Pro-Life Victory As Philippines Bans 'Morning-After Pill'

Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:10pm EDT
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Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Pro-lifers in the Philippines have succeeded in having their government outlaw the "morning-after pill" on the grounds that it can cause an abortion, making it the second country in five months to impose such a ban.

Anyone who imports, sells or uses the drug now faces stiff penalties and prosecution.

A pro-life, pro-family lobby called Abaypamilya (Family Front) last May challenged the government about the drug Postinor, the trade name under which levonorgestrel has been marketed in the Philippines since April 2000 as an "emergency contraceptive."

The campaigners argued that Postinor was an abortifacient on the grounds that it can prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. As such, its promotion and use violated the country's constitutional protection of life from the moment of conception.

Abaypamilya campaigner and lawyer Jo Imbong said by phone from Manila Tuesday that the complaint had led to a lengthy review by the Bureau of Food and Drugs, during which written submissions were obtained from a number of sources.

Among submissions considered were those from two American experts, bioethicist Dr. Dianne Irving and internal medicine specialist Dr. Chris Kahlenborn.

Leading Philippine medical bodies had also provided submissions, as had pharmaceutical bodies and companies - including the local licensee for Postinor, Schwarz Pharma.

Apart from Schwarz Pharma's, all the other submissions agreed that human life begins from the moment of fertilization - not at the point of implantation of the ovum into the womb, as argued by promoters of the "morning-after pill." By preventing implantation of the already fertilized ovum, the experts said, the drug was acting as an abortifacient.

Last October, the director of the Bureau of Food and Drugs, William Torres, "came out with a finding in our favor," Imbong said.

No immediate action was taken, however, as the Bureau decision had to be approved by Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit. But the weeks passed without further action, she said. "Meanwhile, the drug was still legal, women were using it, and lives were being lost."

Eventually, her organization had given Dayrit an ultimatum, pointing out the severe potential legal consequences of not acting to stop the importation of mislabeled drugs.

Following this "veiled threat," she said, Dayrit last month finally approved a Bureau of Food and Drugs circular which cancelled the certificate of registration for Postinor, prohibited its further importation, sale and use in the country.

"The Bureau, after careful and thorough evaluation of the position papers and researches ... has determined with the concurrence of the Secretary of Health that Postinor has abortifacient effect and contravenes existing provisions of law on the matter," the circular says.

Anyone who continues to import, sell or prescribe the drug in the Philippines will now face penalties and criminal charges, Imbong said.

As far as she knows, the Philippines is now the only country in Asia to have banned the "morning-after pill." Last August, Chile's Supreme Court outlawed the pill there despite its earlier approval by the health ministry.

Battle ahead

As "euphoric" as the Philippine campaigners were about the victory, they were also well aware that "de-population advocates" would not take the decision lying down, Imbong said.

"The country will be under pressure [from bodies like the U.N., international funding agencies and the International Planned Parenthood Federation]," she predicted. "This is just the beginning."

The Canadian pro-life campaign, Lifesite, says the Consortium for Emergency Contraception, a grouping of "abortion supporters" including key U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations, is engaged in a campaign to promote the "morning-after pill" in the developing world.

Pro-lifers point to a Dec. 2000 decision by a major Muslim organization in Indonesia to collaborate with those promoting the "morning-after pill." It was reported at the time that the organization, Muhammadiyah, had been persuaded that the drug did not go against the teachings of Islam.

The Consortium for Emergency Contraception says on its website that its local representatives in Indonesia had "helped set the stage for an eventual product introduction," having established "a successful relationship with a key Islamic organization with service delivery potential and influence on the registration decision."

Imbong said that there were government and non-governmental elements in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines who colluded with foreign pro-abortion advocates.

Although the Philippines' 1987 constitution expressly protects the life of the unborn from the moment of conception, pro-life positions were under attack, she said.

Imbong praised international pro-life cooperation, saying her group was especially indebted to groups like the American Life League and Pharmacists for Life.

The pro-life achievement in the Philippines comes at a time campaigners in Britain are fighting both a legal action to restrict availability of the "morning-after pill," and attempts by an advertising watchdog to challenge its assertion that the drug can cause abortions.

Two Catholic publications in Britain recently said they would continue to run ads by the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC). The ads describe the drug as an abortifacient, despite a call by the Advertising Standards Authority for publishers not to do so.

SPUC has welcomed the news from the Philippines, saying it "congratulated all those involved in the campaign against the drug" there.

See also:
Pro-Lifers Dismiss As 'Nonsense' Philippine Abortion Figures (Dec. 26, 2001)
Newspaper Groups Fight Morning-After Pill Advertising Ruling (Dec. 3, 2001)

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