Philippine Supreme Court upholds RH law but strikes down conscience-violating provisions

Philippine Supreme Court upholds RH law but strikes down conscience-violating provisions

Today the Philippine Supreme Court upheld the Reproductive Health law (Republic Act No. 10354) as constitutional while striking down key controversial provisions that would have denied parental rights and the right to conscience of health care providers. The World Youth Alliance is disappointed that this law, which does little to address the health and development concerns of Filipinos, will now take effect, but is encouraged that the Supreme Court recognized that some provisions violate the Constitution.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the core provisions of the RH law remain intact. Section 7’s provision that requires all accredited public health facilities to "provide a full range of modern family planning methods" stands, as does Section 14’s requirement that the State provide "reproductive health education" to adolescents. It remains unclear what such reproductive health education entails, and there is no guarantee of parents’ rights to opt their children out of this program if it violates their religious beliefs or values.

Encouragingly, the Supreme Court struck down eight provisions of the law and their corresponding provisions in the Implementing Rules and Regulations, many of which would have violated the right to conscience. Section 7 was struck down to the extent it requires "private health facilities and non-maternity specialty hospitals and hospitals owned and operated by a religious group to refer patients, not in an emergency or life-threatening case, [ . . . ] to another health facility which is conveniently accessible."

The Court also struck down provisions to the extent that they would have punished health care providers for not disseminating information on RH programs and services (Sec. 23(a)(1)) or for not referring a patient to another provider in a non-emergency or non-life-threatening case (Sec. 23(a)(3)), or punished a public officer for refusing to support RH programs (Sec. 23(b)). The RH service pro bono requirement for accreditation under PhilHealth was eliminated insofar as it affects the "conscientious objector" (Sec. 17). These rejections recognize that health care providers should not be required to perform services that violate their beliefs and that being forced to refer a patient to another provider can violate a provider’s conscience.

Signaling the importance of parental rights, the Court also struck down Section 7 to the extent that it would allow minors who have had a miscarriage to access family planning methods without parental consent, and Section 23(a)(2)(ii) "insofar as it penalizes a health service provider who will require parental consent from the minor in not emergency or serious situations."

Although the Supreme Court rejected these unconstitutional and controversial provisions, WYA maintains its years-long opposition to this law because of its reliance on the false premise that a government-run population management program is necessary for development. The RH law still lacks adequate protections for freedom of conscience, pays inadequate attention to maternal and child health, and does not reaffirm the Philippines’ commitment to protecting the unborn. The law also does not properly address the needs of Filipinos, who want measures to address sustainable development concerns that fully respect their cultures, religious beliefs, and values while promoting the health of mothers and children.

As the law now takes effect and is implemented over the coming years, WYA will continue to work with those legislators and advocates who fought with us to push for long-term solutions. We will push for increased access to skilled birth attendants so that every Filipino mother has access to care during childbirth, which will drastically decrease maternal mortality. We will push for increased access to education so that every young person can be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to recognize his or her own potential and to contribute to the development of our society and our economy. We will push for freedom of conscience for all Filipino health workers, allowing all to act according to the dictates of their own consciences and not to the commands of the government.

We call on young people in the Philippines and Asia Pacific region to be vigilant and aware about issues related to the RH law—population, development, and women’s health—and to continue to work together to safeguard our local communities from any threats to the family and to human dignity.

To learn more about the World Youth Alliance’s study on maternal health, read our White Paper and Declaration on Maternal Health.