This week the Supreme Court released a statement that they will continue to uphold the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the contraceptive Implanon despite Department of Health (DOH) pleas to end the TRO before the 400,000 units they purchased expire and go to waste. The TRO has been in place since June 2015, when the Supreme Court, reacting to a case brought about by a pro life group who believes the implants cause abortion, issued the TRO prohibiting the DOH from procuring, selling, distributing, dispensing or administering, advertising and promoting the hormonal contraceptive ‘Implanon’ and ‘Implanon NXT.’
Implanon is a plastic, rod-like device that is inserted into a woman’s arm and prevents pregnancy for three years. It releases a low dose of progestin, a hormone that occurs naturally in a woman’s body. It is the same hormone that is found in injectable contraceptives.
The basis of the case brought forward is that the DOH and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) supposedly accepted a large donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation without following the proper guidelines and protocols set by the Supreme Court. Before the Court will lift the TRO they will require public hearings prior to the FDA once again certifying that these contraceptives do not cause abortion. This places undue burden on the FDA and DOH, while allowing relgious extremists to hold millions of women hostage.
Why has nothing moved forward in the 15 months since the TRO was ordered? Why is the court prioritizing a group that has fought against the RHLaw because they believe that modern forms of contraception are the equivalent to abortion?
Absent from the discussion about Implanon and when the TRO will be lifted are the stories of the women who want this contraception. Because private practitioners and NGOs are exempt from the TRO, we at Roots of Health have been able to meet the demands of Palawan women who want the protection that Implanon offers.
When we first went on a medical mission with the Philippine Navy to Balabac, Palawan in late 2015, we weren’t sure of whether the women there would want implants. We quickly learned that they did. The first girl who requested one was 17 years old and already had three children. Standard protocol for the implant is to carry out a pregnancy test beforehand to make sure the client is not pregnant. Unfortunately, this girl’s pregnancy test was positive. She was pregnant for a fourth time in her young life. The next woman who became our first implant client was 30 years old and had 11 children.
My colleagues recently spent 4 days in Bataraza, Palawan and inserted a record 412 implants for 412 women over the course of 4 days. We ran out of implant supplies and still there were women lining up because they wanted to space or limit their pregnancies and be protected for three years. This morning I was looking through the records of our clients and was struck by how many women already had so many children. A 22 year old who’d had 9 pregnancies, 5 births and 4 living children. A 23 year old with 6 children. A 28 year old who’d had 9 pregnancies and 7 living children. A 31 year old who’d had 8 pregnancies and 7 children. A 34 year old with 9 pregnancies and 7 living children. A 37 year old with 10 children. A 42 year old who’d had 13 pregnancies and 10 children. I look at these statistics and I cannot even imagine how difficult their lives must be. Not only do these families struggle with poverty, but for many malnourished women and girls who go through multiple pregnancies, each additional pregnancy is a serious, potentially life-threatening situation. So many Filipinas die during pregnancy and childbirth.
In the last nine months alone, we have provided implants to 1,263 women who do not want to have another child.
There are hundreds of thousands of Filipinas in this country who want to space their pregnancies or limit the number of children they have but who do not have access to a modern form of contraception and who thus cannot control the number and spacing of their children. These are the women who suffer while the Supreme Court drags its heels and prolife groups try to make a case where there is none. (The FDA has certified again and again that implants do not cause abortion!)
How many more unwanted pregnancies will occur in the time that this TRO is preventing government health workers and facilities from providing this popular and highly effective form of contraception? The Supreme Court should act now and move on with this case so that the TRO can be lifted once and for all.