High Court in Philippines Rules in Favor of Controversial Law

philippines RH billAfter 14 months of political and legal wrangling, the Supreme Court of the Philippines has ruled that a controversial reproductive health law is constitutional except for eight provisions that deal mostly with protecting  people of faith who conscientiously object to the law.

According to InterAksyon.com, Republic Act 10354, or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, has been ruled constitutional by the nation’s highest court.

Among other provisions, the bill mandates government promotion of “all effective natural and modern methods of family planning that are medically safe and legal.” While abortion will remain illegal, companies with more than 200 employees will now be required to cover the cost of their female employees’ “reproductive health” expenses. The bill also mandates “age appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education” for grades five through 12. National and local governments will now be responsible for making family planning services, including prenatal care, available to all.

The bill also stipulated that anyone who prohibits or restricts access to these services will be penalized with imprisonment or a fine – but these provisions were declared unconstitutional by the high court and struck down.

Supporters of the law are split over these exemptions with some fretting over how they will impact implementation while others say they can live with them.

“I am very happy that the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the RH law and can live w the elimination of the provisions that they exempted,” said former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, who lead the Purple Ribbon Movement, a coalition of groups and individuals supporting the law.

She noted that some of the exemptions said private facilities cannot be forced to provide reproductive health services against their beliefs but that all public health facilities must do so.

This means that “the poor can still rely on government facilities to provide RH services for them,” she said.

But others supporters intend to fight to have the exemptions removed. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago called the ruling “a triumph of reason over superstition,” but indicated that she doubted the evidence the court used to determine the eight exemptions was enough. She told InterAksyon that she intends to make a general assessment of the chances of a motion for reconsideration of those eight provisions.

The Philippine Catholic bishops expressed sadness over the ruling, but applauded the Court’s upholding of the rights of conscientious objectors among health workers and owners of private hospitals, as well as the rights of parents as primary teachers of their children.

In a statement, the president of the Filipino Bishops organization, the CBCP, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas called the law “unjust” but said the Court had effectively “watered down” the measure with the eight exemptions that “consequently upheld the importance of adhering to an informed religious conscience even among government workers.”

He went on to encourage the 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.”

However, the Church “must continue to uphold the sacredness of human life, to teach always the dignity of the human person and to safeguard the life of every human person from conception to natural death. 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,” he said.

“We will continue to proclaim the beauty and holiness of every human person. Through two thousand years, the Church has lived in eras of persecution, authoritarian regimes, wars and revolutions.”

He added: “The Church can continue its mission even with such unjust laws. Let us move on from being an RH-law-reactionary-group to truly Spirit empowered disciples of the Gospel of life and love. We have a positive message to proclaim.”

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