Manila’s Women Battle Ban on Birth Control

Carolina Austria

On January 29, 2008, a group of women, together with activist organizations and individuals working on women's reproductive rights in Manila, filed a case countering the seven-year de facto ban on contraceptives in city funded health facilities.

On January 29, 2008, a group of women, together with activist organizations and individuals working on women's reproductive rights in Manila, filed a case to nullify an Executive Order which for over seven years has been the "official" basis for the de facto ban on contraceptives in city funded health facilities.

The Executive Order was issued by the former Mayor, Lito Atienza in 2000 and on paper "discouraged" the use of "artificial contraceptives," in the city's health and family planning programmes. For many years, advocates who wanted to challenge the order were unable to simply because nobody could produce the supposed policy. Not even local barangay (the smallest local government unit) chieftains at the community level could show advocates a copy of the order but swore they were informed by the Mayor's office it was very much in place.

In the past other local government officials also instituted similar "bans" at the provincial and city levels. Former Governor Joey Lina was said to have instituted such a ban during his term as Laguna Governor as early as the late 1990s. The former Puerto Princesa Mayor in the province of Palawan also imposed a similar ban in 2001.

What perhaps set the Manila ban apart was the sheer determination and political influence of its proponent, Mayor Lito Atienza, who was also the national president of Pro-Life Philippines when he was Manila Mayor. In fact, more than relying on a written policy (which no doubt the Mayor also shrewdly noted could always be questioned legally), he also systematically put into place, city health officials and employees (right down to the barangay health level) with his appointees who shared his restrictive beliefs on contraception.

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Slowly but surely over the Mayor's nine-years in office, he was able to make both local officials and even hospital administrators comply with a policy that not only lacked legal basis but was also for many years, only vaguely (and inaccurately) alluded to as "an ordinance."

Even medical practitioners in the city-funded hospitals who were well aware of the legality of modern contraceptives and family planning methods such as surgical sterilization disclosed that it eventually became impossible to conduct these procedures when the hospital administration gave them warnings direct from the Mayor's office.

In the end, more than a written legal policy, the Mayor's main strategy to gain compliance was clearly also connected with his administrative power of control over the budgets of both barangay units and hospitals. Advocates responded by keeping the issue on the agenda, at times also gaining the ire of the Mayor who at one point announced a crackdown on "abortion clinics," all the while referring to family planning clinics giving out contraceptives. Keeping the pressure on in media, advocates were also featured on an on-line publication called "Medical Observer," where women's rights advocates working in health care and providing services in Manila, continued to criticize the baseless policy. On this occasion, an over-zealous apologist for the Mayor wrote to the editor of Medical Observer and proclaimed that the Mayor's acts had legal basis, and he cited the "Executive Order" which was issued in 2000. Ironically, the information on the exact number and date of the policy came straight from the Mayor's most ardent supporter. This allowed advocates to finally pinpoint the policy and later access it from the City's records office.

But the even greater irony of course was that in order to even bring the issue to court, a lot depended on more sacrifices on the part of women who themselves were already under the most pressure in Manila: those who were deprived of the services; denied access and experiencing direct discrimination and harm. Once more, theirs was the burden of bringing this issue to light.

The study conducted by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its local women's NGO partners last year entitled "Imposing Misery," already confirmed that indeed, there were many women who already experienced and were continuing to experience the harm because of the Mayor's policy. From being forced to make hard choices about risking pregnancy and allocating the meagre family budget to feed the family right down to the pressure of risking clandestine abortion, the report outlines the havoc the policy has wreaked upon the lives of Manila's poorest women. In the study, doctors from the city funded hospitals also noted the ever rising numbers of post abortion emergency cases that the hospital has had to deal with, making a direct link between the rise in abortions and the Manila policy.

Yet women also suffered the indignity of being paraded by the Mayor in his pro-life politics. At times they were given cash incentives and rewards that clearly augmented their family needs, but were also given publicly during the Mayor's sorties, as "a reward for having many children." These poor women were the convenient "campaign fodder," for the Mayor who was obviously only interested in projecting a popular public image of support for his position. The women who accepted the Mayor's "gifts" actually had little choice. In many ways, these cash rewards were barely even enough compensation for what the Mayor was already putting them through by his denial of basic health care and family planning.

