It’s hard having a uterus in the Philippines. Nine years have passed since the country formally enacted the Reproductive Health Act, giving hope to those in need of accessible contraception and responsible sexual education. But how has this landmark legislation actually improved the reproductive rights of Filipinos?
Despite the progressive contents of the RH Act, teenage pregnancy in the Philippines is the second highest in Southeast Asia, according to the Save the Children's 2019 Global Childhood Report. That means births to mothers aged 10 to 19 years old reached 180,000 in 2019, or 495 births per day. In a study commissioned by non-profit organization DKT Philippines Foundation, 68% of 500 respondents have said that they’ve experienced unprotected sex. This is mostly because the sexual act was spontaneous, or failure of the withdrawal method; sometimes it’s due to abuse. These figures suggest that reproductive wellness is still inaccessible to the majority.
The wide distribution of emergency contraception, or EC could be a safe and effective means of preventing these pregnancies. “These pills fill a need when sex is infrequent or unexpected, which is often the case for people just entering their sexually active years,” says DKT Philippines Foundation chairman Hyam Bolande during the press conference on these findings. DKT Philippines Foundation provides training on modern contraceptive technology to medical professionals and public education on sexual and reproductive health. “EC pills can provide a last line of safe defense against unwanted pregnancy when the male partner doesn’t use a condom.”
The drug Postinor, a pill meant as EC, was previously registered and approved for importation in the Philippines, but the Food and Drug Administration eventually reversed that approval after fears that the drug has an “abortifacient effect.” EC, however, is not a form of abortion. According to the World Health Organization fact sheet, taking EC pills does not induce abortion, but simply prevents pregnancy. It’s also safe enough to use for anyone at a reproductive age. According to obstetrician-gynecologist and DKT’s Medical Affairs officer Dr. Carmi Camagong-Herradura, human conception, or the beginning of pregnancy, occurs 5-10 days after unprotected intercourse — well past the 72-hour window that one can take an EC pill. Even if it’s mistakenly taken too late, Camagong-Herradura says, EC pills cannot harm a fetus or end a pregnancy.
Nine years have passed since the country formally enacted the Reproductive Health Act, giving hope to those in need of accessible contraception and responsible sexual education. But how has this landmark legislation actually improved the reproductive rights of Filipinos?
With the absence of EC in Philippine pharmacies, the Yuzpe Method is a recommended alternative: a safe and effective alternative using oral contraceptive pills. It’s a method that has been proven to be 88% effective if used within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse.
The problem is that the use of emergency contraception or even the Yuzpe method is not common knowledge among Filipinos. In a national survey of unmarried Fiipino women aged 18-29 who are sexually active, only one in four were aware that emergency contraception is possible to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse.
More troubling is that many medical practitioners are also unaware that the Yuzpe Method exists; in an online survey conducted by DKT Philippines Foundation, it was revealed that nearly one-third of Filipino healthcare workers and midwives were not aware of the Yuzpe method. That same study revealed that 85% of the healthcare providers surveyed have been asked about emergency contraception by their patients.
The gaps in the country’s sexual education are beginning to show, with legislation providing inadequate support to address these challenges. As to why that is so, DKT Philippines Foundation is reluctant to comment out of concern with politicizing the matter. “But clearly, I will daresay,” Bolande says, “There is too much confusion between abortion and contraception that takes place after unprotected sex. Those are two different things.”