The sisterhood of the childbearing scrubs

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Are women doing it for themselves or are they doing it to themselves? Nothing sets a movement back like heresy among its members, so when women themselves act contrary to what feminism considers in the best interest of other women, there is a jarring disconnect. Last week, the administration of Pines City Colleges, a small nursing college in Baguio, issued a memo requiring its female students to undergo pregnancy tests before being allowed to enroll. The test is mandatory: three dates, November 7, 8 and 9—the first for dentistry students, the last two for those studying pharmacy and nursing—have been set aside while the P150 “damage” will be incorporated into school fees borne by the students. The college’s vice-president for administration and its school physician signed off on the memo in October and both happen to be women.

It will be hard to blame the patriarchy for this one. The school insists that it “abides by its policy of pregnancy tests for female students who are enrolling in any subject that would endanger both mother and child. It is a policy agreed to by our students upon their enrollment in this institution.”  It added that the policy was meant to protect “our students while they are in our care and are deployed to internship programs in hospitals and to clinical practices.” At least the school can claim that it meant well, but its good intentions are somewhat belied by the consequences if a student refuses to comply. Apparently, if the school discovers that the student is pregnant, she will not be allowed to enroll in certain subjects such as Roentgenology (which I believe involves X-rays), Anesthesiology, Endodontics, Hospital Dentistry, and Community Dentistry. If the student is or does get pregnant during the semester, she will be required to write an explanatory letter, then drop the subject. If she gets an abortion and is found out, she can be expelled.

I am still trying to wrap my head around that explanatory letter. What is the poor girl supposed to explain? “Dear Dean, I was fooling around (giggles) with my boyfriend and it was, like, raining, so it was cold and wet, then one thing led to another (more giggles)…. Anyway, we’d so love you to be a godmother!” Letter or no letter, the policy smacks of women discriminating against women, which is new, because if men had signed the memo, the controversy most assuredly would have gotten way worse. The policy revives old-fashioned notions treating pregnancy almost as an affliction that limits a woman’s ability to live life as she would if she were not pregnant. The subtext is that women therefore need to be “protected,” that is, treated differently from men, when the point is that women, pregnant or not, are capable of working just as hard as men.

Laws are clear on this score. Section 13 of the Magna Carta for Women provides that “no school shall turn out or refuse admission to a female student solely on the account of her having contracted pregnancy outside of marriage during her term in school.” Civil status, however, is not what’s solely crucial; pregnancy is. To provide a context, section 130 of the Labor Code used to prohibit women from night-time work between 10 p.m. to six a.m. in industrial companies; section 131 contained the exceptions. The intent of the law was to again, “protect” women against the rigors of night-time labor; the problem was that the intent violated the constitutional guarantee of equal opportunity of work for all. The law stood for 37 years until in June 2011 when Congress enacted Republic Act No. 10151, ending the discrimination. Substitute “studies” for “work” and you can appreciate that the Colleges’ policy stands on shaky legal grounds.

Other rights factor in as well. There are Bill of Rights issues impinging on female students’ rights to, among others, privacy, education and equal protection, not to mention women’s dominion over their own bodies. Then there are the rights to reproductive health under Republic Act No. 10354, the Reproductive Health Law, which encompasses contraception, sexual education and maternal care. Obviously, the issue is more complex than the policy assumes.

There is, however, one voice conspicuously unheard in the polemics. That voice belongs to the fetus over whose welfare the women are going back-and-forth. If I were a fetus, I would appreciate all the concern over sparing me from radiation or exposing me to infectious agents. Now if I were the school, I cannot be overly unconcerned about the legal liabilities that can arise from allowing expectant students to enlist in, say Roentgenology.

Hypothetical question: assume a beauty queen signs a contract undertaking she will not get pregnant during her reign and she does; should she resign?  #MeToo would bristle at the suggestion but here’s an apple of discord: First, a woman’s word is as good as any man’s. Second, no woman is such a slave to hormones that she cannot control her fertility, which is a right that women have been fighting for all along.  Third and not least, the welfare of a child should trump any beauty title.

But that’s just my opinion. G



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