MANILA, Philippines – You’re asking justices to decide on matters of faith and medical science. Is the Supreme Court the proper venue for that?
Justices of the Supreme Court grilled critics of the Reproductive Health law in oral arguments Tuesday, July 9, as the High Tribunal studies a petition questioning the constitutionality of the law.
Former Sen Francisco Tatad, appearing before the Court, likened the law to genocide which “prevents the birth of a child” and is “neither a health measure nor a law on responsible parenthood.” The law is a birth control method, he added.
Maria Concepcion Noche, lawyer for the petitioners, argued that life begins at conception, pleading to the Court: “Let the voice of the unborn be heard in the august halls of this tribunal. Let their voice be yours.”
But Associate Justice Antonio Carpio countered, “You are asking members of this Court, none of us doctors, to decide the medical issue of when conception happens.”
At least 15 anti-RH personalities have asked the Court to stop the implementation of the RH law, which took 13 years to pass. Republic Act 10354 requires government health centers to hand out free condoms and birth control pills, benefiting tens of millions of the country’s poor who would not otherwise be able to afford or have access to them.
President Benigno Aquino III marshalled congressional support for this divisive measure, earning the ire of the Catholic Church in the process.
Critics told the Court Tuesday that the law promotes abortion and violates a constitutional right to life.
The issue of conception has ceased to be a medical issue since it is not even settled in the medical profession, Noche pointed out. Thus the Court needs to intervene, she said.
To which Carpio countered: “If it is not settled in medical profession, how do you expect us to rule?”
He added: “Wouldn’t it be better for Congress to decide that?” Noche said: “We do not want to leave it to Congress.”
Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the youngest justice on the bench, echoed Carpio’s concern about the “awesome” responsibility that petitioners are giving the Court on the matter of deciding when life begins.
“We are not a council of faith, nor medical doctors, we are only SC justices. What we can only use as tools are the law,” Leonen told Noche.
Noche insisted that “contraceptives are abortifacients.”
Leonen responded: “If we’re to take a factual position that all condoms are abortifacients, don’t you think it may be irresponsible on our part?” Then he added, “When can the Court take judicial notice? Can we take judicial notice that condom is abortifacient?”
Noche lamented the lack of “accurate information” about the law. “It is just disseminated. There is no choice here. Government has made the choice for the peoplle,” she added.
Leonen noted that the law simply provides options. “People are not forced to take options. What is fundamentally constitutionally wrong with that?”
The oral arguments began at 2 pm, with the petitioners getting the first chance to make their case. On Tuesday next week, July 23, it will be the turn of the government, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), to argue on the consitutionality of the law.
The OSG has said law should not be subject to a judicial review by the High Tribunal.
Both pro and anti-RH law groups staged rallies outside the Supreme Court. The Catholic Church held masses early Tuesday to push for the declaration of the law as unconsitutional.
Watch a brief summary of the oral arguments below.
– with reports from Carmela Fonbuena and Ace Tamayo/Rappler.com
READ: #RHLaw oral arguments