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Friday, May 24, 2024

The Sotto-ALFI tandem: Violating women’s rights

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"This is the senator's gift to Filipino women."



And so it has come to pass. Senator Tito Sotto succeeded in removing from the budget the P195 million the health department allotted for purchase of subdermal implants, a popular contraceptive among women, especially poor women. The Bicameral Conference Committee for the 2020 General Appropriations Act failed to restore the line item into the final bill for signature of the President.

This violation of women’s right to choose is Sotto’s Christmas gift to Filipino women.

Digging deeper into the issue has led me to a case filed with the Office of the President (OP) by (AGAIN!) the Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines Inc. or ALFI. This group led by rabid anti-RH lawyer Maria Concepcion Noche is notoriously known for its appeals before the Supreme Court against the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law.

Those appeals delayed the implementation of the law by several years which is a major reason why our RH situation remains problematic.

ALFI’s latest submission, its 53-page “Sur-Rejoinder with Reiteration of Urgent Prayer for Immediate Stay/Recall of Execution of FDA Resolutions” on OP case no. 18-K-249 was received by the OP on September 30, 2019. Respondents to the case are the Department of Health, Food and Drug Administration and 11 pharmaceutical companies. Note that ALFI’s date of submission of its appeal was less than two months before Sotto moved to remove the budget for contraceptive implant from the Department of Health budget.

Sotto quoted Dr. Donna Harrison’s position against contraceptives in his move to defund implants during the Senate deliberation on the health budget. Coincidentally, Harrison is one of the three anti-choice medical practitioners cited by ALFI in its appeal relevant to the case with OP.

As I have already written, Donna J. Harrison, MD, is an Obstetrician/Gynecologist, and the Executive Director of American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She is also an Adjunct Professor at theTrinity International University in Illinois, a Christian university.

The two other “experts” heavily cited and quoted by ALFI are, John Wilks, an Australian consultant and Pro-Life pharmacist, a part-time lecturer at the University of Sydney, and has authored numerous anti-contraceptive papers; and Chris Kahlenborn, an American physician of internal medicine affiliated with the Geisinger Holy Spirit Hospital, and like Wilks, has published anti-contraceptive papers such as “Mechanism of action of levonorgestrel emergency contraception,” and “Menstrual manipulation.”

Very clearly, in its discussions in the appeal, ALFI has brought back issues that were already extensively and rigorously discussed in, and decided by the SC on the RH law’s constitutionality. ALFI maintains, based on its three anti-RH experts, that hormonal contraceptives like the pill, injectables, and implants cause abortion and, therefore, should not be allowed for use in the country.

In effect, what ALFI wants, is to reverse the SC decision, declare hormonal contraceptives as abortifacient, and make the RH law totally inutile and ineffective. All because THREE anti-RH medical practitioners say so. This runs counter to the decisions of the experts of more than 60 countries that use subdermal implant, and all countries that allow pills, injectables and other hormonal contraceptives.

The experts of the World Health Organization have also declared that hormonal contraceptives are NOT abortifacient. In fact, in its 2019 List of Essential Medicines, the WHO has put contraceptives under a different category from medicines that may be used to induce abortion.

ALFI heavily quoted the 2018 research paper ‘Systematic Review of Ovarian Activity & Potential for Embryo Formation & Loss during the Use of Hormonal Contraception’ by the above-mentioned experts. This is a review of literature from 1990 that concluded “…abnormal ovulation or release of an egg followed by abnormal hormone levels, may often occur in women using hormonal birth control. This may increase the number of very early human embryos who are lost before a pregnancy test becomes positive.”

First, notice that the so-called conclusion is not really conclusive in terms of hormonal contraceptives being abortifacient. The repeated use of the word “may” reveals this.

Second, and more important, the last sentence of the “conclusion” is VERY problematic. I am neither a lawyer nor a medical doctor but how can human embryos be lost BEFORE a pregnancy is even detected? Where is the pregnancy there? If there is no established pregnancy, how can one call the embryos human? This is like the assertion of a former senator during the Senate RH bill debates equating masturbation with mass murder. Both do not make sense.

Of course, ALFI could not hit the SC decision so it focused on the FDA. It accused the regulatory body of not having ‘amended Rules of Procedure/Guidelines for the certification and recertification of all contraceptive products in 2017 when FDA claimed to have conducted recertification of contraceptives; not giving ALFI due process for its opposition to recertification because contraceptives should have been declared as abortifacient; and a host of other issues relative to process.

ALFI asks the OP to decide In its favor. Among its demands is to “4. NULLIFY AND/OR REVERSE the findings of the FDA by withdrawing the certificates of recertification issued to the Applicants-Appellees on the contraceptives applied for, and declaring the subject contraceptive drugs and devices as Abortifacient based on the evidence of the Appellantand for utter lack of due process during the recertification proceedings.”

Sotto, by removing the budget for implants has, in effect sided with ALFI and judged the case though the appeal is lodged with the OP. He should have waited for the decision of the right body.

The OP on the other hand, must once and for all stop the notoriety of ALFI, Sotto and their allies in violating women’s rights to self-determination. The President is known to be pro-RH as evidenced not only by his pronouncements but by his Executive Order 12 on Zero Unmet Need for Family Planning. This objective will not be met for as long as ALFI, Sotto, and anti-RH groups are stopped.

There are two things that the OP can do to immediately resolve the situation, one, veto the proposed GAA unless the P195-million implant budget is restored; and two, put ALFI’s appeal where it belongs—the trash bin.

The OP must decide based on scientific and medical evidence, women’s rights, and the country’s overall welfare. ALFI’s appeal must be urgently rejected.

@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook


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