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Philippines finally passes contraception law

Catholic bishops' effort to block law proves unsuccessful

Philippines finally passes contraception law

Reproductive health advocates march in support of the implementation of the RH Law (photo by Vincent Go)

Joe Torres, Manila

April 8, 2014

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The Supreme Court in the Philippines today defied Catholic bishops by declaring as "constitutional" the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Law, which would provide funding for contraception and sex education in the country.

The implementation of the law, which was enacted in December 2012, has been stalled after opponents, backed by Catholic bishops and other religious groups, filed petitions before the court questioning the legality of the measure.

The law, titled "The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012", was supposed to be implemented in March 2013, but the Supreme Court issued a 120-day status quo ante order, which was extended indefinitely in July to hear 14 petitions that challenged the law's constitutionality.

In its decision, the Supreme Court however voided Section 7 of the law that would have obliged the state to provide couples with family planning services, including artificial contraceptives.

The particular section also provides that no person "except minors” shall be denied information and access to family planning services, whether natural or artificial. It also states that minors can also access family planning methods if their parents or guardians give them a written consent for it.

Supporters of the law welcomed the court decision, saying "the victory of RH Law is the victory of women, children, youth, the family, the future of Filipinos and democracy.

"For as long as the state is still mandated and empowered to implement a reproductive health program with the appropriate funding necessary for it to reach Filipinos in need, the historic Supreme Court decision is still a victory for the people, albeit incomplete," said Representative Kaka Bag-ao, one of the law's authors in Congress.

The Purple Ribbon for RH, a movement of reproductive health advocates, said in a statement that the court decision has given "justice to years of struggle for the law and recognizing the contribution of everyone who fought hard to have this law."

In a statement issued on the eve of the court decision, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic bishops' conference, said "the measure remains morally wrong.

"Maybe they have the numbers, but that does not mean that they are right because right cannot be determined by numbers, right is always right and wrong is always wrong," the prelate said, adding however that it was constitutional.

"I encourage our Catholic faithful to maintain respect and esteem for the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has decided on the RH issue based on existing laws in the Philippines."

Villegas said Church leaders will continue preaching about the "sacredness of life and the dignity of the human person."

"With or without the [Supreme Court] decision it is the duty of the Church to be teaching about life. Our duty does not depend on civil laws, our duty comes from God," he said.

Catholic Church leaders have been opposing the law, convinced that it is "anti-life" and "anti-family" because it promotes artificial contraceptives.

"The real battle goes beyond RH, and that is to win back the hearts of the young," said Father Melvin Castro, head of the Commission on Family and Life of the bishops' conference.

He said the country's youth have been using contraceptives "with or without the law. That is why the Church has a lot of work to do."

Castro said the bishops would respect the court decision but they will not let "the gospel teaching be compromised."

The United Nations Population Fund welcomed the Supreme Court decision, saying that the ruling "recognizes the basic human right of Filipinos to reproductive health.

"The full and speedy implementation of the law will be critically important in reducing maternal mortality and ensuring universal access to reproductive health care and also sets the country on the right track for the post-2015 development agenda," the organization said.

It noted that poor and marginalized women and girls in the Philippines "have been left without universal access to reproductive health" where maternal mortality ratio has remained high since 1993.

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