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SC says RH Law constitutional except for some provisions


(Updated 8:02 a.m., April 9) BAGUIO CITY - The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law, except for parts of Section 7, 17 and 23 of the controversial measure, and some provisions in its implementing rules.

The announcement was made as supporters and critics of the law gathered outside the Supreme Court compound here, where the magistrates are holding their annual summer session until April 25.
 
While preserving the core of the law – requiring the state to deliver the full range of family planning services to the public –  the SC decision limits the scope of its coverage.  
 
In Section 7 of the law, the power of the government to oblige private hospitals and those owned by religious groups to refer patients to other facilities that offer reproductive health services was struck down.
 
Another provision in the same section that allows minors to avail of family planning services without parental consent if they have already given birth or suffered a miscarriage was also declared unconstitutional.
 

The Supreme Court decision on the Reproductive Health Law

Essence of law upheld


Nonetheless, the essence of the law embodied in Section 7, which requires the state to provide family planning services, including artificial contraceptives, was upheld.

Section 7 of Republic Act 10354 (Access to Family Planning) states that “all accredited public health facilities shall provide a full range of modern family planning methods, which shall also include medical consultations, supplies and necessary and reasonable procedures for poor and marginalized couples having infertility issues who desire to have children.”

It also states that hospitals “shall immediately refer the person seeking such care and services to another health facility which is conveniently accessible.”

The provision further states that no person, except minors, shall be denied information and access to family planning services, whether natural or artificial. Minors can also access family planning methods if their parents or guardians give them a written consent for it.

Penalties withdrawn
 
In Section 23 of the law and its implementing rules, the following provisions were declared unconstitutional:
  • penalties for health care providers who fail to disseminate RH information or refer patients not in an emergency and life threatening case to another health care service provider, regardless of his or her religious beliefs;
  • punishment for government health workers who refuse to support RH programs or provide RH services to patients, regardless of his or her religious beliefs;
  • penalties for health service providers that require parental consent from minor patients who are not in an emergency or serious situation;
  • allowing a married individual, not in an emergency or life-threatening case... to undergo reproductive health procedures without the consent of the spouse

The high court also nullified portions of Section 17 on the rendering of pro-bono reproductive health services that "affect the conscientious objector in securing PhilHealth accreditation."

Definition of contraceptive

In addition to some sections of the law, the use of the qualifier "primarily" in the definition of "abortifacient" and "contraceptive" in Section 3.01(a) and (j) of its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) was also removed.

These IRR sections define abortifacient as a drug that "primarily" induces abortion, and contraceptive as a family planning method that does not "primarily" destroy the ovum.

The SC ruled that the use of "primarily" in both sections contravened Sec. 4(a) of the RH Law and violates Section 12, Article II of the Constitution, which recognizes the sanctity of family life.

Unanimous

The Justices voted unanimously to uphold the constitutionality of the RH Law, Te said. The decision was penned by Associate Justice Jose Mendoza.

Te added that the 14 petitioners have 15 days to file a motion for reconsideration.

He declined to say whether the SC decision had effectively lifted the indefinite status quo ante order against the controversial measure, saying the court has not yet made a categorical statement on the matter.

As soon as the court spokesman uttered the words "not unconstitutional," RH law supporters eagerly awaiting the decision, including former Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros and celebrated Manila tour guide Carlos Celdran, erupted in cheers.

"It was great to hear the words 'not unconstitutional,'" Hontiveros said. She added that her group would still be studying the possibility of asking the SC to reconsider its decision on the RH law portions declared as unconstitutional.

After the announcement, Hontiveros and other RH Law advocates marched down to the People's Park where they continued their celebration by chanting, singing, and dancing.

DOH reaction

In a press statement, Health Secretary Enrique T. Ona said the SC ruling signified “a huge victory” for advocates and supporters of the RH law.
 
“This has been an amazing day for family planning advocates in the Philippines as we saw a huge victory with the decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act,” Ona said.

He added that the Department of Health (DOH) is prepared to implement the provisions of the RH law that were not struck down in the SC decision, Ona said.

“The DOH recognizes that true victory in improving health outcomes using the RPRH Law, as originally passed or as modified, will only be within reach with proper operational implementation,” he said.

“We need everyone’s help – whether pro-RH or anti-RH” to better the health of every Filipino, Ona said.

Prayer vigil

Earlier in the day, red shirt-clad RH Law critics – led by Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines' Father Melvin Castro – held a prayer vigil inside the Baguio Cathedral before marching toward the SC compound.

Similarly, supporters of the RH Law from Akbayan party-list and Purple Movement for RH Law simultaneously held their own protest march to the SC. 

Castro told reporters that while they would respect an SC decision against them, they will not let "the gospel teaching be compromised."

"The church is not afraid to go through the same thing and just be rejected by human courts. Ang totoong battle goes beyond RH and that is to win back the hearts of the young," he said.

"With or without the law (anyway), contraceptive users naman ang kabataan. (Kaya) malaki ang tatrabahuhin ng simbahan," he added.

16 years in the making

Signed by President Benigno Aquino III in December 2012, the RH law seeks to provide improved public access to natural and artificial family planning options, better maternal care, and youth education.

The Catholic Church has strongly opposed the law, which was first introduced in Congress 16 years ago.

Under the law, the government will promote programs that allow couples to have their desired number of children with due consideration to the health of babies and women. Resources will also be made available to parents in accordance with their personal and religious convictions.

It also aims to inform young people between the ages of 10 to 19 years old about reproductive health issues and responsible teenage behavior, among other things.

However, the Supreme Court issued on March 19, 2013 a 120-day status quo ante order against the law's implementation, with a vote of 10-5.

The five who dissented were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, and Marvic Leonen.

The SQA order was extended indefinitely in July 2013, with a vote of 8-7. 

Ready to implement

Malacañang deferred from commenting on the high court's decision since parts of the law were still declared unconstitutional.

"We would have to wait for the entire decision," deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said during a press briefing Tuesday.

But she said the government has been ready to implement the law from the day it was signed by the President. 

"So that would be the [job of the] Department of Health and I understand that, yes, they have been putting it off, or at least, because of its compliance to the TRO that was issued," Valte said.
 
The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), meanwhile, said in a statement released Tuesday it was happy about the SC decision.

"It has been a long battle for women's rights to be protected and fulfilled. The PCW is optimistic that with the implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law, issues of poverty, high infant and maternal deaths, and teenage pregnancies will be addressed," it said. — With reports from Kimberly Jane Tan and Ibarra Mateo/RSJ/KG/HS/YA/KBK, GMA News
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