Framing the legal issue as one of women's rights to reproductive health and family planning, Counsel for the Petitioners, Atty. Elizabeth Pangalangan (who is also a Professor of Law at the University of the Philippines) notes that the policy not only contravenes local laws like the Constitution and the Local Government Code but also international human rights standards.

Yet even as these claims are finally getting litigated in court, another challenge that advocates confront is the ensuing clash of positions which because of the Mayor's pro-life politics, has always tended to be framed as an issue about his "religious beliefs."

The policy itself very much reflects the Mayor's imposition of his "traditional Catholic views," which on the other hand, is hardly the only Catholic view on the matter. In fact, alternative and differing positions within the Catholic Church are well known elsewhere around the world not only around contraception but also HIV AIDS and abortion.

Womenlead Foundation, Inc. Executive Director, Atty. Claire Luczon notes: "Neither constitutional law, international law nor Catholic teaching on conscience supports any form of state imposition of religious beliefs, in this case, banning a legally mandated component of basic health and family planning at the local government level."

Arguably, there is hardly anything religious let alone moral in restricting women's access to health care and endangering their lives. In an opinion piece, Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio a Fellow of the Action for Economic Reforms underscores the importance of the case filed by the women of Manila:

"Within the context of this discrimination against them, the high point of the narrative lies in the women petitioners' nobility. Most of the petitioners cannot regain what they have lost. When asked, many of them say they are doing it for the sake of all women who still need and seek the means to decide over the size of their families. They remain fearful of reprisals even if a new mayor now sits in City Hall. Politicians of Atienza's mold strike fear into the hearts of those who disagree with them. That fear, no matter what his allies say, is not one that comes from Atienza's moral rectitude or his closeness to an avenging god."

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?

News Politics

Former Klan Leader on Senate Run: My Views Are Now the ‘GOP Mainstream’

Teddy Wilson

David Duke has been a fervent support of the Trump campaign, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

David Duke, convicted felon, white supremacist, and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, announced Friday that he will run for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, Roll Call reported.

Duke said that after a “great outpouring of overwhelming support,” he will campaign for the open Senate seat vacated by former Republican Sen. David Vitter, who lost a bid for Louisiana governor in a runoff election.

Duke’s announcement comes the day after Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination in the midst of growing tensions over race relations across the country. Trump has been criticized during the campaign for his rhetoric, which, his critics say, mainstreams white nationalism and provokes anxiety and fear among students of color.

His statements about crime and immigration, particularly about immigrants from Mexico and predominantly Muslim countries, have been interpreted by outlets such as the New York Times as speaking to some white supporters’ “deeper and more elaborate bigotry.”

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Duke said in his campaign announcement that he was the first candidate to promote the policy of “America first,” echoing a line from Trump’s nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night.

“The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America First,” Trump said Thursday night. “As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America First, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect.”

Duke said his platform has become “the GOP mainstream” and claimed credit for propelling Republicans to control of Congress in 2010. He said he is “overjoyed to see Donald Trump … embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years.”

Trump in February declined to disavow the support of a white supremacist group and Duke, saying he knew “nothing about David Duke” and knew “nothing about white supremacists.” He later clarified that he rejected their support, and blamed his initial failure to disavow Duke on a “bad earpiece.”

Trump’s candidacy has also brought to light brought many incidents of anti-Semitism, much of which has been directed at journalists and commentators covering the presidential campaign.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote in the National Review that Trump’s nomination has “drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork,” and that the Republican nominee has been willing to “channel the support of anti-Semites to his own ends.”

Duke took to Twitter after Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday to express his support for the Republican nominee’s vision for America.

“Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!” Duke tweeted.

Duke has been a fervent Trump supporter, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

Duke was elected to the Louisiana house in 1989, serving one term. Duke was the Republican nominee for governor in 1991, and was defeated by Democrat Edwin Edwards.

Duke, who plead guilty in 2002 to mail fraud and tax fraud, has served a year in federal prison.