Why I Have Birth Control Envy
I have birth control envy.
You know how some girls look at a penis and wish they had one?
That’s the way I feel about birth control. I wish there was more access to birth control options in my country, the Philippines.
I first felt the pangs of birth control envy at the not-so-tender age of 24. I had been living in the Philippines for 12 years and returned to the Bay Area to re-connect with some girlfriends in grade school.
We were talking about life in- between those dozen years and, inevitably, the conversation turned to men, past and present, serious or otherwise. I asked if they were on the Pill. Of course they were, they said, since high school when they got them at a subsidized cost from a health clinic.
At 24, and not quite making the pay grade, I wished I knew how to get my hands on subsidized birth control pills back in the Philippines.
Years later, birth control envy again took over me, at times making me so green that I would put other green- eyed creatures from Shrek to Kermit the Frog to shame.
Especially when I would meet women like Rosalie.
Rosalie lives in Baseco, Tondo, one of the poorest communities in the Manila.
Like any mother, when speaking about her children, she would say how much happiness they bring her. That is, until they look for something to eat and she and her husband have nothing to give them. Her husband’s daily wage of $5 wasn’t enough to cover their living expenses.
Rosalie gave birth to her first child when she was 16 and has been pregnant a total of twenty-two times. She and her husband have 17 children. (Some of the children died, and some were still-born.)
Rosalie didn’t want to have that many children, but she didn’t want to take birth control, either. She couldn’t afford birth control pills and was afraid to take them because her friends told her they would make her sick. And her husband, she said looking downward, blushing profusely, “My husband and I do not want to use condoms, they’re gross.”
I felt birth control envy wash over me when I met Mary Jane. She said she wanted to be a scientist some day, but let her wistful voice trail off as she looked at her newborn son, whom she gave birth to when she was 15.
Until late last year, the city of Manila, where Rosalie and Mary Jane live, had a contraception ban.
It was implemented in 2000 by a former mayor who issued an executive order calling for the city to be “pro-life.”
On paper, it said that only natural forms of contraception would be encouraged. In practice, it meant that public health clinics under the local government of Manila could not offer condoms, pills, IUDs and other forms of modern contraception to its residents. It meant the closure of several women’s NGOs offering reproductive health services and the harassment of their health workers.
And to women like Rosalie and Mary Jane, it meant not having the option to control their fertility and not having enough knowledge about pregnancy.
There are many other women like Rosalie and Mary Jane. In the Philippines, 35% of women aged 15–49 who are poor account for 53% of the unmet need for contraception.
A Reproductive Health Bill that would have equalized contraception, paving the way for equal access to reproductive health services and information, has been lagging in legislative debate for the last 15 years. The Catholic Church has staunchly opposed the passage of the bill, calling it tantamount to legalizing abortion (which is illegal in the Philippines), and all those who support it heretics and unpatriotic.
A majority of Filipinos think otherwise. National surveys continue to show that 70% of Filipinos feel that there is a need for a reproductive health law. Many others also think that couples should decide how many children they want and not the Church.
If the Reproductive Health Bill is passed, there will finally be national legislation that will prevent local governments like Manila from creating their own laws like the contraception ban. (A similar contraception ban exists in the province of Bataan. Click here to read more.)
In the coming weeks, the House of Representatives is set to vote on the Reproductive Health Bill.
It means a lot for the Filipino women and their families who live on $2 a day and would rather pay for food than contraception.
Let’s not just give the estimated 5.2 million Filipino women who do not have access to contraception a chance--let’s give them a choice.
May birth control envy never again befall them.
You can help call attention to the urgent need to pass the Reproductive Health Bill. Use hashtags #RHBill and #ParaSaBayan (for country) and #SocialGood when posting information about the Reproductive Health Bill on your social media networks.