The Supreme Court (SC) en banc has declared the Reproductive Health (RH) Law as constitutional but ruled that some of its provisions are unconstitutional.
The Manila Times on Monday broke the story that SC justices would declare as legal salient features of the controversial RH Law (Republic Act or RA 10354), with some exceptions, particularly provisions under Sections 7, 17 and 23. Section 3 is an additional provision that the magistrates declared as unconstitutional.
During their en banc summer session in Baguio City on Tuesday, the SC justices upheld the constitutionality of the RH law but were divided over some of the provisions, which they eventually declared as unconstitutional.
“Be that as it may, it bears reiterating that the RH Law is a mere compilation and enhancement of the prior and 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 (RA 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,” the tribunal said. The decision was penned by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza.
The SC upheld the “principle of no-abortion and non-coercion in the adoption of any family planning method.”
It disagreed with the petitioners’ contention that the RH Law intrudes into marital privacy and autonomy.
The court also ruled that health workers can not be forced to do a procedure if it is against their religious beliefs, except when the life of the mother and the child is threatened.
It said family planning shall be a private matter that shall be decided by both spouses as a constitutionally guaranteed right.
The justices were divided on some sections and provisions of the law, eventually declaring them as unconstitutional:
Section 7 was declared illegal because it requires private health facilities and hospitals owned by a religious organization to refer their patients to another hospital and for allowing minors who have suffered miscarriage to have contraceptives without the written permission of their parents; as well as Section 17, “and the corresponding provision of the RH-IRR [Reproductive Health-Implementing Rules and Regulations] regarding the rendering of pro bono reproductive health service in so far as they affect the conscientious objector in securing PhilHealth accreditation.”
The SC struck out as illegal Section 23a(1), Section 23(a)(2), Section 23 (a)(2)(i), Section 23(a)(3), Section 23(b) and Section 23 (a) (2) (ii).
The justices ruled as unconstitutional provisions on a married person undergoing health procedures without permission of the spouse, on punishing a health worker who refuses to refer a patient to another health worker within the same facility regardless of his religious calling and on sanctioning a government official who refuses to support reproductive health programs of the state.
Also declared unconstitutional were:
• Section 7, which is about access to family planning, as well as Sections A and B of its implementing rules and regulations. Section A 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. Section B allows minor-parents or minors who have suffered a miscarriage access to modern methods of family planning without written consent from their parents or guardians;
• Section 23 Punishable Acts (a) (1) and corresponding provision in the RH-IRR particularly Section 24 insofar as it punishes any health care provider who fails or refuses to disseminate information regarding programs and services on reproductive health regardless of his or her religious beliefs;
• Section 23 (a)(2)(i) and a provision in the IRR with regard to allowing a married individual not in an emergency or life-threatening case to undergo reproductive health procedures without the consent of the spouse;
• Section 23(a)(3) and the provision in the IRR that punishes any health care provider who fails and/or refuses to refer a patient not in an emergency or life-threatening case to another health care service provider within the same facility or one that is conveniently accessible regardless of his or her religious beliefs;
• Section 23(b) and the provision in the IRR that punishes any public officer who refuses to support reproductive health programs or shall do any act that hinders the full implementation of a reproductive health program, regardless of his or her religious beliefs;
• Section 17 on pro bono services to indigent women and corresponding provision in the IRR regarding the rendering of pro bono reproductive health service, insofar as they affect the conscientious objector in securing PhilHealth accreditation;
Malacañang also on Tuesday said the government is ready to implement the RH Law.
In a news conference, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said the Department of Health has been ready to implement the law since President Benigno Aquino 3rd signed it on December 28, 2012.
Valte shrugged off a statement of RH law critic and former Sen. Francisco Tatad, who warned that the approval of this law may spark a “Catholic revolt.”
The Catholic Church, which opposed the law, said it will continue its mission in upholding the sacredness of life.
The United Nations also welcomed the court ruling.
In a statement, it said the SC decision came at a crucial time and that together with Filipinos, the UN celebrates “this landmark ruling, which recognizes the basic human right of Filipinos to reproductive health.”
Purple Ribbon thanked the Supreme Court for favoring the lawfulness of the RH Law.
With reports from Robertzon F. Ramirez And Ghio Ong