Celebrations are in order, yes? Much of the Reproductive Health Law has been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court, after a long-drawn wait that has reminded us all about how being a woman in this country is really like living in the dark ages.
There is nothing like hearing anti-RH advocates—men and women alike—speaking about my body and telling me that they have the right to decide on what will and should happen to it. Neither is there anything like sitting through Simbang Gabi mass where the priest calls me everything from sinner, to bad woman, to a disgrace, because I believe in (my) reproductive health. It seemed like what I thought and how I felt about my own body—about my own life—didn’t matter.
When the Supreme Court declared today that the RH Law is not unconstitutional, I had to take stock because of that double-negative. It was like waiting for another shoe to drop really, and it did.
The SC was declaring the RH Law constitutional, save for eight items. Ones that undoubtedly matter.
Healthcare providers versus RH access
The items in Republic Act 10354, or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, that were voided by the SC can be generally divided into two.
One set of items deals with the responsibility of private health facilities and health care providers in referring patients to other facilities that are accessible when these providers and facilities refuse to treat patients. The task of the law was to make sure that healthcare providers disseminate information regarding reproductive health no matter their religious beliefs and, at the very least, to refer patients to other facilities when / if the healthcare providers’ religious beliefs keep him or her from attending to the patient.
When the SC voided Section 7a, it was saying that private health facilities and non-maternity hospitals owned and operated by religious groups are not required to refer patients elsewhere. In direct relation to that, the SC voided Section 23(a)(3) and asserted that health providers who fail or refuse to refer a patient not in an emergency or life-threatening case to another provider or facility will not be punished.
Health providers who fail to or refuse to disseminate information regarding programs and services on reproductive health will also not be punished.
Now any woman at all who has had to deal with private hospitals in this country would know how problematic these SC rulings are. Because this is already the status quo, where we are not told by our doctors what our options are, and a visit to the gynecologist means over-preparing with a set of questions and research off of the internet and elsewhere. The status quo is such that we are not given the whole gamut of family planning and birth control options, where even doctors themselves perpetuate the idea that going on the pill or getting hormone injections is bad for the woman, and then refuse to tell her that there is the fact of the Intrauterine Device or IUD which do not affect your menstrual cycle and can only be a better option than the calendar method. Or condoms.
Where medical practitioners and health providers and institutions are not always only dictated by religious beliefs – if at all – in the task of engaging with and informing female patients about their reproductive health rights. Half the time they are merely taken over by an outdated conservatism, where it is imagined that the Pinay patient can only be having sex if she is in a relationship, which already pre-judges her sexual activity outside of one man.
This is what silences patients really, it is what keeps us from asking questions and demanding answers, it is why we remain uninformed about our own reproductive health rights. And if we cannot complain about doctors and medical institutions that refuse to give us information, that refuse to speak to us about our options, then how different is that from a life without the reproductive health law to back us up?
Body versus institutions
Another set of items deal with the institution of the family versus the rights of bodies that should be protected by the RH Law. The SC voided Sections 7(b) and 23(a)(2)(1).
When the SC voided Section 7(b), it asserted that minors who have suffered a miscarriage will not be given access to modern methods of family planning without written parental consent. That is, if / when a teenage girl arrives at the health center, asking for birth control because she’s already gotten pregnant and miscarried once before, she will not be given access without her parents’ consent.
When the SC voided Section 23(a)(2)(1), they decided that a married individual (not in an emergency or life-threatening situation) will not be allowed to undergo reproductive health procedures without the consent of the spouse. That is to say that no married woman will not be allowed to get a ligation after she gives birth to her 10th child, without the consent of her husband.
The problem with the SC voiding these two items is that it refuses to allow girls and women individual relationships with doctors and health providers. It also presumes that all Pinay teenagers can speak openly to their parents about sex, and that their relationships with their parents are such that a written consent is possible. Instead of allowing the young Pinay the option to run to a doctor or health provider with her questions about sex and reproductive health, it bars this conversation from happening. That these can be teenagers who are already sexually active, and have suffered a miscarriage, just makes it even more urgent that doctors be required to give them access to modern family planning methods.
That second item that the SC voided offends me to the bone because this hits at the heart of what the RH Law is about: the woman’s right to her body. That she cannot decide to get a ligation, that she cannot decide to get a uterus removed, that she cannot go through a reproductive health procedure without the consent of her husband is a million and one steps back pre-RH Law. And what of separated couples, or ones that are violent and abusive? Why disallow the woman from deciding on a procedure to ascertain she won’t get pregnant again, why tie her down to a husband who might not even care about her body? This is giving the man jurisdiction over the woman’s body, just because they are married. How’s that for a case against getting married in this country.
Not over ‘til…
The Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law is no doubt a triumph for all Pinays. It is especially a triumph for the impoverished under- / un-educated woman who will now be provided reproductive health services by her LGU, under the guidelines of the Department of Health. The latter is tasked with the procurement, distribution and monitoring the usage of family planning supplies for the whole country as stated in Sections 9 and 10 of the RH Law.
And then there is Section 23(b) Section 5.24, voided by the Supreme Court. This means that a public officer who refuses to support reproductive health programs or does any act that hinders the full implementation of a reproductive health program will not be punished. Now that is a monkey wrench thrown into the constitutionality of Sections 9 and 10, isn’t it?
The Supreme Court might have declared the Reproductive Health Law not unconstitutional. But those items it voided reminds us that there is so much more here than just double negatives.