Interfaith groups to SC: Restore RH law's penal provisions
- public officials who withhold support for RH services if their conscience objects to the RH services
- RH service providers who refuse patient referrals if their conscience objects to the RH procedure
- RH service providers who deny service to women and pregnant teenagers due to lack of spousal and parental consent, respectively.
Justice Marvic Leonen, the sole magistrate in the high court who voted for the constitutionality of the RH law in its entirety, also warned against the undue influence of the majority religion in the context of medical care.
"We should tread carefully when what is involved is a religion that is not a minority. Invocations of religious freedom can be a disguised way of imposing the dominant faith on others. This is especially true in physician-patient relationships," the justice said.
"Doctors routinely take an oath implying that the primordial consideration in their services is the welfare of their patients.... Many of those who specialize in the ethics of the health profession emphasize the possibility of a health service provider inordinately abusing conscientious objection over the welfare of the patient," Leonen said in his dissent.
"If the first and primordial consideration is the health of her or his patient, then the beliefs of the service provider even though founded on faith must accommodate the patient's right to information," he added.
He added that the refusal of an RH specialist to provide service because his religious belief prevents him from doing so "implicitly imposes a religious belief on the patient."
SC ruling makes an exemption
The court, in explaining why there is no need to infuse "coercive measures" in the law, said there are other means to satisfy the RH needs of a patient without having to restrict the religious freedom of conscientiously objecting RH service providers.
The patient can go to RH service providers who are willing and need not abandon their personal religious beliefs to provide the treatment.
"The health concerns of women may still be addressed by other practitioners who may perform reproductive health-related procedures with open willingness and motivation," the SC explained.
It, however, set forth the threshold: The case must be a matter of life and death for it to warrant compulsion.
Only in instances when the patient in need of an RH procedure is in a life-threatening condition can government compel the services of RH specialists whose conscience would order them to do otherwise – even if that service is simply in the form of a referral.
"While generally healthcare service providers cannot be forced to render reproductive health care procedures if doing it would contravene religious beliefs, an exception must be made in life-threatening cases that require performance of emergency procedures," the court said.
"In these situations, the right to life of the mother should be given preference, considering that a referral by a medical practitioner would amount to a denial of service, resulting to unnecessarily placing the life of a mother in grave danger," the Court added, making it a rule for conscientiously objecting RH service providers to refer patients in moribund cases to the appropriate specialist.
Spousal, parental consent
Likewise, the court essentially required all minors their parents' consent, and married persons their spouses' consent, before they could undergo RH procedures.
The requirement of parental and spousal consent, however, only applies to the availment of RH procedures and not mere RH information.
"There must be a differentiation between access to information about family planning services, on one hand, and access to reproductive health procedure and modern family planning methods themselves, on the other," the court explained.
In deciding in this manner, the Supreme Court said it sought to uphold "the constitutional mandate to protect and strengthen the family."
"It bars the husband and/or the father from participating in the decision making process regarding their common future progeny. It likewise deprives the parents regarding their common future progeny. It likewise deprives the parents of their authority over their minor daughter simply because she is already a parent or had suffered a miscarriage," the court said.
The minor who has been pregnant in the past or had a previous miscarriage "needs the comfort, care, advice, and guidance of her own parents…. To say that their consent is no longer relevant is clearly anti-family. It does not promote unity in the family as an inviolable social institution," the court said.
But petitioners argue that requiring spousal consent "disregards women’s right to decide on their own bodies."
"Authorizing healthcare service providers to refuse ligation to women due to absence of husband’s consent perpetuates discriminatory traditional cultural beliefs where the decision-making of men prevails over women," petitioners said.
"Permitting this to creep into Philippine law perpetuates discrimination against women and inequality of women in law in clear violation of women’s right to equal protection of the law and women’s right to privacy, they added. – Rappler.com