Last hearing on RH law, gov’t has last wordBy Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The government had the last word Tuesday at the oral arguments on the reproductive health (RH) law, assuring the Supreme Court that it was a “carefully balanced statute” that was in accord with the Constitution.
The high court on Tuesday concluded oral arguments on the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law with the last speaker for the government, State Solicitor Florin Hilbay, asking the high court not to heed the petitioners’ main argument.
Hilbay said that the petitioners wanted the high court to view the RH law “from a single constitutional lens—the perspective of the religious objector.”
But to do so would violate “various and intersecting constitutional policies that are implicated in the social question of what to do with the reproductive health of Filipinos.”
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno instructed the petitioners against and for the RH law to submit their memorandums on their arguments within 60 days.
Sereno told the Office of the Solicitor General to include in its memorandum several questions she wanted to clarify, including what was the relation of the phrase in Section 7 of the law that the full range of contraceptive methods would be provided to the poor and marginalized, including those with infertility problems, to the “theory” that the law was antipoor and sought to reduce their population.
The high court held five hearings on the RH law, which it had suspended twice, until it resolves the petitions’ questions challenging the law’s constitutionality.
The law, signed by President Aquino in December 2012, allows the state to use public funds to educate the youth on reproductive health matters, improve maternal health and provide couples with contraceptives.
In his presentation, Hilbay assured the high court that the law did not violate the constitutionally protected rights of freedom of religion and free speech.
For one, he said the law recognizes the right of doctors who oppose the law on religious grounds to conscientiously object by keeping silent “in the face of an inquiry by a patient regarding RH services and information.”
Hilbay objected to the claim of anti-RH petitioners that the law was unconstitutional because it requires a doctor, who is a “conscientious objector,” to immediately refer a person seeking such care and services to another health-care service provider as he becomes a party “to an act forbidden by his faith.”
The right to free speech of a doctor who is a conscientious objector was not being violated, according to Hilbay.
“The refusal to perform one’s professional duty cannot be considered protected speech because the refusal to refer cannot be equated simply with the communication of an idea; it is an act that creates a victim in the form of a patient who is denied access to RH information or service,” he said.
Hilbay got into a debate with Associate Justice Roberto Abad who asked whether a doctor who disagrees about the safety of contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration would go to jail.
Hilbay said Section 24 of the RH law penalizes only those who intentionally provide incorrect information regarding RH information and services.
But Abad pressed on, asking about a doctor who tells his patient he cannot give the contraceptive information. Hilbay said if this involved a doctor-client relationship where the doctor goes against Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs, then “prosecutors can think about it.”
This prompted Abad to say that this made the RH law “vague” in terms of whether a crime was committed or not.
On a question of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, Hilbay said the RH law was not an abortion statute contrary to the petitioners’ claim that the law licenses abortion.
He said that it was mentioned at least seven times in the law that government would promote contraceptives and devices that are safe, legal and nonabortifacient.