Reproductive Health Makes Comeback

Carolina Austria

The sponsor of the Philippines' reproductive health bill has recently accepted reproductive health as a human right, not as a population control measure.

I'm still getting used to the chilly "fall" season's weather now that I'm a student here in Canada, but folks here at the University of Toronto say this is still pretty mild and that I ought to brace myself for the winter. In the Philippines we have only two seasons (wet and dry), and as winter comes in Canada my thoughts turn to another aspect of the season in Manila, Philippines.

October is the when the annual national budget gets debated in Philippine Congress. One issue which gained media coverage this past month was Rep. Edsel Lagman's pending bill, the "Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development Act of 2007."

Touting Lagman's bill as a "population management" and "population-directed" measure, many in media neglected to notice that the revised bill by Congressman Lagman also now distinctively bears the term "reproductive health" in the title.

The articles used either "family planning" or "population" even as it quoted Lagman referring to reproductive health:

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All we want is to create an environment of freedom of informed choice…It is a reproductive health program without bias for artificial or natural methods. We're promoting both.

The inclusion of the term "Reproductive Health" in the title of the bill (front and center) on draft legislation in the 14th Congress signaled a significant change from the context of the 13th Congress.

In the past Congress, almost all versions of the bills related to reproductive health opted not to integrate the term in the title (except one version filed by Senator Rodolfo Biazon).

After President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo threatened to veto "policy which tried to smuggle in abortion" in her state of the nation address in 2004, pundits took it as a warning against any reproductive health bill's passage, even as the bill itself didn't carry any provision on the legalization of abortion.

By labelling "reproductive health" as a dirty word, and even warning the Anti-Poverty Commission and the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW) about mentioning the term, GMA narrowed the terms for legislative engagement before the 13th Congress.

Lagman's earlier bill's was one of many versions which "avoided" reproductive health by burying the term within the bill and adopting "less suspect" titles.

Abortion, even without a legalization provision, but in relation to maternal health, and the availability of quality emergency post abortion services were usually covered up in what was seen then as the "safer" language of "Prevention and Management of Abortion and its Complications."

Lagman, who is well known in the local media as fiercely independent (despite his being in the administration's party), outspoken and someone who "did his homework" (doing his own reading and not relying only on staff) often also had a tendency to be quite intractable on his views about population, which in the past have been framed along the more traditional pre-ICPD "population control" strategies which emphasized demographic targets over, and sometimes in violation of, "free and informed choice."

When he sponsored the "Responsible Parenthood" Bill in the 13th Congress, his version came into controversy when media labelled it as the "two child policy" bill, bringing to mind the draconian Chinese one-child policy as it laid down a scheme of free education incentives exclusively for those who would limit their number of children to no more than two.

And while his bill incorporated some of the elements of key legislation supported by the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN), RHAN continued to squarely raise issues about the policy's language and formulation and "population control" framework and frequently debated with the Congressman about the "rights based" and framework of "choice" that the policy needed.

In short, the collaboration with Lagman was at best a critical one and early on, many of us found ourselves on opposing sides of policy strategies and had disagreements with him. With networks like Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), RHAN continued these dialogues and emphasized that the law needed to not only make reproductive health care available and accessible, but also to facilitate people's decision-making.

Before I left Manila, I had the opportunity to participate in a meeting between advocates from the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network and Representative Lagman in May, as he prepared to revise his draft bill for refilling in the newly constituted 14th Congress. In the meeting, the then newly re-elected solon (who was obviously no longer after any votes) raised what seemed to be in the past Congress, unthinkable: "Let's get back reproductive health in key aspects of the bill" (now the even the title) which literally meant facing the challenges to the frame of "reproductive health as right" head on.

He expressed that he had come around to realizing the importance of the rights framework in reproductive health, noting that the role of policy is to enhance choices and not to impose them on people. Without much prodding, he volunteered to drop all the incentive/disincentive scheme provisions of his old bill in relation to benefits and the number of children.

Lagman's decision to take challenges against "reproductive health" head on reclaims well deserved legitimacy and moral authority this side of reproductive health advocacy. While a lot of good intentions were likely invested in the process of haggling over more facially "neutral" terms (or less likely signposts to call the opposition's attention) in past debates, years later, advocates now have a clear opportunity to re-evaluate their positions. Unfortunately many in media are still stuck in the mode of framing these debates simplistically as "the church vs population control," and a lot of them have "boxed in" Congressman Lagman as a "population control" stalwart. For those in reproductive health advocacy and the Congressman, this matter ought to be a good point for more critical collaboration.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.