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The Supreme Court decision on the RH Law

(Concluded from last Monday)

Duty to refer. Some provisions of the Reproductive Health Law commonly mandate that a hospital or a medical practitioner immediately refer a person seeking health care and services under the law to another accessible healthcare provider despite their conscientious objections based on religious or ethical beliefs. In this case, the conscientious objector’s claim to religious freedom would warrant an exemption from the obligation to refer under the RH Law, unless the government succeeds in demonstrating a more compelling state interest in the accomplishment of an important secular objective.

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“Once the medical practitioner, against his will, refers a patient seeking information on modern reproductive health products, services, procedures and methods, his conscience is immediately burdened as he has been compelled to perform an act against his beliefs.

“The same holds true with respect to nonmaternity specialty hospitals and hospitals owned and operated by a religious group and healthcare service providers. Considering that Section 24 of the RH Law penalizes such institutions should they fail or refuse to comply with their duty to refer under Section 7 and Section 23(a)(3), the Court deems that it must be struck down for being violative of the freedom of religion. The same applies to Section 23(a)(l) and (a)(2) in relation to Section 24, considering that in the dissemination of information regarding programs and services and in the performance of reproductive health procedures, the religious freedom of healthcare service providers should be respected.

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“All this notwithstanding, the Court properly recognizes a valid exception set forth in the law in life-threatening cases that require the performance of emergency procedures. In these situations, the right to life of the mother should be given preference, considering that a referral by a medical practitioner would amount to a denial of service, resulting to unnecessarily placing the life of a mother in grave danger. ”

In a conflict situation between the life of the mother and the life of the child, the Court recognizes the applicability of the principle of double effect. A doctor is obliged to try to save both lives. However, he can act in favor of one (not necessarily the mother) when it is medically impossible to save both, provided that no direct harm is intended to the other.

Family planning seminars. The requirement that applicant for a marriage license must attend a family planning seminar is a valid exercise of police power. After all, couples are free to accept or reject what they learn in the seminar.

Family unity and privacy. Decisions on family planning matters should be made by both husband and wife. This refers to reproductive health procedures like tubal ligation and vasectomy which, by their very nature, should require mutual consent and decision between the husband and the wife as they affect issues intimately related to the founding of a family.

Similarly, parents do not lose their authority over minors who have become pregnant. “It is precisely in such situations when a minor parent needs the comfort, care, advice, and guidance of her own parents. The State cannot replace her natural mother and father when it comes to providing her needs and comfort. To say that their consent is no longer relevant is clearly antifamily. It does not promote unity in the family. It is an affront to the constitutional mandate to protect and strengthen the family as an inviolable social institution.”

Appropriate reproductive sexual education. The Court refrained from commenting on this since the Department of Education still has to formulate implementing rules.

Facts and fallacies and the wisdom of the law. “In general, the Court does not find the RH Law unconstitutional insofar as it seeks to provide access to medically-safe, nonabortifacient, effective, legal, affordable, and quality reproductive healthcare services, methods, devices, and supplies. As earlier pointed out, however, the religious freedom of some sectors of society cannot be trampled upon in pursuit of what the law hopes to achieve. After all, the constitutional safeguard to religious freedom is a recognition that man stands accountable to an authority higher than the State. In conformity with the principle of separation of Church and State, one religious group cannot be allowed to impose its beliefs on the rest of the society. Philippine modern society leaves enough room for diversity and pluralism. As such, everyone should be tolerant and open-minded so that peace and harmony may continue to reign as we exist alongside each other.

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“Be that as it may, it bears reiterating that the RH Law is a mere compilation and enhancement of the prior existing contraceptive and reproductive health laws, but with coercive measures. Even if the Court decrees the RH Law as entirely unconstitutional, there will still be the Population Act (Republic Act No. 6365), the Contraceptive Act (RA 4729) and the reproductive health for women or The Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710), sans the coercive provisions of the assailed legislation. All the same, the principle of ‘no-abortion’ and ‘noncoercion’ in the adoption of any family planning method should be maintained.”

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