Why is it that we panic when we hear the words “birth control” or “contraceptives”? It certainly feels that way as we are currently in a crisis until the Supreme Court lifts the temporary restraining order on the registration, procurement, and distribution of contraceptives.
Citing that they will promote abortion, which by the way, is not true regardless of what Sen. Tito Sotto says, pro-life groups have pressured the Supreme Court into this decision, limiting the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act into full implementation.
Okay, at this point it still sounds so technical. So maybe we need to talk in terms that will be understood without much explanation. Cue in women who have or are currently using birth control for different purposes, from avoiding unwanted pregnancies to curbing the effects of having Polycystic Overy Syndrome (PCOS). Perhaps in listening to their stories, our government and high officials will understand how they will put in danger the very people that they should serve.
We first talked to Bianca. A working mother, Bianca was diagnosed with PCOS a couple of years back. “The disease messes with your hormones and was the reason as to why I was overweight,” she said. PCOS affects your hormones and makes you crave more and can lead to being overweight. For a time, Bianca was. Here we reflected that she could have been in danger of hypentesion, heart disease, and diabetes. If not for the birth control pills, she was putting herself at risk of any of those illnesses. And the sad part is how she would only get medicines at that point simply because they wouldn’t be so controversial as birth control pills.
The road to finding the right kind of birth control pills for Bianca wasn’t easy either. She tried two other pills before the doctor agreed a certain brand was right for her. “Different kinds of pills have different side effects and you can’t determine that until you try it. That’s why it’s important to have variety in birth control labels and as many brands available to women,” she says.
During the process of consulting with her OB-GYNE, Bianca had to describe a few graphic details such as showing a bloody sanitary napkin to her doctor. It was so her doctor could confirm the blood clots which were foretelling of Bianca’s struggle. “I’m sorry it’s graphic,” she says but I stopped her as well. Why do women have to be apologetic when it comes to talking about medical matters? We have different kinds of names for vagina so it seems more polite. We’ve been trained to just make do with pain killers during our period and sanitary napkins and tampons are placed in cute packaging to make them more “acceptable.” But more on that in another article, I guess.
Going back to Bianca, upon using the right pills for her, she immediately noticed the positive changes it gave her. “I have continually lost the excess weight. Pictures will prove that,” she told me. She stopped taking birth control when she wanted to have a child but now that her son is a little over a year old, she went back to using them. I then asked her what will happen if the TRO isn’t lifted and she will be forced to go off her birth control. “I will go back to how I was before I was diagnosed. I would probably gain the weight back because the hormones induce the cravings, I would have blood clots, and my mood swings would be even more fickle. I noticed before that I wouldn’t be able to control my temper,” Bianca says.
“I’m worried about also the women who can’t exactly afford birth control, let alone other contraceptives like injectible types or even women who don’t respond well to other types of birth control except for pills,” she continues.
On the other hand, May takes birth control to curb the effects of endometriosis. Recently, she had surgery for it but as in most cases, the endometriotic implants recur. “I was then told to take birth control pills as the effects include severe dysmenorrhea,” she said. She even noted how her period pain would get so bad, she would always make a note to file a leave of absence so she could cope with it every month. “I don’t know if all women in labor in the workforce have that luxury,” she said. For her, it was also difficult to make her bosses understand how intolerable the pain was.
When left untreated endometriosis can lead to infertility. After surgery, the birth control pills are found to be the safest way to regulate the normality of May’s system. “I don’t take my leave and I don’t have to fear getting pain during my period nor even during sex,” she notes. A study published on MedScape confirms that post-operative use of oral contraceptives helps in preventing endometriosis from happening again.
This is why she’s very mad at the TRO. “It’s clear it’s a bunch of misogynists running the show. If they knew the type of pain women go through every month, the type of disease we put up with, they’d probably be whining so hard for the pills,” she says. “They would probably down it like a box of Tic-Tacs.”
Bianca and May’s stories are just two of the many examples of how birth control helps women in different conditions. But Danica’s story reflects how birth control is also about choice and responsibility.
Danica uses birth control when she’s in a relationship and sexually active. “I take it as an extra precaution. It helps me sleep at night.”
From her persepective, being able to take contraceptives is taking control over her life. “I don’t see why women cannot express their sexuality without fear of getting pregnant. Isn’t that the responsible and adult thing to do?” Danica learned of pills via the Internet, “I Googled a lot and found that it’s convenient and the best when you want to be sure. I can see why married women like it. I read one article where it helped this married lady. She used to always turn down her husband when he wanted to get intimate. But with birth control, she’s even the one who initiates it. I found it cute.”
Danica’s account reflects the sentiments of a lot of busy and independent women. They don’t see how making sure you don’t have an unwanted pregnancy is irresponsible or morally unsound. Aside from this, Danica believes that for whatever reason you are taking birth control, it’s all about your personal needs. “Why do men get to say what I want to do with my body?” she asks. Furthermore, she emphasizes how it’s all about choice, and how the TRO is limiting our freedom to choose. “No one should enforce their beliefs on you especially when it comes to your body. It’s yours and it’s actually the government’s role to protect the freedom you have over it.”
For a time, we could be proud of our place as Filipino women: Republic Act 10354, or the Reproductive Health Law, had finally been enacted. Better access to information and services about sexual health and responsible parenting would be embedded in government policy, thus paving the way for a future in which sex positivity and gender equality were more than utopian fantasies. At its core, the RH Law ensures women’s access to contraceptives and family planning services.
But our victory was cut short. In June of 2015, the Supreme Court ordered a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that barred the registering, recertifying, procuring, and administering of contraceptive drugs and devices, including Implanon and Implanon NXT. In August 2016, the SC made a decision that has led many to believe that this would effectively compromise the availability of other oral, injectable, and implanted contraceptives, in effect limiting—even prohibiting—our ability as women to determine our sexual health.
On May 26, 2017, the SC denied to lift the TRO and places the responsibility upon the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure that Implanon and Implanon NXT are not abortifacients. The TRO is another maneuver of the anti-RH forces, who continually use tactics that try to derail the decades-long effort of advocates for women’s health.
While we await for the resolution of the TRO debate, let us learn from this ongoing chapter: remember that our hard-earned victories can be snatched away, just like that! When it comes to reproductive health and responsibility, we must stay vigilant!
It is crucial that we allow women to take control of their sexual welfare. The law needs to go beyond a discourse of protection, preservation, and respect that is imposed upon our wombs. We call for the discourse on reproductive health to include the rest of our bodies, our sexuality, and our futures. We ask that our decisions and desires as unique individuals be respected—we demand respect.
It’s about time that we move beyond talking about the things that matter to us as women! It’s about time we show that we will not be complacent! We must take action!
Starting May 28, the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, we unleash the power of the collective. Inspired by the Women’s March, we are launching a unified campaign of 10 Actions in 100 Days for Reproductive Health.
Through this campaign, we are giving a voice and a platform to demand female autonomy and human dignity by making informed choices about our bodies and our reproductive health.
Art by Yayie Motos