Of senators, sperms and the fight for birth control

The whole comedy of errors actually had the potential to make you laugh—if only it weren’t so real and true.

It all started when Philippine Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto, a staunch critic of the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, started crying on the Senate Floor. The RH Bill, in a nutshell, will pave the way for universal access to reproductive health care information and services. It is for this reason that the passage of the bill is being torn apart, disparaged and its passage delayed by those like Senator Sotto, who call themselves pro-life. 

In his privilege speech, Senator Sotto choked on his words when he spoke about how his first born son died when he was 5 months old because of complications brought on by his wife’s usage of birth control pills.

This was the reason why he would do everything he could to prevent the passage of the RH Bill which would only serve to give women free access to oral contraceptives which were harmful.

To support his claim, Sotto then cited the study of a Natasha Campbell-McBride who said that birth control pills are harmful to their users and their unborn. 

It could have ended at that, but like the 15-year debate on the RH Bill in the Philippines, it was only the beginning of a long-winded drama.

Copy Paste

A blogger from the group, Filipino Freethinkers discovered that there were several passages from Senator Sotto’s speech that were directly lifted from Sarah Pope and her blog, The Healthy Home Economist.

The post on the Filipino Freethinkers website accusing the Senator of plagiarism went—in today’s equivalent of instantaneous—viral.

Senator Sotto vehemently denied plagiarizing Sarah Pope saying, “Why should I quote a blogger? She is just a blogger.

When Ms. Pope herself came out to say that her blog was indeed plagiarized, Hector Villacorta, Senator Sotto’s Chief of Staff posted an apology in the comments page of Ms. Pope’s blog, hoping to mollify Ms. Pope and make her “happy”.

Ms. Pope did not think it was funny.  She called for accountability, and she also Senator Sotto not just a thief, but also a lying thief.

The hundreds of people who made themselves heard on Ms. Pope’s blog did not think it was funny as well. As of this writing, there are more than 700 comments on her post, “On Plagiarism, the Pill and Presumptuousness”.

Memes, jokes and other accusations flooded Facebook and Twitter and not even Senator Sotto’s pre-senatorial days of being a comedian who starred in slapstick movies and TV sit – coms (think Dumb and Dumber genre), could offer some form of comic relief.  

Senator Sotto has called the hullabaloo a diversionary tactic to discredit him and draw attention from the “real issue” which is the harmful effects of contraceptives and why the government should not give women who need and want to use it access.

It is an accusation that can also be said about him—albeit in a different manner.

Senator Sotto has used various arguments to stall the passage of the RH Bill from using the argument that sperms are sacred to the death of his first-born son. (Critics have questioned the authenticity of Senator Sotto’s claim since the pill that he claims caused the death of his son was supposedly introduced to the market two years after his son died.)

Months ago, when presented with statistical data on the maternal death ratio in the Philippines, he asked women’s health advocates to present the death certificates of the women who died from pregnancy-related complications.

The introduction of the Pill was heralded as the greatest invention of all time by women. It allowed them to plan their lives and not be a passive participant when it came to reproduction. The ramifications were far-reaching. Being able to control their fertility allowed women to go to work, map out their career by simply giving them the power and the choice as to when to have children, how many or whether to have them at all.

Which is probably why so many are against the pill and other forms of modern contraception, which are exponentially more effective than natural methods. It is also probably why those who are against birth control are the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and legislators like Sotto are mostly men.

Are they so afraid that giving women access to birth control will give them the same privileges, the same rights as men?

Are they afraid that access to birth control will give women the last laugh?