Sectarian vs secular: Philippines court OKs Reproductive Health Law
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Sectarian vs secular: Philippines court OKs Reproductive Health Law

The Philippine Supreme Court finally ruled on the constitutionality of the landmark Reproductive Health Law (Republic Act No 10354) offering a Solomonic compromise on an edict that has polarized the largely and only predominantly Catholic country in Asia.

The Catholic Church has challenged the constitutionality of the law passed by Congress and signed by President Benigno Aquino III in December 2012.

The law makes reproductive health and family planning methods accessible to all Filipinos.

But the Church here said the law is contrary to Catholic teachings of protecting life of even the unborn.

The powerful Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is opposed to the use of any artificial contraceptive which the law now mandates.  The Catholic Church only endorses natural family planning methods to space children of Filipino couples.

The Philippines has a population of more than 94 million.  It is ranked 12th as the most populous countries in the world and has a population growth rate of 1.71 percent.  But with a land area of 298,170 square kilometers – it is ranked 73rd in the world – the country is one of the world’s densely populated in the world.

In upholding the constitutionality of RA 10354, the Supreme Court paved the way for government to manage the country’s population growth by making family planning methods accessible to Filipino households.

A Rappler report said, “The law requires government health centers to hand out free condoms and birth control pills, as well as mandating that sex education be taught in schools.  It also requires that public health workers receive family planning training, while post-abortion medical care is also legalized.”

But the Supreme Court struck down some penal provisions of the law, which punish and fine providers of Reproductive Health (RH) who refuse to disseminate information regarding RH services and programs.  These are some of the provisions of the RH law that some Catholics are opposing.

It also lifted the penalties for local government officials who refuse to implement the RH law.

Philippine feminist group Gabriela was disappointed the Supreme Court decision watered down the RH law.

In the main, however, the decision is a significant victory for proponents of pro-choice who believe it is the government’s primary function to educate the people on reproductive health.

It took 14 long years before the Philippine Congress finally mustered enough votes and – to emphasize – courage to finally pass a law that not only transcended personal biases, but  broke tradition and “superstition”.

The Philippines faces, it has to be admitted, the stark reality of addressing population growth and the strains it puts on government resources. The RH law now allows Filipino women to have more choices in their reproductive health.

Moreover, the Supreme Court decision has somehow stymied the Catholic Church’s proclivity to use its influence and clout in making and unmaking local as well as national government officials and using them during democratic exercises like the Philippine elections.

Between the sectarian and secular, the Supreme Court opted to adopt a Solomonic decision.  While not totally bowing to the pressures exerted by the Catholic Church, it also wrote the thin line that separates the State and the Church when it comes of the affairs that affect every Filipino.

But it would have been better if the Supreme Court totally ruled on the basis of the law’s intent. A law without corresponding penal provisions gives it a toothless authority. No wonder the Catholic Church is not all that enraged by the ruling.