Wednesday, April 9, 2014

RH Law constitutional – SC

Pro-RH law groups hold separate rallies in front of the Supreme Court. FILE PHOTO
Pro-RH law groups hold separate rallies in front of the Supreme Court. FILE PHOTO

THE Supreme Court (SC) is poised to declare as constitutional majority of the provisions of the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Law but will strike out some features that the justices believe are illegal.

Many of the magistrates are inclined to rule Republic Act (RA) 10354 as constitutional, a highly placed source told The Manila Times.

The source said the High Court may grant some of the petitions against the RH Law but will sustain the law itself as a whole.

The SC en banc is expected to vote on the case on Tuesday. The justices are holding their summer session in Baguio City.

Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza is the ponente of the case or the one tasked to write the decision. But the source said there are justices who wrote their separate concurring and dissenting opinions, such as Justices Bienvenido Reyes, Roberto Abad and Marvic Leonen.

According to the source, the justices see the RH Law as a compilation of other reproductive health laws such as the Population Act under RA 6365, the Magna Carta of Women or RA 9710 and RA 4729 or the law regulating the sale, dispensation and distribution of contraceptive drugs.

The source said many of the justices do not agree with the petitioners’ contention that the RH Law intrudes into marital privacy.

Anti-RH law groups hold separate rallies in front of the Supreme Court. FILE PHOTO

He added that many of the SC justices are inclined to rule that health workers cannot be forced to do a procedure if it is against their religious beliefs. The only exception to this rule would be if the life of the mother and the child is threatened.

The source, however, said the justices are divided on some of the sections and provisions of the law that may be declared unconstitutional.

Some of the sections that may be declared unconstitutional by the High Court are Sections 7, 17 and 23.

The provision under Section 7 reads: “All accredited public health facilities shall provide a full range of modern family planning methods, which shall also include medical consultations, supplies and necessary and reasonable procedures for poor and marginalized couples having infertility issues who desire to have children: Provided, That family planning services shall likewise be extended by private health facilities to paying patients with the option to grant free care and services to indigents, except in the case of non-maternity specialty hospitals and hospitals owned and operated by a religious group, but they have the option to provide such full range of modern family planning methods: Provided, further, That these hospitals shall immediately refer the person seeking such care and services to another health facility which is conveniently accessible: Provided, finally, That the person is not in an emergency condition or serious case as defined in Republic Act 8344.

No person shall be denied information and access to family planning services, whether natural or artificial: Provided, That minors will not be allowed access to modern methods of family planning without written consent from their parents or guardian/s except when the minor is already a parent or has had a miscarriage.”

The source said Section 17 was questioned because the justices do not agree with the provision requiring health care providers to render work pro bono as a requirement for PhilHealth accreditation.

The entire provision reads: “Private and non-government reproductive healthcare service providers including, but not limited to, gynecologists and obstetricians, are encouraged to provide at least forty-eight (48) hours annually of reproductive health services, ranging from providing information and education to rendering medical services, free of charge to indigent and low-income patients as identified through the NHTS-PR and other government measures of identifying marginalization, especially to pregnant adolescents. The forty-eight (48) hours annual pro bono services shall be included as a prerequisite in the accreditation under the PhilHealth.|”

Also, the source said the Supreme Court magistrates are against the provision that punishes a health worker who fails to give information on the reproductive health programs as provided under Section 23.

Meanwhile, Section 23 lists prohibited acts in relation to the giving of information on reproductive health and the performance of medical procedures.

These acts cover any health care service provider, whether public or private, who shall:

(1) Knowingly withhold information or restrict the dissemination thereof, and/or intentionally provide incorrect information regarding programs and services on reproductive health including the right to informed choice and access to a full range of legal, medically-safe, non-abortifacient and effective family planning methods;

(2) Refuse to perform legal and medically-safe reproductive health procedures on any person of legal age on the ground of lack of consent or authorization of the following persons in the following instances:

(i) Spousal consent in case of married persons: Provided, That in case of disagreement, the decision of the one undergoing the procedure shall prevail; and

(ii) Parental consent or that of the person exercising parental authority in the case of abused minors, where the parent or the person exercising parental authority is the respondent, accused or convicted perpetrator as certified by the proper prosecutorial office of the court. In the case of minors, the written consent of parents or legal guardian or, in their absence, persons exercising parental authority or next-of-kin shall be required only in elective surgical procedures and in no case shall consent be required in emergency or serious cases as defined in RA 8344; and

(3) Refuse to extend quality health care services and information on account of the person’s marital status, gender, age, religious convictions, personal circumstances, or nature of work: Provided, That the conscientious objection of a health care service provider based on his/her ethical or religious beliefs shall be respected; however, the conscientious objector shall immediately refer the person seeking such care and services to another health care service provider within the same facility or one which is conveniently accessible: Provided, further, That the person is not in an emergency condition or serious case as defined in RA 8344, which penalizes the refusal of hospitals and medical clinics to administer appropriate initial medical treatment and support in emergency and serious cases.

The source said some magistrates are also inclined to rule against the provision that sanctions a government official who refuses to support the reproductive health programs of the state.

The RH law was assailed by couple James and Lovely Imbong who, in their petition for certiorari, argued that the law violates the Constitution.

On behalf of their minor children and the Magnificat Child Development Center, the couple filed the petition with the High Tribunal and impleaded as respondents Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Health Secretary Enrique Ona.

Several petitions were also filed before the SC, including that filed by former senator Francisco Tatad, his wife Fenny Tatad and human rights lawyer and The Manila Times columnist Alan Paguia.

The law was approved by Congress in December 2012, but the SC stopped its implementation after several petitions questioning its constitutionality were filed.

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