The online news portal of TV5
Senator Vicente Sotto III delivered a tearful speech on Monday against the RH Bill, saying he is against the proposed law because of his own family's experience with contraceptives.
His wife, actress Helen Gamboa, conceived their first son Vincent Paul, while she was using contraceptive pills, Sotto said. He then said the infant died at five months old, and blamed the infant's death on the pills his wife had been taking.
InterAksyon.com interviewed medical specialists and considered studies released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS). Did the senator have sufficient and real basis to blame the death of his son on contraceptive pills?
See the experts' opinions below:
World Health Organization
In a factsheet on family planning published on their website in July, WHO says the pill works by preventing "the release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation)." Its effectiveness in preventing pregnancy is rated at "greater than 99 percent" with correct and consistent use, and "92 percent as commonly used."
The factsheet makes no mention of the pill's supposed abortifacient effects, nor does it specify any detrimental effect it may have on the health and well-being fetuses and babies.
However, WHO does warn that the pill "should not be taken while breastfeeding."
A WHO Reproductive Health Library commentary also says "women can start all hormonal contraceptives at any time during their menstrual cycle (or at any time if the woman is amenorrhoeic) if it is reasonably certain that she is not pregnant."
Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society
In its website, POGS published a position paper on the proposed reproductive health bills in 2010. The statement contains an entire section titled "Clarifications."
"There is much disinformation and misconception in media and other fora on the following issues. We would like to state that:
"Do not cause abortion; in fact they prevent unwanted pregnancies hence nothing to abort.
"Do not cause death and disease when used appropriately. Pregnancy and childbirth cause more death and disability than taking oral contraceptives. The hormones in the pills are synthetic hormones that are comparable to those produced by women's ovaries. They are modified in doses and composition to make them better, safer and predictable in their medical effects.
"Do not cause cancer; in fact they reduce cancer of endometrium and ovaries. The reported slight increase in the risk for breast cancer is obviated by taking pills based on the national clinical guidelines."
Dr. Rowena F. Rivera, OB-GYN
POGS Fellow Dr. Rowena F. Rivera, who teaches at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health and holds her office at the Medical City, said: "It has been proven that the pill does not cause congenital anomalies in the baby. …It is proven to be safe."
She quoted a section on estrogen, a hormone which is one of the two ingredients of the pill, from the Handbook of Prescription Drugs and Comparative Risk Assessment: Drugs During Pregnancy and Lactation:
"The accidental administration of high-dose preparations for other indications, is no-risk-based reason for a termination of pregnancy, either. At least with repeated high-dose administration, a detailed ultrasound examination could verify a normal morphologic development of the fetus."
Said Rivera, "This means there is no established risk [of the pill on the baby]."
Dr. Ma. Ana Patricia Alvia, OB-GYN
Dr. Ma. Ana Patricia Alvia of the Makati Medical Center says that "contraceptives are all chemicals, so we don't know the effect."
She adds that "it really happens [that the woman gets pregnant even while taking the pill]. The protection of the pill is at best 98 percent, so pwede pa ring malusutan. I have patients who still get pregnant."
Given this, she says anything could happen to the baby should it be conceived while the mother is on the pill "because the mother has all these chemicals in the body. Although there are other factors [that may contribute to this]."
Dr. Alvia says these chemicals "all wreak havoc on the reproductive tract of the mother, making the uterus hostile to life." This is the reason why some people see the pill as an abortifacient, she said.
She does not promote the use of the pill, she says, because "it has a lot of side effects. It's all there in the literature or the product insert inside the box. [For example,] cervicitis. [The pill] has lately been implicated in breast cancer, hypertension, glucose intolerance which may lead to diabetes, venous thrombosis."
Dr. Ma. Cristina Miravalles, OB-GYN
Dr. Ma. Cristina Miravalles, also of the Makati Medical Center, says, "If a woman is taking the pill and then… gets pregnant [and] continues taking the pill, it might have an abortifacient effect."
The pill, if taken in high doses, can render the endometrium, or the lining of the uterus, “unsuitable for implantation for the fertilized egg,” she said.
She added that most of her patients stop taking the pill after they find out they are pregnant.
Dr. Miravalles added that women with a history of thrombosis and leukemia in their families should not take the pill.
Dr. Cecil Monteblanco, OB-GYN
Dr. Cecil Monteblanco of FortMED Medical Clinic said that the pill, "like any other medicine, has side effects. It has to be taken with the safeguard that you know what you are taking."
A woman must know when to take it, when not to take it, and what the possible side effects are. He stressed the need for a woman to consult with a physician before taking the pill.
A doctor must first interview the patient regarding her medical history, particularly her OB/GYN, before prescribing the pill.
"Pills are not for everyone," said Monteblanco.
What happened to Sotto's son?
Alvia said "there are several factors" that have to be considered when discussing what happened to Sotto's son, such as, "What was Gamboa taking during and after her pregnancy?" and, "How she was taking them?"
"We cannot arbitrarily say that [the reason why the infant died] was because of the pills," Monteblanco said. "It could be that the problem was inherent in the child, and was not caused by the pills. This is just an assumption because we do not know the entire story."
He said ill effects on a child are possible should it be conceived while the mother is on the pill, but said he has not handled any such case.
Dr. Diego Danila, an obstetrics specialist at the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control of the Family Health Office at the Department of Health, said that it was "very unfair" for the Senator to blame his son’s death on the pill.
"To focus it on contraceptives is baloney. There is no evidence yet in journals that a five-month-old baby died because the mother was taking pills. Scientifically, medically, he is very ignorant, and to broadcast that to the entire nation (is very unfair). He is misleading the people.”
He said the number one cause of newborn death is infections like diarrhea and dengue.
"The baby might have a congenital effect or a hereditary disease," Danila added. Sotto did say that his son had a weak heart.