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POPCOM disappointed at Sotto's move to slash budget for contraceptives

The Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) lamented Senate President Vicente Sotto's move to cut the Department of Health's (DOH) budget for progestin subdermal implants (PSIs), a hormonal contraceptive, according to a news release by the commission.

“The action of the Senate President is regrettable, since there is no scientific basis for its removal. The FDA has not declared it as contrary to the provisions of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law,” POPCOM executive director Juan Antonio Perez said.

By removing the DOH's budget for implants, the momentum for the implementation of the National Program on Population and Family Planning (NPPFP) would be "adversely affected" during the second half of 2020, he added.

Based on the POPCOM's records as of last year, the NPPFP required about 150,000 to 200,000 implants every six months.

Perez shared that the health department, which had 190,000 implants in stock, would run out in the middle of 2020.

On December 3, House Committee on Appropriations head Isidro Ungab said that the DOH will only be receiving a P200 M augmentation from the House of Representatives to their proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for the upcoming year.

The DOH, in a separate press release, emphasized its stand that using PSI was an effective, beneficial and convenient way to aid in birth spacing for women.

"The DOH clarified the misconception that it causes abortion among users through an issuance of the Results of the FDA’s Re-evaluation of Contraceptive Products for Recertification that declared PSI as among the contraceptive products that are non-abortifacient," the agency said.

The results of the FDA's reevaluation were released in 2017, and it cleared subdermal implants such as Implanon and Implanon NXT as non-abortifacients.

Abortifacient or not?

In November, Sotto pushed for the removal of the DOH's budget for subdermal implants Implanon and Implanon NXT, which he described as "abortifacients."

He then quoted the medical testimony of Donna Harrison an anti-birth control advocate in the US who heads the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

In her written testimony, Harrison criticized the FDA's decision that the subdermal implants were not abortifacients.

"It is my opinion that the FDA of the Philippines erred in their scientific evaluation of the potential for embryocidal activity during the use of hormonal contraceptives. I have read in detail the FDA statements regarding combined oral contraceptives and the FDA statement on implants," Harrison wrote, accusing the agency of a "lack of scientific rigor."

Perez, who is also the Undersecretary for the Population and Development, believes otherwise.

"There is no new evidence that PSIs are abortifacients," he said.

An abortifacient, according to the IRR of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, refers to "any drug or device that induces abortion or the destruction of the fetus inside the mother's womb or te prevention of the fertilized ovum to reach and be planted in the mother's womb upon determination of the FDA."

Meanwhile, the IRR refers to contraceptives as "any safe, legal, effective and scientifically-proven modern family method, device or health product, whether natural or artificial, that prevents pregnancy but does not destroy a fertilized ovum or prevent a fertilized ovum from being implanted in the mother's womb in doses of its approved indication as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)." —LDF, GMA News