MANILA, Philippines—The two legislators who authored the reproductive health (RH) legislation pleaded Tuesday with the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of the suspended law, with Sen. Pia Cayetano arguing, among other things, that those challenging it had a “low” regard for women.
At the resumption of oral arguments on Tuesday on the petitions against the implementation of the RH law, it was the turn of the intervenors in the petition to speak.
Cayetano and former Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman appeared in court to defend the law’s passage and appeal to the high tribunal to uphold its constitutionality and ensure its implementation.
Various individuals identified with the Catholic Church and pro-choice groups have filed suit in the high court to stop the implementation of the RH law, or Republic Act No. 10354, which mandates the state to provide the poor with reproductive health services, including access to contraceptives and sex education for schoolchildren.
Lagman said the high court need not resolve the issue “on when life begins,” which the petitioners have raised in determining the law’s constitutionality.
“I strongly suggest that the issue on constitutionality raised by the petitioners can be resolved without adjudicating on when life begins…as this is a more on the debate on medical science,” said Lagman, the principal author of the RH bill in the House.
The 1987 Constitution was after all silent on the issue on when life begins, he told the high court.
RH law advocates contend that life begins when a fertilized ovum is implanted in a woman’s womb while those against the law argue that life begins during fertilization.
In his presentation, Lagman said the RH law protects the life of the unborn, is against abortion, and equally protects the life of the mother.
Lagman tangled with Associate Justice Roberto Abad, who in the past three sessions of oral arguments had peppered speakers for the RH law with questions, indicating his stand against the law.
Abad said the RH law will see half of the 23 million Filipinos of child-bearing age getting contraceptives and intra-uterine devices (IUDs) from the government to avoid maternal-related deaths. But he pointed out that contraceptives and IUDs have resulted in many complications for women like irregular bleeding.
But Lagman said the National Statistics Office has stated that 14 women die daily because of complications from pregnancy and childbirth, which are among the problems to be addressed by the RH law.
He also pointed out that contraceptives were included in the essential list of medicines of the World Health Organization, “which is the main health authority of the United Nations of which the Philippines is a member.”
Abad maintained that a natural form of contraception like withdrawal during sex was more effective than using artificial contraception, but Lagman argued that the RH law promotes all methods and gave couples the option to choose from these methods.
“No one will be compelled to use contraceptives,” Lagman said.
Abad also broached the prospect of adolescents being able to gain access to contraceptives because of the sex education that they will be getting.
“I think we are working on a wrong premise that adolescents, [as well as] adults, are inherently promiscuous. That should not be the assumption,” Lagman countered, noting that UN studies actually show that sex education would have “beneficial effects” on the young as it would instill in them the proper sex values, delay their engagement in sexual relations, and teach them to avoid having multiple sexual partners.
Abad also peppered Cayetano with questions on her position when it was the turn of the senator to present her case.
Abad argued that hormonal contraceptives have the highest possibility of causing cancer and that they can cause “Class I” cancer.
Cayetano countered that the Class I rank was actually the “lowest class” as it was similar to the risk of women getting sick from “microwaves and television.”