The salutary measures of the RH Law
With all the hoopla over the passage of the Reproductive Health Law now past, the hard work of implementation begins. How do Catholics, many of whom work in the healthcare profession, in the employment sector, in education, in public governance, in ordinary life, follow the substance of the law within the Church’s milieu of faith and morals? The Supreme Court decision on the matter is 104 pages, and it is rightly assumed that most Catholics may not have the “patience nor the skill to make their way through the legal argumentation involved.”
This previous July, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued the Pastoral Guidelines on the Implementation of the Reproductive Health Law for nationwide dissemination to all Catholic parishes and associations. What is rather more revealing about the CBCP advisory is the realization that, in fact, the Supreme Court decision of April 8, 2014, actually upholds much of the Catholic Church’s position on reproductive health. Considering the impossibility to compress the entire 15 salient points of the guideline in this small column space, I have opted to discuss only the main propositions:
- The Supreme Court points out that the whole idea of contraception (as the means to control population growth) runs through the RH Law. It is in fact the governing and overarching principle of the RH Law. Other provisions such as skilled birth attendance, maternal care, including pre- and post-natal services, prevention and management of sexually-related diseases and sicknesses, are already provided for in the Magna Carta for Women. In rendering its decision in the Imbong case, the Court affirms the principles of “no abortion” and “no coercion” in the adoption of any family planning method.
- The right to life is grounded on natural law and is inherent in a person, and therefore not a creation of, or dependent upon a particular law, custom or belief. The right to life precedes and transcends any authority or law of man.
- Abortifacients are prohibited by the RH Law. An abortifacient is any drug or device that:
- a) induces abortion; or b) induces the destruction of a fetus inside the mother’s womb; or c) prevents the fertilized ovum to reach and to be implanted in the mother’s womb.
Then a qualifier from the CBCP: “In this regard, it is important to point out that the Supreme Court has invalidated two related provisions in the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the RH Law for inserting the modifier ‘primarily’ in the definitions of ‘abortifacient’ and ‘contraceptive’.” The Court notes that the word “primarily” (which is not found in the RH Law itself) would HAVE
ALLOWED THE SURREPTITIOUS INTRODUCTION OF DRUGS AND DEVICES THAT, THOUGH PRIMARILY NOT ABORTIFACIENT, ARE IN FACT ABORTIFACIENT IN USE AND IN EFFECT. The Court clarifies that, consistent with the no-abortion spirit of the RH Law, even contraceptives that have no such primary intention, but have the secondary effect of destroying the fetus or preventing nidation (the attaching of the fertilized egg to the uterine wall), should be considered abortifacient and are, therefore, banned.
- No contraceptive that harms or destroys the life of the unborn from conception or fertilization, either as a primary or secondary effect, can be allowed under the law, even if it be advertised, categorized, distributed and announced as a contraceptive. The determining factor therefore is whether or not the supposed contraceptive also prevents nidation or destroys the zygote, embryo, blastocyst or fetus. If it does, then it cannot be allowed under the law.
- In the distribution by the Department of Health of contraceptive drugs and devices, the provisions of an existing law, Republic Act No. 4729 must be complied with.
- The Court expresses itself very strongly on the following point: “At this point, the Court is of the strong view that Congress cannot legislate that hormonal contraceptives and intra-uterine devices are safe and non-abortifacient.” The guideline argues: Testing, evaluation and approval by the Food and Drug Administration are required.
- When a healthcare worker, whether practicing on his own or as part of a public or private healthcare facility, objects, on the basis of conscience, to artificial contraception, he/she is NOT OBLIGED AND MAY REFUSE to refer a patient to anyone else (healthcare worker or facility) from where the contraceptives may be obtained. The Supreme Court observes that “though it has been said that the act of referral is an opt-out clause, it is, however, a false compromise because it makes pro-life health providers complicit in the performance of an act that they find morally repugnant or offensive.”
Points 8-14 are references to court decisions on the unconstitutionality of compulsory referral, the right of healthcare workers in government facilities to exercise conscientious objection, the primacy of the preservation of human life in providing emergency care to a patient who has undergone a botched abortion procedure, common spousal consent for an irreversible contraceptive procedure, parental consent for minors, nonobligation of Catholic schools to propagate the reproductive health curriculum of government, and the right of Catholics employed in non-healthcare units of local governments “not to support or participate in the implementation of the reproductive health program, based on religious or ethical ground.”
The last, point 15, concludes: “Significantly, the Court says: ‘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.”
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