October 20, 2008

Legislating a woman's womb (Updated)

Something Like Life
Oct. 17, 2008

OF all the women issues out there, the most important is reproductive rights. Legislation is currently pending in Congress to give back those rights to women, as well as couples, who want to start a family. House Bill 5403, or the Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development Act of 2008 (UPDATED House Bill 4244 and Senate Bill 2865), is facing tough opposition, especially from the Catholic Church. Its leaders believe that making artificial contraceptives widely available to basically anyone who wants one, especially through government-owned health centers and health-care facilities, will make our youth sex-crazy.

First of all, the youth are sex-crazy as it is. Wasn’t there a survey which revealed that teenage boys think of sex every 20 seconds?

Secondly, teenage girls are vulnerable when they are in love. So they will have sex with their boyfriends to show the latter how much they love them.

Our religious leaders and parents can keep preaching sexual abstinence until they are blue in the face, but we know the kids are having sex out there...about 5 million of them aged 15 to 27.

Let’s face it, we have no reason to trust our kids when it comes to sex. Once they have a taste of it, they will want it and often. So I would rather err on the side of caution. The least we adults can do is to teach them how to protect themselves against unwanted pregnacies and sexually-transmitted diseases.

According to a survey by the Population Commission in 2003: “Almost half of our youth were unaware that pregnancy was possible after only one sexual encounter. Even though around 70 percent of our youth knew that pregnancy was possible only after a girl started to have her monthly period, around 80 percent of young females did not know the fertile period of their menstrual cycle. Only two percent were truly knowledgeable about how the menstrual cycle is related to pregnancy and about the safe and unsafe times to have sex during the cycle. This indicates a general lack of information regarding the importance of the timing of sex during women’s menstrual cycle.”

At St. Theresa’s where I studied from prep to fourth year high school, sex education was taught as early as grade 5 or 6, starting with lessons on the female reproductive organs and the menstrual cycle. Sex education, normally a part of the curriculum of either the science or P.E. class, ends in fourth year high school with lectures on the sex act itself and what happens during and after intercourse. (No, there were no take-home assignments.)

But being a private Catholic girl’s school, the subject was aimed at educating us on the female and male anatomies and how babies are made. We were not told about artificial contraception because our teachers and the nuns operated on the assumption that we were nice decent ladies from upstanding families, and not sluts. And that we would all wait to get married first before we became intimate with the opposite sex. It should be no wonder then that there were quite a few students who didn’t make it to the high school graduation – a consequence of having done their own private research on the subject.

This is why I have long been an advocate of sex education and contraception whether it be taught in a public school or a Catholic school. The RH provides that to the consternation of conservative parents who think the subject should be taught at home. I agree. But how many parents actually know how to talk about it? I certainly didn’t learn about the birds and the bees from my mother. I learned about them from my Sex-Ed classes and from my friends.

Kids shouldn’t be ashamed to ask questions about sex. They should be taught how to appreciate their bodies, and not laugh at the mere mention of “vagina” or “penis.” And they should know how to put a condom on as if they’re very lives depended on it.

How many teen-agers have had to have their kids out of wedlock? Or have been forced to marry their young boyfriends when they barely knew how to make up their own beds at home? My own niece got pregnant at 18 and has had to suffer the pain of having to grow up too fast.

I thank God I have good friends who taught me about contraception. One of my best gal pals taught me how to use birth control pills and what brand to buy from the drugstore. I had an irregular menstrual cycle, and was on my way to becoming a serious journalist. I didn’t want any surprises, like a baby, to thwart me off my career path. I thought I was being a responsible adult.

Artificial contraceptives won’t only protect our teen-agers whose hormones are in overdrive, but couples as well.

Studies show that for a child to be able to receive the full benefits of a nurturing environment, births have to be spaced out every three or four years. It will give time for a woman to recover her bearing (not to mention her body), allow her to focus on the task of feeding and caring for her baby, then teach it to walk, speak and read. By the time the child is ready for formal school education, a woman’s physical and emotional state are expected to be on an even keel to allow a new pregnancy if she wants to.

So let’s talk turkey. We all know poor families are champions in the baby-making arena. Just walk by your nearest squatters area and you will see a number of women with their babies hanging on their nipples, but with their tummies sticking out, pregnant again. The poor make a lot of babies because they need their children to try to get the family out of poverty. They realize too late that the more children they have, the more they push themselves into a rut. And they scrounge for every bit of work, or centavo, just to be able to feed their kids at least half a cup of rice or some watery soup.

In a study on unintended pregnancies and abortions in the Philippines funded by the Guttmacher Institute, the authors wrote that close to 1.43 million pregnancies are accidental, about one-third of those pregnancies end in abortion, and 54 percent of those who ended their pregnancies by abortion did not practice any form of contraception.

About 72 percent of women interviewed on the reasons they ended their pregnancies did so due to financial problems, and 54 percent also said it was because they had already plenty of children. It is clear that those who resort to abortions are usually from the lower income families. And many die from the complications because these operations are done in seedy clinics with ill-equipped physicians or fake doctors out to make a fast buck. Teaching women contraception will drastically reduce these incidents of abortion.

With the RH Bill, women and married couples, especially from the lower strata of society, will learn about family planning, proper birth spacing, and how to ensure a quality life for each of their children. Unfortunately, critics of the RH especially the Catholic Church leaders only want natural family planning methods to be taught by the government. This is not surprising because most of our Catholic Church leaders are male and know very little about a woman’s body.

Now let’s get this straight: women don’t ovulate at the same time nor in the same way. Not all us keep to the regular 28-day menstrual cycle. Some will have 21 days, on some months it will be 24 days, then sometimes it becomes 32 days or longer especially when we are under stress. Some don’t even menstruate at all for three months especially if they’re overweight.

So to keep pushing the natural family planning methods speaks to one’s ignorance about the female anatomy. Natural family planning, is basically a game at the slots, where every month a woman tries to hit the jackpot, i.e. not be pregnant. If a woman or a couple want to know about natural or artificial family planning methods, it is their choice, no one else’s.

So yes, I support the RH Bill. And I just have to impress on everyone how important that this bill is passed when it is taken up again by Congress in November. No one can tell me what to do or not do with my womb. I make the choice how to live my own life. No one should be dictating on me whether or not I should have sex, when and with whom. And if I choose to have sex, I want to make sure I am adequately protected either from disease or an unwanted pregnancy.

(UPDATE: Both houses of Congress will be debating and taking up their respective bills this week of Aug. 6, 2012 -I trust that our legislators will make the right choice for the people. Pls read UN: RH law vital to development )

(My column 'Something Like Life,' is published every Friday, in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published in October, 2008. Photos from the web.)

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