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Contraceptives Are (Still) Vanishing; Here's What You Need To Do

Only 23 out of the 48 existing hormonal contraceptives are available in the market and most of them are expected to expire by 2018.
PHOTO: istockphoto

If you’re like a lot of Filipino women, you’re anxious about the country’s dwindling contraceptive supply after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that affected the registration and renewal of hormonal contraceptives.

And you’re probably confused about the statement issued by the Supreme Court saying that they never issued a TRO on the RH Law, only on two contraceptive implant brands after the president nicely called out the Supreme Court during his State of the Nation Address.

To make it clear: No, the Supreme Court did not issue a TRO on the RH Law. Why? Because the RH Law has many other provisions that include building of rural health centers and developing comprehensive sexuality education. In short, the High Court did not issue a TRO on the RH Law; they issued a TRO on hormonal contraceptives.

The Supreme Court TRO covered two contraceptive implant brands, Implanon and Implanon NXT, and included this clause in their decision:

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ISSUE, effective immediately and continuing until further orders from this Court a TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER enjoining the respondents, their representatives, agents or other persons acting on their behalf from: [1] granting any and all pending applications for registration and/or recertification for reproductive products and supplies including contraceptive drugs and devices; and [2] procuring, selling, distributing, dispensing or administering, advertising and promoting the hormonal contraceptive "Implanon" and "Implanon NXT." Leonoen, J., on official leave; Jardeleza, J., designated acting member per S.O. No. 2056

That’s the clause that effectively cut off the stock needed to replenish our current supply of contraceptives.

As light at the end of the tunnel, the Supreme Court has thrown the ball to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) court, saying that the TRO will be lifted once the FDA can certify that hormonal contraceptives are not abortifacients.

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But that will take time. As confirmed by Juan Antonio Perez, executive director of Commission on Population (POPCOM), one brand of the progestin-only-pill (recommended for breastfeeding mothers) is already out of stock. This will affect an estimated 500,000 breastfeeding moms.

Only 23 out of the 48 existing hormonal contraceptives are available in the market, and most of them are expected to expire by 2018. Ladies, that’s next year.

“Once the remaining stocks are gone, there will be no more available until new product registrations are issued by the FDA. Procurements by the health department typically take [six to nine] months to come in,” said Perez. Our drugstore shelves and public health clinics continue to be stripped of hormonal contraceptives.

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Instead of stressing yourself out, here’s a list of things you should do to protect your health, manage your fertility, and enjoy whatever kind of sex life you plan for yourself.

The first thing you need to do is see your doctor and have a talk about alternative birth control methods now.

Don’t wait until your pill can no longer be found on shelves. Sit down with your doctor and have a chat about birth control options. Prepare for this visit by compiling your sexual health history. Some things to include: What pill you're using, how long you've been on it, and other brands you've tried. 

Pills have varying price points. Be honest with yourself about how much you are willing to and can sustainably spend on birth control every month.

Explore longer term birth control like IUDs, injectables, or contraceptive implants. Implants offer three years of contraceptive protection. The TRO on implants apply only to DOH clinics and hospitals where implants are given for free. You can still get an implant from your private doctor but be ready to hand over a couple of thousand pesos for doctor’s fees and the implant itself. IUDs can offer five to 10 years of contraceptive protection. Injectables offer one to three months of contraceptive protection. If you are taking birth control pills for other medical conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or another similar condition, consult your doctor as soon as you can.

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Identify the good doctors.

We know all too well that some doctors are not going to be happy to have this conversation with you. Some doctors don’t understand why a young, single woman needs birth control for whatever reason. Ask friends for recommendations about RH-friendly OBs who will not shame or embarrass you. or worse, tell you just to abstain. That simply is not their choice to make.

My own personal tried and tested recommendation is the Likhaan Center for Women’s Health.

Stock up on condoms and lube, and talk to your boyfriend about using them.

Condoms are not covered by the TRO in any way. Stock up on condoms and lube, and start using them either as a primary birth control option or as a backup. If stock problems have forced you into becoming an “occasional” birth control user, start using condoms as a backup option now. The gaps in your birth control use may be affecting your fertility, so put on that condom—better safe than unexpectantly pregnant.

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Your boyfriend doesn’t want to use condoms because it doesn’t feel good? He wants to use withdrawal, even though it’s only 72 to 82 percent effective leaving you a 20 percent chance of pregnancy after each sexual encounter? Get a vibrator, girl. With the right smothering of lube, you’ll get the same pleasure with much less stress. Trust me on this one.

Explore other birth control options if you are breastfeeding.

If you are a breastfeeding mother taking a progestin only pill and are finding supplies erratic, consider using condoms as a backup. Talk to your doctor about other birth control options that will still allow you to breastfeed.

Help another woman with her birth control needs.

Even if you are not using birth control or don’t need it, chances are you know a woman who does. A friend who needs it but is struggling to pay for it? A cousin who just started becoming sexually active? Or a kasamahang bahay who does not want any more children, but does not have access to the right information or services?

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Think about how you can help them with their birth control needs. Remind them about the looming stock out. Hand them a supply of condoms and lubricant. Offer to go with them when they visit the doctor especially if this is their first time to do so.

Continue to fight for your right to birth control until the TRO is lifted.

Are you a woman who needs to take birth control pills to manage a medical condition? Are you a woman who can manage her budget and take better care of her family because she can manage the number of children she has? Are you a person who thinks women should have the right and the freedom to choose to use birth control because among other things?

Post about it. Write about it. Talk about it. Do not stop doing so until the TRO is lifted.

Make yourself heard and consolidate with others who are doing the same by using the hashtag #DontTakeAwayMyBirthControl and #ImplementRH when you post.

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Ana P. Santos writes about sex and gender seriously. She is a Pulitzer Center grantee and the Pulitzer Center’s 2014 Persephone Miel fellow.