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Reproductive Health Law of the Philippines Is "Not Unconstitutional" Says the Supreme Court

Updated on May 1, 2014

Protection of mother and future of fewer children in a family assured (photo adopted from Phil. Daily Inquirer, April 9,2014)

Reproductive Health Law is "not unconstitutional"

The Supreme Court of the Philippines finally ruled on April 8,2012 that the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 is “not unconstitutional.”

The verdict of the SC had been overdue for over a year. It was supposed to be implemented early last year when the Catholic Church in the Philippines represented by the Catholic Bishops' Business Conference of the Philippines and others filed a petition with the SC charging that the RPRHA of 2012 or RH Law is unconstitutional.

“Catholic leaders considered the law an attack on the church’s core values saying it would promote promiscuity and destroy life.... “ (Avendaño, C. SC ruling on RH: win-win. Philippine Daily Inquirer. April 9,2014:1)

The government said it would help the poor manage the size of their family and protect the health of mothers.

There were 15 petitions filed with the SC challenging the constitutionality of RH Law. Two interventions from the government defended the law. It was signed into law by Pres. Simeon C Aquino III in December 2012.

Due to petitions filed against the RH law the SC held in abeyance its implementation in 4 months. The SC took over a year to make its decision.

The double negative “not unconstitutional” means that “all laws are presumed to be constitutional and the burden of showing that a law is unconstitutional is on the petitioner.”

Unconstitutional sections

However, SC did not rule on RH law as one package. Some eight provisions have been picked out as unconstitutional.

For example, Section 7 that ”(a) requires private health facilities and nonmaternity specialty hospital and hospitals owned by a religious group to refer patients, not in an emergency or life-threatening case, as defined under Republic Act N. 8344, to another health facility which is conveniently accessible and (b) allows minor parents or minors who have suffered a miscarriage access to modern methods of family planning without written consent from their parents or guardian: (RA 6344, otherwise known as the no-deposit law, prohibits the “no deposit, no admittance” rule in emergency or serious cases).

I think the authors of RH law, in regard to item (a), had in mind the fact that some hospitals owned by some religious groups charge higher fees than “conveniently accessible” health facilities. It might be more cost-effective on the part of the patient or supporters. However, this provision is stricken out by SC. It lies on the patient or proxy to canvass hospitals as to their fees and locate more convenient lower-priced hospitals.

Medical malpractice

Another section picked out as unconstitutional: “Section 23 (a) (1) as it punishes any healthcare provider who fails or refuses to disseminate information regarding programs and services on reproductive health regardless of his or her religious beliefs.”

I think this provision pertains to medical malpractice. The Philippines has no medical malpractice law. It has only medical ethics. Religious belief is similar to medical specialization.

In the United States it is considered as medical malpractice if a health professional does not mention or explain alternative methods of treatment or cure even if that method were not his/her specialty.

For example, a conventional medicine cardiologist who specializes in angioplasty and coronary arterial bypass graft surgery. In getting informed consent from a patient, this cardiologist has to explain alternative methods of treating angina or heart attack. One alternative is chelation therapy. If that conventional medicine cardiologist failed, intentionally or unintentionally, to explain chelation therapy to the patient he is liable under medical malpractice.

Chelation therapy has been found by the Institutes of Health of USA as safe and effective for heart disease in a double blind randomized with control study called “Trials to assess chelation therapy” (TACT). Results were presented in a meeting of the American Heart Association on November 4,2012.

SC is right in striking out Section 23 because this provision would legislate medical malpractice law in the Philippines. It might be in the view of SC that a separate bill on medical malpractice be crafted by Congress and signed into law by the President.

That is my interpretation. Another view might be that this provision is discriminating against religious beliefs.

Whether discrimination against a specialty or religious belief, the fact remains that the Philippines has no medical malpractice law. This lack has made many a patient or their proxies suffer from medical mistakes in diagnoses, application of exorbitant tests, and incompetence.


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