The Supreme Court decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law drew mixed reactions from both supporters and critics.
But a legislator said the next challenge is to demand government to implement this law as public health spending has been slashed.
The high court voted unanimously on Tuesday to uphold Republic Act No. 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, an act that mandates government to provide maternal health care and other services on family planning and sex education.
But the justices also struck down eight provisions in the law which they said were unconstitutional.
It deemed portions of Section 7 unconstitutional such as the requirement of private health facilities to refer patients to other nearby facilities in non-emergency and non-life-threatening cases, and provision of services for minors who are pregnant or suffering miscarriages with no need for parental consent.
Other provisions were also struck down for “excessive and unjustified penal provisions” namely: Sections 23.a.1, 23.a.2, 23.a.3, 23 and 23.a.2 which punish health workers and practitioners who may fail to act or perform duties to provide reproductive health services to patients.
The RH Law was signed on December 2012 but was suspended by the Supreme Court last May 2013 after 14 petitions were filed questioning the law’s constitutionality.
But for Jeff Fuentes, Assistant Population Division Chief of Davao City Health Office, the struck-down portions were important.
“But I am still happy because it would be all go from here for programs on reproductive health and that government is obliged to provide services for women’s reproductive health and the public could demand government to do so,” Fuentes said.
Fuentes said the City Health has been challenged in terms of human and financial resources to address problems such as teenage pregnancies, family planning methods including birth spacing and control.
In an earlier report, Fuentes cited data that 15 Filipino women die every day to maternal health complications.
The National Statistics Office (NSO) showed maternal mortality is high in the country at 162 deaths for every 100,000 live births.
“With the RH Law we would happy because there would be increase in human resources and budgets to address the gaps,” Fuentes said.
He also said the law would be able to make the Philippines reach its Millenium Development Goal target of bringing down mortality rates in childbirth and pregnant mothers by 2015.
But Gabriela Women Partylist Representative Luzviminda Ilagan said she is more concerned on how government will implement this program.
“The challenge is how to implement it. The RH Law may appear to be pro-women but the other policies of government are anti-women, such as the privatization of public hospitals, and the other policy of the Department of Health of no home-birthing,” Ilagan said.
“How do you reconcile the overreaching law that is RH Law and some of the policies of government that are contradictory to it?” Ilagan asked.
Ilagan and 94 other members in the House of Representatives crossed party-lines to form an alliance questioning the moves of President Aquino to privatize 72 state hospitals all over the country. The Department of Health, however, denied the move as privatization but described it as a “modernization” program for state hospitals.
Ilagan reiterated that her partylist supported the law “with reservations”, saying that the government inserted provisions for its population control framework instead of pushing for increased government budget for health services.
Catholic groups’ responses
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, which has opposed the law, came out with a statement that seeks cooperation with pro-RH Law group for the good of the people.
“We cannot see eye-to-eye with our pro-RH brethren on this divisive issue but we can work hand-in-hand for the good of the country,” said CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas.
He added: “I encourage our Catholic faithful to maintain respect and esteem for the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has decided on the RH issue based on existing laws in the Philippines.”
Villegas said the law has been watered down and consequently upheld the importance of adhering to an informed religious conscience even among government workers. It has also stood on the side of the rights of parents to teach their children.
However, a Catholic priest in Tagum requesting anonymity expressed dismay over the ruling.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling is a deliberate attempt of the government to reverse the teachings of the Church. It is so disappointing to note how government has been plagued with “secularism”,” he said.
Catholic lay leaders in Tagum such as Ignacio Lasco, Grand Knight Council of Knights of Columbus said the Supreme Court ruling “is only a partial victory but we are happy, nevertheless.”
Catholic lay group Mother Butler’s Guild’s Chairwoman Zaida Varon said that striking down the penal provisions of the law will eventually render it useless.
“Today we have shown you what are definitely worth rejecting in the RH law but we will continue to do our pastoral response aggressively to educate the public to uphold the natural law of life. The law now has no teeth so it is useless,” she said.(davaotoday.com)