-poverty

[11] Demographic Research and Development Foundation, University of the Philippines Population Institute “2002 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study” (2002) available at http://www.drdf-uppi.net/DownloadsD/filipino%20datasheet.pdf

[12] Akerlof, G.A.; Yellen, J.L. and M.L. Katz “An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Child-bearing in the United States” Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 111, No. 2 (May 1996) pp. 277-317, Quoted in Ang Kapatiran Party, “A Position Paper on the Reproductive Health Bills” (November 2010), p.5, available athttp://angkapatiranparty.org/resources/AKP_Position_Paper_on_RH-Abortion_Bills_rev06.pdf



Filed under Current Events/Issues

6 responses to “Long-Term: A Look into the Reproductive Health Bill and the Family

  1. Very comprehensive critique! 🙂

  2. Wow! Excellent work! Great post! =D

  3. Pingback: Getting Tagged: 5 Random Facts | One Curious Cat's (mis)Adventures

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