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Govt can’t force RH on people

THE Supreme Court decision this week to strike down several provisions of the reproductive health law limits the government’s ability to exercise its coercive powers on population issues.

The decision, released Wednesday, warned the government against forcing people to abide by measures to control the country’s ballooning population.

The Court also said that it nullified provisions of the law that gave the government coercive powers.

“Indeed, at the present, the country has a population problem, but the state should not use coercive measures (like the penal provisions of the RH Law against conscientious objectors) to solve it,” the decision written by Associate Justice Jose Mendoza said.

This was the primary reason the Court struck down seven mandatory provisions in the law and a section in its implementing rules and regulations.

The Court ruled that the RH law is “a mere compilation and enhancement of the prior existing contraceptive and reproductive health laws, but with coercive measures,” citing the Population Act (R.A. No. 6365), the Contraceptive Act (R.A. No. 4729) and the reproductive health for women or The Magna Carta of Women (R.A. No. 9710), sans the coercive provisions of the assailed legislation.

“All the same, the principle of ‘no-abortion’ and ‘non-coercion’ in the adoption of any family planning method should be maintained,” the Court said.

The Court also raised questions on practicality.

It cited, for instance that population control “may not be beneficial for the country in the long run” based on experiences of European and Asian countries, which embarked on such a program generations ago and are now burdened with aging populations.

“The number of their young workers is dwindling with adverse effects on their economy. These young workers represent a significant human capital which could have helped them invigorate, innovate and fuel their economy. These countries are now trying to reverse their programs, but they are still struggling,” the Court said.

The Court also said that the government may be barking up the wrong tree in resolving the perennial problem of poverty and unemployment.

“Let it be said that the cause of these perennial issues is not the large population but the unequal distribution of wealth. Even if population growth is controlled, poverty will remain as long as the country’s wealth remains in the hands of the very few,” it said.

Nonetheless, the Court decided to uphold the legality of the RH law due to its “policy of non-interference in the wisdom of a law.”

“In general, the Court does not find the RH law as unconstitutional insofar as it seeks to provide access to medically-safe, non-abortifacient, effective, legal, affordable, and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices, and supplies,” the Court said.

“The RH Law does not sanction the taking away of life. It does not allow abortion in any shape or form. It only seeks to enhance the population control program of the government by providing

information and making non-abortifacient contraceptives more readily available to the public, especially to the poor,” the Court said.

The SC also opted to keep its distance on the issue on when life actually begins and other moral and religious questions.

“Majority of the members of the Court are of position that the question of when life begins is a scientific, medical issue. That shouldn’t be decided at this stage, without proper hearing, evidence,” the ruling said.

“In the case at bench, it is not within the province of the Court to determine whether the use of contraceptives or one’s participation in the support of modem reproductive health measures is moral from a religious standpoint or whether the same is right or wrong according to one’s dogma or belief. For the Court has declared that matters dealing with “faith, practice, doctrine, form of worship, ecclesiastical law, custom and rule of a church... are unquestionably ecclesiastical matters which are outside the province of the civil courts,” the Court said.

The ruling was unanimously approved by all justices. Nine other magistrates, however, came up with their separate opinions either in concurrence or in dissent to the points raised in the main decision.

The decision also lifted the status quo ante order issued by the Court last year, which means the RH law, except the eight provisions voided can now be carried out.

Voided were portions of Section 7 of the law, which require private hospitals owned by religious groups to refer patients to other health facilities and allow minors who suffered miscarriage to access modern family planning methods without the consent of parents.

The Court also struck down Section 17, which requires granting of free services to indigent women as a prerequisite for health care providers in securing PhilHealth accreditation.

Also voided were provisions in Section 23 penalizing health workers who fail or refuse to disseminate information on RH programs regardless of religious beliefs, allowing married individuals to undergo RH procedures without the consent of their spouses, health care providers who refuse to refer non-emergency patients to another facility regardless of religious beliefs, health workers who require parental consent from a minor in non-emergency cases and public officials who refuse to support RH programs regardless of religion.

The Court also declared unconstitutional Section 3 of the law’s implementing rules and regulations, which defined “abortifacient” as contraceptives which primarily induce abortion.

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