By Dr. Daisy Joy E. Torina
Everyone is talking about the RH Bill, I might as well join the bandwagon. I vaguely recall giving a report on the RH Bill, then known as House Bill 4110, entitled “The Reproductive Health Care Agenda Act of 2001?, as a requirement for my rotation in Adolescent Medicine in year 2003. It has undergone several reincarnations and is now known as House Bill 4244 or “The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011.” I don’t remember it receiving the same hoopla then as it is doing now. Or perhaps I was just oblivious of it because I was too busy to watch tv or read the paper.
The RH Bill, the way I see it, promotes reproductive health care which encompasses among other things maternal and child health, breastfeeding, family planning, elimination of violence against women, prevention and management of reproductive tract infections, education and counseling on sexuality and sexual and reproductive health.
It is interesting to note that the most avid supporters of the bill are women and advocates of women’s rights. Perhaps because women have the most to benefit from it. It is, after all, on their shoulders that the burden of pregnancy or rearing children, or in the case of those with philandering husbands, contracting a sexually transmitted infection is placed upon.
The detractors of the RH bill argue that the use of contraception not by natural means is not pro-life. But wanting fewer children to ensure that each can have the quality of life (which includes a home, proper nutrition, good education and all the other frills of life) that he/she deserves while ensuring that the basic need (Perhaps not for most women, myself included, but YES, sex is a basic need for the male species!) of her partner is met is hardly considered anti-life. I do care for my child’s life. It is why I don’t want another one. My husband and I are both gainfully employed but I still worry that I could not afford to have another child, that I might not be able to send them to reputable schools, that overhead expenses to keep our household afloat would be way over my budget. Some might say I worry way too much but these fears are borne out of practicality. I know, I know, I have heard the verse “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26) many times, I shouldn’t worry. Some would say I have too little faith, but I’m sorry I’m a worry-wart because I grew up in a poor family. And I doubt if I would have been the person that I am now if my parents did not practice family planning (BTW not by natural means!) I should know, I used to make balloons out of the condoms I would discover now and then from my parents’ cabinet (Ew! Of course I didn’t know then!) My mother got pregnant with me when my brother was just a month old. Had I not gotten sick when I was a baby (I had anemia severe enough to warrant a blood transfusion), my parents would not have decided not to have another baby. Hence the family planning.
Abstinence is not an option for most couples. If abstinence works for you, then good for you! For the female detractors of the Bill, go ahead and ask your husband if they appreciate abstinence. Like I said, their need is basic, much like we need food to eat and air to breath. And look where abstinence has led to for many couples: the husbands cheat! (female detractors take note!)
The RH Bill also has a provision for mandatory age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education which the Catholic Church fears will pave the way to early and pre-marital sex. The provision does specify it has to be age-appropriate and it starts from Grade 5 (not Grade 2 as Fr. Arellano has been saying) at which time the kids will be in their early adolescent stage, the stage when they do need guidance regarding sexuality. Being a parent, I have reservations about sex education especially as the provision is not as precise as I would want it to be (There is a clause that says “shall include, but not limited to, the following topics” and I’m inclined to think clauses can be dangerous. Among the topics include family planning and responsible parenthood which, I think, should have been left for marrying couples.) I don’t have any misgivings about how I was educated (in my generation’s case, uneducated) about sexuality but I do remember worrying when Janice de Belen had a kissing scene with Aga Muhlach for the first time (OMG! She WILL get pregnant!) which makes me think perhaps kids do need proper education. But the home, rather than the school, has a more fundamental role to play in educating and instilling values to children. The school should only provide reinforcement. It is important, too, that parental approval of the materials should not be sidestepped.
The RH bill does not impose itself on the Filipino citizen. On the contrary, it expressly bestows upon the citizen the freedom of choice. If a poverty-stricken mother of ten wishes to stop bearing children, that one more pregnancy might lead to her death (uterine atony IS fatal) but can’t say no to a ravenous husband, then please offer her an alternative, an alternative that she has free access to, other than the natural method. Not all people have the same restraint that the RH Bill detractors have. Not even the ordained priests of the Catholic Church can restrain themselves (Hello?! Too many sex scandals!)
Pro-RH and anti-RH, we each have our arguments, we each have our points. Why don’t we just respect each other’s point of view? Our reservations against the RH Bill are not entirely unjustified and our support is not entirely amiss either. But fighting over a bill is not the way to go. Upgrading our values that have deteriorated throughout the years would be a better place to start.#