Bill giving pregnant minors better access to healthcare, social services obstacle panel

MANILA, Philippines – In an effort to further reduce the number of adolescent pregnancies in the country, the House Committee on Youth and Sports Development has given the green light to a bill establishing “adolescent-friendly” sexual and reproductive health services, as well as social protection measures for pregnant minors.

The committee on Tuesday approved a still-unnumbered replacement bill that consolidates eight bills and one House resolution establishing the “Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Act,” which would create a national policy to prevent adolescent pregnancies while increasing social protection for adolescents. institutionalize parents.

The measure mandates that Department of Health (DOH)-approved standards for adolescent-friendly health facilities and hospitals be institutionalized and “made a requirement” for the accreditation of private and public health facilities.

The bill also aims to provide social protection, such as psychosocial care and legal services, for female minors experiencing sexual violence or caught up in humanitarian crises, armed conflicts and climate-related or emergencies.

Rep. Edcel Lagman, lead author of the measure, said addressing the crisis of adolescent pregnancy involves the creation of evidence-based prevention programs and broadening adolescents’ access to information.

Lagman added that the measure also aims to provide adolescents with “non-judgmental care and support” from trusted adults to help them “make responsible life choices about relationships, sex and their reproductive health.”

‘Mature-minor doctrine’, int’l principles intertwined in bill

The measure gives minors or persons under the age of eighteen the right to use reproductive health services, including contraceptives, under certain conditions, without parental consent.

By giving individuals ages 15 to 18 the right to use reproductive health services without the consent of their parent or legal guardian, the law’s authors cited the principle of the “evolving capacities of the child.”

UNICEF has described this as “a new principle of interpretation in international law that recognizes that as children acquire enhanced competencies, there is less need for protection and greater capacity to take responsibility for decisions that affect their lives.”

Meanwhile, adolescents under the age of 15 who “began having children, who are pregnant, or who have experienced sexual abuse, miscarriage, sexually active or high-risk behavior” will also have “full access” to reproductive health services without authorization from the parents .

The principle cited for this provision is the “mature-minor” doctrine – a common law in the United States and Canada that takes into account that some minors are mature enough to independently consent to medical procedures.

Recognizing that adolescent mothers who experience sexual violence are disproportionately vulnerable, the measure also mandates the provision of legal, medical and psychosocial services for them.

Services include medico-legal investigations and referrals to places where adolescent mothers can seek protective custody or temporary shelter.

The measure also mandates the “prompt and efficient delivery of sexual and reproductive health services” for adolescents and pregnant girls in the event of humanitarian, armed conflict and emergencies.

“More vigilance will be exercised in cases of gender violence, sexual assault and exploitation in these situations,” the bill said.

The United Nations Population Fund Philippines (UNFPA) has praised the adoption of the measure.

“UNFPA supports the pursuit of legislation that would expand adolescents’ choices to sexual and reproductive health services without discrimination,” said Leila Saiji Joudane, UNFPA’s country representative in the Philippines, who previously served as liaison for the bill’s deliberation.

“Teenage pregnancy is one of the biggest challenges facing Philippine youth today. UNFPA looks forward to the passage of the adolescent pregnancy bill by both chambers of Congress and the bill,” added Joudane.

Although the pregnancy rate among youth aged 15-19 has dropped from 14.4% in 2013 to 7.2% in 2021, the Philippines still has one of the highest adolescent birth rates among ASEAN countries, according to UNFPA.

In December, DOH Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire reported that the country’s adolescent birth rate is now 25 per 1,000 women — an improvement over the 2022 target of 37 per 1,000 women.

Bill giving pregnant minors better access to healthcare, social services obstacle panel

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