Tag Archives: Elizabeth Fox

The Fallacies Perpetuating the Battle for Control Over Women’s Wombs: Last of a Two Part Series

Posted on 24. Apr, 2011 by in Government SASsy, reproductive health

Elizabeth Fox, Sex and Sensibilities.com summer intern writes about the on-going debate on Reproductive Health (RH) in the Philippines. Prompted by a notice she chances upon in a Church bulletin board, Fox dissects the argument made against the RH Bill and points out the fallacies that are perpetuated in the battle to control women’s wombs and women’s lives.

Opponents of the Reproductive Health bills are saying a lot of things. As discussed in Part One, an anti-RH bills article I recently found in a Makati church contains such skewed statements as: “Artificial contraceptives kill children”; “the contraceptive lifestyle destroys the family”, and “artificial contraceptives injure women’s health.” The fact that this article can be hung up in a public place—a church, moreover, meant to represent truth and trustworthiness to the highest degree—without the slightest acknowledgment of the complexity of these issues, is a huge source of sadness. The most unsettling thing about these statements, though, is that they all seek, via manipulation, scare tactics, and misinformation, to control women, make them feel guilty, and ensure that, as has been the case for all of time, women will continue to be in a position of weakness, unable to make their own decisions about their own bodies.

These statements, like so many put forth by the opposition, are just not true. Artificial contraceptives do not kill children. The contraceptive lifestyle does not destroy the family. And contraceptives do not kill women.

What does kill women, however? Pregnancy and childbirth.

As stated by the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS), though there are small risks associated with artificial contraceptive devices, none are as great as the risks associated with pregnancy and delivery. [i] According to USAID, each day around 12 Filipino women die and another 314 women develop disabilities from causes relating to pregnancy or childbirth.[ii] For every woman dying in her most productive years, especially in rural areas, imagine the blow to her community. And for every dead woman who is already a mother, imagine the number of children who are now left motherless, thus putting them at an increased risk for death and other problems like malnutrition,[iii] and, of course, forever without her matchless love and care. 99% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries; this risk is one of the biggest gaps between developed and undeveloped places.[iv] And the worst part is that most of these deaths are entirely preventable.[v]

The provisions of the RH bills relating to improved maternal health will save many lives. Fortunately, they are not highly contested, but what opponents of the other articles of the bills, those concerning expanded education and access to contraceptives, fail to realize is the extent to which maternal mortality is bound up in these issues as well. Opponents of the RH bills call for the lives of all potential children to be saved. But what about all the women who lose their lives while giving life? Putting a body through the strain of multiple pregnancies, especially in close succession, significantly raises a woman’s chances of maternal death.[vi] Having children while still an adolescent, while the mother’s body is still growing (relatively common in the Philippines as 21% of females are giving birth by the age of twenty[vii]), seriously endangers both mother and child.[viii] If these women had access to both family planning education and resources, how many lives could be saved? Botched abortion accounts for 13% of maternal deaths.[ix] In 2005, when Filipino women who had abortions were asked their reasons for doing so, 72% said they could not afford to raise another child, 57% said their current pregnancy was coming too soon after another, and 54% said they had already reached their desired family size.[x] It is obvious from this data that without alternate means of family planning, abortion has become a woman’s only resource in times of desperation. And not only children are dying from the procedure—but women are dying also, and many of them.

How important is a woman’s life? How long will people be willing to continue risking women for the sake of producing more and more offspring, especially if those children may end up unwanted and uncared for? According to the 2008 National Health and Demographic Survey in the Philippines, 54% of married women said they did not want more children, and 19% said they wanted to wait at least two years before their next birth.[xi] Family planning enables women to choose when to have their next child, thus allowing them to space out births, avoid unwanted pregnancies, and limit their exposure to the dangers of pregnancy, abortion, and childbirth. What could happen if every woman had the right—not the command, just the option—to decide when her next pregnancy was going to be, and to have the education and resources by which to realize that decision?

A Baguio priest recently made headlines by asking pro-RH parishioners to leave his service. “What is this mass for you if you are pro-RH? What is going to church?” he reportedly asked.

Statements like this are only born from fatal misunderstanding. The public must know the crucial situation the world is in. The importance of the RH bills must be recognized.

The supplies are available; the policies are waiting in the wings; all that lacks is acceptance of the truth: health is a human right. A woman’s body belongs to that woman alone and it is her right to be educated about it, provided with the resources to care for it, and freed to make her own decisions about what she puts it through—especially when that decision concerns bringing another person into this world. One of the most important things that we can encourage today—for the sake of development, for the sake of the impoverished, the diseased, and those struggling everywhere, for the sake of the countless lives wrapped up in this business of reproduction—is to give our women the right to choose. If every child were wanted, every pregnancy healthy, and every woman empowered, what amazing changes could we see in the Philippines? Support the passage of the RH Bill.

[i] “Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society Position Statement on the Proposed 2010 Reproductive Health Bills.” Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS). 2010.
[ii] “Philippines: Maternal and Neonatal Program Effort Index”. United States Agency International Development (USAID). 2009.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] “State of World Population 2005: Reproductive Health Fact Sheet”. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 2005.
[v] “Making Pregnancy Safer: Maternal Mortality”. World Health Organization (WHO). 2005.
[vi] Calub, Jyasmin. “An MDG Challenge: Reducing Maternal and Infant Mortality”. DevPulse: National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Development Advocacy Factsheet. 2010; 14(1).
[vii] “Philippines: Maternal and Neonatal Program Effort Index”. United States Agency International Development (USAID). 2009.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] “Making Pregnancy Safer: Maternal Mortality”. World Health Organization (WHO). 2005.
[x] Cabigon, Hussain, Juarez, and Singh. “The Incidence of Induced Abortion in the Philippines: Current Level and Recent Trends”. International Family Planning Perspective. 2005 Sept; 31(3):140-9.
[xi] “Philippines: 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey Key Findings”. National Statistics Office. 2008.

