By Jego Ragragio, as originally posted at Blog Watch, Philippine Online Chronicles.
It would be easy to say that the anti-RH Law crowd “won” in the recently promulgated decision of the Supreme Court. After all, in that decision, the Court upheld the right to free exercise of religion, for all medical practitioners as well as public officers, inasmuch as they cannot be punished for acting according to their beliefs and to their “conscience.” The Court also struck down several other provisions in the name of family harmony and parental authority, also argued in at least one petition against the RH Law. The provisions struck down have been characterized by some on both sides as “key provisions.” Some have even gone so far as to say that the RH Law, as it stands now, is nothing more than the Magna Carta for Women, reiterated.
Yet, I find it far more fruitful, even if not as easy, to talk about what the Supreme Court *upheld.*
First, it upheld the right to health which includes reproductive health (Sec. 2, par. 1), which in turn refers to the rights of individuals and couples, to decide freely and responsibly whether or not to have children; the number, spacing and timing of their children; to make other decisions concerning reproduction, free of discrimination, coercion and violence; to have the information and means to do so; and to attain the highest standard of sexual health and reproductive health (Sec. 4 [s]). This definition is important, insofar as it has not been previously defined – not even in the Magna Carta for Women that the anti-RH Law people are so fond of pointing to.
Second, it upheld the duty and mandate of the State to provide universal access to medically-safe, non-abortifacient, effective, legal, affordable, and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices, and supplies (Sec. 2, par. 5), and mandates all accredited public health facilities to provide a full range of modern family planning methods, which shall also include medical consultations, supplies and necessary and reasonable procedures for poor and marginalized couples having infertility issues who desire to have children (Sec. 7, portion not struck down by the Court). This is important, because by creating a specific, ministerial duty that the State must fulfill, the law grants to Filipinos the corresponding right to demand that the duty be fulfilled – either by political action, in the form of local and national elections (and yes, occasionally a protest here and there) or by judicial action, in the form of a mandamus suit. Criminal cases, as envisioned by the provisions struck down by the Court, are not necessary.
Third, the Court upheld the inclusion in the National Drug Formulary of hormonal contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectables and other safe, legal, non-abortifacient and effective family planning products and supplies (Sec. 9). This is important too, because it reaffirms the mandate of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in ensuring that whatever artificial contraceptives we offer Filipinos are screened to exclude those which may result in an abortion – which, I must stress, has ALWAYS BEEN BANNED under the RH Law, despite the insistence of the law’s rabid attackers to the contrary.
Fourth, it upheld the Philhealth coverage of serious and life-threatening reproductive health conditions (Sec. 12). This is a huge boon for poor Filipinos who cannot afford expensive medical treatment.
Fifth, it upheld the provision of age- and development-appropriate reproductive health education to adolescents (Sec. 14, par. 1). This is, in this author’s humble opinion, the most crucial of all the provisions in the RH Law. Information is power, and here we are empowering our future generations with knowledge of their bodies. We may now be able to structure how our children learn about sex, to gradually remove the taboo and stigma of discussing sex in the open. We can avoid situations where the youth learn about sex unsupervised, through the Internet, their peers, or worst, untimely experience.
Sixth, it upheld the mandate of the DOH and the LGUs to initiate and sustain a heightened nationwide multimedia-campaign to raise the level of public awareness on the protection and promotion of reproductive health and rights including, but not limited to, maternal health and nutrition, family planning and responsible parenthood information and services, adolescent and youth reproductive health, guidance and counseling and other elements of reproductive health care (Sec. 20, par. 1). In line with this, the Court also upheld the creation of a Service Delivery Network (Rule V, RH Law IRR) by which the DOH can accurately disseminate information on the availability of reproductive health services by locality and by medical facility – even including costs!
This is key, as this eliminates the need to rely on the specific provisions of Sec. 23 of the RH Law that were struck down, insofar as referral to reproductive health service providers could have been required. Now, affected patients can use the Service Delivery Network to locate the nearest reproductive health service provider, rather than go to a hospital only to be refused reproductive health services and have no recourse.
All told, while the RH Law may have lost its coercive effect over public officials and medical practitioners – people who chose their occupation, and by virtue of such ought to have a greater responsibility to society at large than to decline to perform some of their duties because the beliefs they chose conflict with the occupation they chose – the RH Law has not lost the means by which it can effectively implement and promote reproductive health programs where they are needed most.
So, to the anti-RH, congratulations for your “victory.” Congratulations for securing the obiter which, in your mind, is a triumph of your pro-birth position. (For those unfamiliar: an obiter is an opinion of the Court which, while contained in the decision, is unnecessary in disposing of the matters raised in the case.) Congratulations for getting provisions struck down – provisions that, in the end, we can do without.
Congratulations, anti-RH, but for the advocates of reproductive health and the RH Law, this decision is still a huge win.
Jego blogs at raggster.wordpress.com and can be found on twitter @raggster .
Photo via @PLCPD1980 in twitter . Some rights reserved.