If the Supreme Court has its way, in less than three years, there will be no more birth control pills in drugstore shelves and in public health clinics.
You know, the pills that help make life easier because they regulate your period and get you out of bed when your dysmenorrhea is that bad; those tiny pellets that help give you a simple way of dealing with the long and complicated term polycystic ovarian syndrome; those itty bitty dots that keep your pimples at bay (because who wants adult acne?) and of course, keep you from not getting pregnant unless and until you are ready.
In 2015, the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) preventing the Department of Health (DOH) from procuring and distributing implants (those rods that look like matchsticks and are inserted—superficially—under your arm). The TRO was issued in response to the petition of a pro-life group who claimed that implants cause abortion.
In 2016, the coverage of the TRO was expanded to contraceptives such as birth control pills, intra-uterine devices, and injectables and suspended the product registration and certification of these contraceptives.
While the TRO is in place, product registrations (like a license to sell) lapse and cannot be renewed. This means birth control pills will gradually disappear from drug store shelves and public health clinics. The longer the TRO is in place, the less likely can these products be re-stocked.
Already, you may be finding it harder and harder to buy your pill. A few months back, I had difficulty finding my pill brand at the drugstore and had to settle for another brand that is four times the price of my preferred pill. It was still better than an unplanned pregnancy, but still, four times more! Four times!
According to data provided by Commission on Population (POPCOM), 31% (or about 15 brands) of contraceptive certifications expired as of December 2016. Another 31% will expire in 2017, 29% in 2018 for a total of 91%. By 2020, only 2% of certifications will be valid.
Currently there are 48 contraceptive brands in the Philippines. To date, there are 20 brands whose product registrations have already lapsed.
“What we are seeing now (in the market) are just existing stock that will eventually run out. By 2018, there will hardly be any more brands left and by 2020, there will be no more contraceptive brands available unless the Supreme Court lifts its TRO,” said Dr. Juan Antonio Perez, POPCOM executive director.
In a worst case scenario, you will have to get your birth control supplies from abroad or get [them] locally for an astronomical price through the black market. That will not only be expensive, but potentially dangerous because no one regulates the black market to ensure that products are safe.
It will be like going to a drugstore to buy your pill only to be told, “Sorry po. Out of stock”—but hearing it forever.
If the Supreme Court continues to impose its TRO, it’s a whatever comes first game. Either the existing supplies expire or the product registration lapses and can no longer be renewed. And this is serious because we’re talking about the Supreme Court here. The decision of the highest court in the land is final.
President Rodrigo Duterte fulfilled his campaign promise to support family planning by signing an Executive Order (EO) calling for “the full implementation of the RH Law” and giving six million women access to contraception and that’s great but it’s not enough.
A presidential EO cannot overturn a Supreme Court ruling because they are equal branches of government.
What will happen if they don’t lift the TRO?
“I don’t want to even imagine that,” said DOH Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo. “I want to believe that we will continue to be allowed to provide the family planning products requested by our people.”
Frankly, neither do we. Make your voice heard. Sign the petition to demand that the Supreme Court lift its TRO on contraceptives. We didn’t allow legislators to tax our beauty—why should we allow the Supreme Court to take away our birth control?
SIGN THE PETITION HERE.
Ana P. Santos writes about sex and gender seriously. She is a Pulitzer Center grantee and the Pulitzer Center’s 2014 Persephone Miel fellow.