 

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The Fallacies Perpetuating the Battle for Control Over Women’s Wombs: First of a Two Part Series

Posted on 23. Apr, 2011 by in Government SASsy, reproductive health

Elizabeth Fox, Sex and Sensibilities.com summer intern writes about the on-going debate on Reproductive Health (RH) in the Philippines. Prompted by a notice she chanced upon in a Church bulletin board, Fox dissects the argument made against the RH Bill and points out the fallacies that are perpetuated in the battle to control women’s wombs and women’s lives.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was exploring a Makati church, I happened upon the biggest surprise I have had in a while. Posted on a bulletin board in front of the church was an article entitled “Science Facts on the RH Bills”. The article is composed of five statements rejecting the safety, morality, and reasoning of the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, and all five statements contain information that is, for the most part, utterly misrepresented, skewed, and exaggerated. Having spent the past two years at a liberal university in a liberal part of the United States, where most of my girlfriends use the birth control pill, where sex and its consequences are openly discussed, and where most people fervently support a woman’s right to choose when or if she will have a child, the article was shocking. While I eventually backed down from my initial bewilderment (after all, things like this happen regularly in America too), the fact that this article can be hung up in a public place—a church, moreover, meant to represent truth and trustworthiness to the highest degree—without the slightest attempt at compromise or acknowledgment of the complexity of these issues, remains a huge source of sadness.

The most unsettling thing about these statements, though, is that they all seek, via manipulation, scare tactics, and misinformation, to control women, make them feel guilty, and ensure that, as has been the case for all of time, women will continue to be in a position of weakness, unable to make their own decisions about their own bodies. “Science Facts” includes such bold statements as “artificial contraceptives [birth control pills and intrauterine devices] kill children”, “artificial contraceptives [birth control pills] injure women’s health”, and “the contraceptive lifestyle destroys the family”. To an uneducated woman who would never desire to do harm to herself, her children, or her family, those declarations, so confidently stated by the Church, must be enough to end a debate on the RH Bill immediately. These statements, however, are gravely, dangerously deceptive.

To begin, artificial contraceptives do not kill children in the violent, blunt way the “fact” would suggest. Birth control pills can prevent pregnancy in three main ways: first, by inhibiting the ovary from releasing eggs; second, by altering the cervical mucus so that sperm have difficulty finding the egg; and third, by changing the lining of the womb to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.[i] Some intrauterine devices (IUDs) provide the latter two possibilities, while others, made of copper, release copper into the uterine cavity, thus blocking the sperms’ path. [ii] Only in the third method mentioned, in which a fertilized egg is unable to implant in the uterus, is the further growth of an actual union of sperm and egg halted. This process, however, does not take place with all artificial contraceptives. If a woman believes that life begins at fertilization, she can easily decide to rule out a contraceptive which employs this method.

Turning to the second statement, while the relative carcinogenicity of birth control pills is still uncertain, most studies have found that using oral contraceptives does not increase a woman’s chances of developing cancer, but that rather, at least in the case of younger women, the benefits of birth control pills outweigh the risks.[iii] In times that a small trend of increased risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer has been observed, the results can be explained by the fact that the women using birth control pills in the studies generally had more breast examinations and mammograms than nonusers, allowing for greater detection and thus greater incidence of cancer,[iv] and that these women often may have practiced unprotected sex, thus increasing their risk for the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause cervical cancer. Furthermore, according to the National Cancer Institute, taking the pill actually significantly reduces a woman’s risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers.[v]

“Science Facts” also states that birth control causes stroke and significantly increases the risk of heart attack. According to the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS), however, for most women this is not true.[vi] While using oral contraceptives, the risk of heart attack and stroke is increased if a woman smokes and is over the age of 35, is more prone to cardiovascular diseases, or has certain medical conditions. For these women, however, the risk is only increased while using combination hormone birth control pills (estrogen and progestin), and is not a concern while using the equally effective single hormone (progestin) pill.[vii]

In summary, while there are some risks associated with oral birth control, the “Science Facts” statement that “artificial contraceptives injure women’s health” is just not true.

The list of fallacies goes on and on. Opponents to the RH bills continue to produce outlandish and embellished statements to trick the very people the bills attempt to protect.

Think the opposition is founded on truth and logic? Think again.

[i] “Birth Control Pills–Types, Effectiveness, and Side Effects”. WebMD. 2010.
[ii] “Birth Control and the IUD (Intrauterine Device)”. WebMD. 2010.
[iii] “The Birth Control Pill and Breast Cancer Risk”. WebMD. 2010.
[iv] Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. “Breast Cancer and Hormonal Contraceptives”. Lancet. 1996 Jun 22; 347(9017):1713-27.
[v] “Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk: Questions and Answers”. National Cancer Institute. 2006.
[vi] “Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society Position Statement on the Proposed 2010 Reproductive Health Bills.” Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS). 2010.
[vii] “Birth Control Pills”. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). 2011 Feb.

 

 

 

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