RH law authors defend measure before SC magistrates
Two lawmakers who crafted and sponsored the reproductive health measure in the Senate and House of Representatives faced the Supreme Court Tuesday in the fourth day of oral arguments on the controversial law's constitutionality.
Former Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, in a speech he delivered as an intervenor in the case, insisted that the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, passed last December, would give families universal access to reproductive health and family planning information, devices, and services.
He reiterated that the law does not force people to use contraceptives and instead promotes a person's right to an informed choice. Lagman was the principal author and sponsor of the RH bill when it was still at the House of Representatives.
"While the state is mandated to provide universal access to legitimate contraception, the ultimate choice belongs to women and couples, the voluntary beneficiaries. A couple or a woman may opt not to choose any method at all," Lagman said.
Lagman clarified that the law recognizes abortion as illegal and punishable by law. "Abortion is not included in the menu of family planning methods which is limited to those which are medically safe, non-abortifacient, effective, and legal."
He said the RH Law does not repeal, modify or amend any existing laws against abortion.
He also said modern contraceptives are "in harmony with human instincts," and that the RH Law is part of of the government's efforts to meet Millennium Development Goal No. 5 to achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015.
Lagman stressed the importance of cost-effective family planning by stressing that through the RH Law, unwanted pregnancy can be prevented.
"Pertinently, the 2012 State of the World Population Report declared that having children by choice, not by chance, leads to healthier families and communities," he said.
When her turn came to argue for the RH Law, Senator Pia Cayetano showed a presentation to describe the plight of two underprivileged mothers who either died giving birth or was forced to give away her three children due to poverty.
"To petitioners, the lives of these women don’t matter. As a consequence, the lives of their children don’t matter either. They are only a very small statistic as far as petitioners are concerned," said Cayetano, who was the measure's principal sponsor when it was still in the Senate.
"But these are real women. They are real Filipinas who have faced the very real dangers and challenges that mothers all over the country face every day," she added.
On anti-RH critics claim that contraceptives causes harmful effects to a woman's body, Cayetano said: "They choose to ignore the fact that all medicines whether preventive or curative have some type of side-effect. No medicine is 100% side-effect free!"
"Following petitioners logic, should we now eradicate vaccination as well, due to its side effects? Do we now ban all drugs because of the side-effects?," she added.
The lawmaker cited statistics showing 15 mothers dying everyday, 12 women die from cervical cancer, preganancies reaching 3.1 million every year - 1.4 million them unplanned. She said nearly half a million abortions happen in the Philippines, and that a Filipino gets Human immunodeficiency virus every two hours.
"The RH Law seeks to bridge this gap by giving the poor what was once exclusively for the rich: a choice," she said.
In interpellating Cayetano, Associate Justice Roberto Abad once again stressed what he had said during previous oral arguments that hormonal contraception was one of the leading causes of cancer.
"So I do not see how you can balance the risks," he said, suggesting that it would be better to focus on improving hospital facilities than promoting contraception.
Cayetano stressed that the law is not only about maternal health or contraceptives, but also about reproductive health education and access.
"The intention of the law on the aspect of sex was to make information avaialble to women who need it on planning families and for age-apropriate people," she said.
On questions that the law might shake up commonly held beliefs in society, Cayetano assured the magistrates: "All education coming from the family, church, religious organizations would still continue to be there."