The bill was signed into law in December 2012 and took effect on Jan. 17, 2013. Its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) were released by the Department of Health in March 2013.
But the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10354) has yet to make the actual leap from paper to actual practice. In fact, the law that gives couples and individuals access to crucial information on and the means to decide the number and spacing of their children appears headed for more delay.
The Supreme Court’s Second Division recently issued a temporary restraining order on the selling, distributing or dispensing of contraceptive drugs and devices, including Implanon and Implanon NXT, on the petition of the Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines Inc., a Catholic group that describes the implants as possibly abortifacient. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the thin rods inserted under the skin release hormones that prevent pregnancy for up to three years.
Shortly after the bill was approved in Congress after almost 14 years of vociferous and hair-splitting debate, Catholic groups formally questioned the constitutionality of RA 10354; in March 2013, the Supreme Court stopped its implementation. On April 8, 2014, the high court pronounced the law constitutional except for some provisions, but the groups’ action effectively delayed it by more than a year.
The latest petition against Implanon appears like another delaying tactic. After fighting the bill for 14 years in Congress, some groups seem bent on sabotaging its implementation by bringing up imagined dents and wrinkles for legal scrutiny. And given the backlog in the courts, this strategy can very well hobble the RH Law until the 2016 elections, when a new—and possibly more Church-friendly—president takes over.
Is it now open season on this law even before it can be implemented? After all, there is now House Bill No. 5373, principally authored by Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza Jr., and which seeks to repeal all laws, decrees, rules, regulations, and executive orders related to the RH Law.
Meanwhile, here are the realities on the ground. According to the DOH’s 2012 data, the Philippines has an annual maternal mortality rate (MMR) of 220 per 100,000 live births from causes related to or aggravated by pregnancy. In some of the poorest regions, the MMR rises to 320. United Nations estimates say that 11 Filipino women die daily from “preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth.” Over a year, that translates to more than 4,000 maternal deaths yearly, which could have been prevented by the full implementation of the RH Law.
Church-affiliated groups may do well to remember that even Pope Francis has reminded the faithful not to sacrifice mercy and compassion to an obsession with doctrine. At the very least, these groups have to respect the 14-year process that the RH Law hurdled, in which the concerns they are again bringing to the high court were meticulously—and repeatedly—addressed.
Their concern about contraceptives, for example, is pointedly addressed by the RH Law, which defines family planning resources as “a full range of safe, affordable, effective, nonabortifacient, modern, natural and artificial methods of planning pregnancy … as determined by the FDA.”
If the FDA approval of Implanon is brought into question, what’s to stop similar groups from second-guessing the FDA decision on other forms of contraception? What final and independent body will these groups deem credible, acceptable and capable to make a determination on an issue that they judge based mainly on religious doctrine than on medical science?
These groups may want to follow the government’s lead when it states in the RH Law’s IRR that it “shall respect individuals’ preferences and choice of family planning methods that are in accordance with their religious convictions and cultural beliefs, taking into consideration the State’s obligations under various human rights instruments.”
These groups can also do worse than consider the results of a Social Weather Stations survey conducted on March 27-30, 2014, showing that more than seven out of 10 Filipinos (or 77 percent) favor the RH Law and think that it “follows what the Constitution stands for.” These groups—and the courts—have to remember as well that the RH Law is intended to give access to family planning resources to women who need and choose to use them.
By stopping or delaying the implementation of the RH Law, these groups are callously snatching away that choice.
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