On Senator Tito Sotto’s abortion bogey

Senator Vicente Sotto III, yesterday once again mentioned the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines, Inc. (FPOP) in his interpellation for the RH bill. He cast IPPF as an organization providing abortion worldwide. His line of questioning seemed to suggest that since FPOP is an affiliate of IPPF, ergo FPOP is also an abortion provider in the Philippines. All these tended to put doubt on the legal existence of FPOP as an NGO and the integrity of this organization.

For the benefit of Mr. Sotto and some members of the public who might have been misled by his revelations, IPPF is a global service provider and a leading advocate of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. It has 153 Member Associations in 170 countries, proof that it is recognized and welcomed by governments and supported and patronized by peoples across the world. It is recognized by world leaders and its voice and advocacies are heard and respected by the United Nations and many of its agencies.

IPPF provides access to family planning and a constellation of reproductive health services especially targeting the poorest, marginalized, socially excluded and underserved populations in all of the countries where it is present. In 2010 alone, approximately 33 million clients, including Filipinos, were able to enjoy IPPF’s services that include counseling, gynaecological care, HIV-related services, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections infertility services; mother and child health, family planning, youth-friendly services, contraception, emergency contraception; and abortion-related services.

It is true that IPPF promotes safe abortion (as contrasted to unsafe abortion). But it does so only in countries where abortion is legal. In other words, it does not perform abortion where it is not legal.

FPOP is a proud member, in fact a very proud member, of IPPF because only one organization per country earns the distinction of becoming its member despite many applications to become such. We also have a proud history being the largest and oldest non-government organization that provides continuous and consistent family planning and reproductive health information and services in the Philippines. This we do even in difficult times and in the face of government’s hemming and hawing if to fund these services such as during the Arroyo administration.

We have legally existed since 1969 and have served millions of mostly poor Filipinos. We preceded even the establishment of the Commission on Population and other family planning and reproductive health related programs of the government. We were founded by highly-respected medical leaders and practitioners at that time such as Dr. Jose Katindig, Dr. Josefa Ilano, Dr. Gregorio Lim, joined later by Dr. Juan Flavier, who later became DOH Secretary and Senator, and other personalities with Catholic and Protestant backgrounds.

At present, FPOP has 25 chapters all over the country and runs 28 clinics. We have hundreds of volunteers many of them doctors, nurses, midwives, teachers, lawyers, ranking government officials and politicians backed up by community leaders and ordinary folk – mostly women – who serve as our frontline service providers. To refresh the shortened memory of Mr. Sotto, he enthusiastically helped inaugurate one of our clinics, the Tandang Sora Community Health Care Clinic, when he was still an intrepid young Vice Mayor of Quezon City many years ago.

In his interpellation, Senator Sotto raised the abortion bogey obviously to muddle the issue. For his information, on no occasion has FPOP been hailed to court nor any of its volunteers and practitioners to prison for an abortion offense in FPOP’s 42 years of service. Our only record is an impeccable one and that is our record of providing FP and RH services to those in need, oftentimes for free.

We do not intend to hide the fact that FPOP provides abortion-related services aside from our main service components on access to family planning and reproductive health services, young people’s sexual and reproductive health, HIV and AIDS and advocacy. For the education of Mr. Sotto and for the satisfaction of our countless supporters, we cannot remain blind to the reality that there are 575,000 abortions occurring annually mostly in unsafe conditions. About 80,000 of them end up in hospitals after developing complications, which sometimes result in death. Family planning and abortion counseling, our principal abortion-related service and deterrence to unsafe abortion, have the capability to prevent unintended pregnancy that result to induced abortion by up to 25%, according to many studies. Prevention and management of abortion and its complications is a recognized abortion-related service and is being implemented also by the Department of Health and other health NGOs like us.

To bolster Mr. Sotto’s abortion scare, he sought to associate IPPF and FPOP to the controversial advocacies of Margaret Sanger conveniently setting aside the fact that she is recognized as one of the leading figures in the struggle for women’s emancipation and of sexual and reproductive health and rights. The good Senator’s attempt to disqualify the claims of our courageous Senate and House sponsors and advocates of the RH bill based on the history of one of its founders is an attempt to veer the public’s attention away from the more contemporary and equally noble cause that is the promotion of men’s and women’s rights to self-determination, information, health, and life.

At this juncture, the dismal maternal and child health situation in the country is more important than our own individual perceptions or opinions of history, much like our belief in Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church remains unaffected despite our knowledge of the Crusades that claimed the life of those perceived as heretics in the 16th century.