Discrimination in Health Provision

The recent controversy relating to Manny D. Pacquiao’s religion-based remark regarding the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community re-opened the discussion on how society looks at unconventional relationships. In this case, we look at how the unconventional relationships (that Pacquiao and the Catholic Church do not like) are affected by a push back in public policy.

Let’s take the case of unmarried cohabiting couples or commonly known as “live-in” couples. Their number has been increasing since 1998, but they are still heavily frowned upon today. Had we waited for them to be legally married first before providing social services, we would be ignoring the needs of the group, whose number has grown to 15% of women aged 15 to 49-years old, according to the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey.

Today, half (43%) of live-in couples who want to limit or space their children are unable to do so. This is 14 percentage points higher than their legally married counterparts (Family and Health Survey, 2011). It is a big deal given that they are more vulnerable to financial shocks.

Most of the reasons stated by live-in couples for not using any family planning method can be addressed by what the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RH) Law can provide. Data further show that half (46%) of the live-in couples who use family planning methods prefer birth-control pills.

Given that these live-in couples are already in a disadvantaged position (for instance, one cannot make his or her live-in partner a dependent in PhilHealth membership), the health services offered under the RH law are crucial to them. The IRR (or Implementing Rules and Regulations) of the RH law regarding provision or delivery of reproductive health care does not discriminate between married and unmarried individuals.

The law would have benefited practically all couples, not until when the law’s implementation was stalled at the Supreme Court, due to religious-moral grounds.

More recently, the Bicameral Committee, upon the pressure of anti-RH Senator Vicente C. Sotto III, removed the one-billion peso budget for modern contraceptives under the Department of Health budget for the year 2016. This was not an issue of lack of financing, for the funding is sourced from the Sin Tax law, which earmarks funds for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

This withdrawal of the budget for contraceptives undermines the assistance for family planning and child rearing. This affects everyone, not only the LGBTs, but most especially the poor.

Yet we can surmise that a big number of same-sex marriage live in poverty, partly because of the stigma and deprivation of opportunities and other social services.

Madeiline Joy Aloria is a researcher at Action for Economic Reforms.

This article was first posted on BusinessWorld last February 29, 2016.
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