SC declares RH law constitutional

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines (8th UPDATE) – The Supreme Court (SC) unanimously declared Republic Act 10354 or the reproductive health (RH) law constitutional but voted to strike down 8 provisions partially or in full.

SC spokesman Theodore Te said in a press briefing on Tuesday, April 8: "The RH law is not unconsitutional."

An SC insider said the "core provisions were upheld." (Read the core provisions that were upheld here)

Te explained to reporters later that all the justices considered the basic law consitutional "except those provisions they declared unconstitutional."

The law requires government health centers to hand out free condoms and birth control pills, as well as mandating that sex education be taught in schools. 

It also requires that public health workers receive family planning training, while post-abortion medical care is also legalized.

President Benigno Aquino III defied Catholic church pressure and signed the law into effect in December 2012, but the Supreme Court quickly suspended it after church groups filed petitions arguing it was unconstitutional. (READ: RH law: The long and tough road)

The following are the 8 provisions of the law struck down by the SC in full or partially:

1.) Section 7, only insofar as it: (a) requires private health facilities, non-maternity specialty hospitals, and hospitals owned by religious groups to refer patients not in an emergency or life-threatening situation to another health facility which is conveniently accessible (b) provides access to family planning and RH services to minors who have been pregnant or had a miscarriage without a parental consent

The rest of Section 7, however, which provides access to family planning, was upheld by the court, notably this line: "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." (READ: The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012)

2.) Section 23-A-1, which punishes RH providers, regardless of their religious belief, who fail or refuse to dissiminate information regarding RH services and programs

3.) Section 23-A-2-i, which allows a married individual not in a life-threatening case to access RH procedures without the consent of the spouse

4.) Section 23-A-3, insofar as it punishes an RH provider who fails to refer any non-life-threatening case to another RH provider

5.) Section 23-B, insofar as it punishes any public officer who refuses to support RH programs 

6.) Section 17, which mandates a 40-hour pro bono service by private and nongovernment RH service providers, including gynecologists and obstetricians, as a prerequisite for PhilHealth accreditation

7.) Section 3.01-A and J of the RH law Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), which defines abortifacients as "primarily" inducing abortion instead of simply inducing abortion

8.) Section 23-A-2-ii, which prohibits RH service providers from refusing to perform legal and medically-safe reproductive health procedures on minors in non-life-threatening situations without parental consent 

These struck-down provisions do not diminish the law, according to former and incumbent lawmakers who helped craft it. Former Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, the principal author of the RH bill in the 15th Congress, cited 6 "core" provisions that the SC left "untouched." (READ: Struck-down provisions do not diminish RH law)

The SC decision was penned by Justice Jose Mendoza. The High Court magistrates voted separately on the 8 struck-down provisions of the law and the law's IRR.

The RH law – which took 13 years and 4 months to pass in Congress – was temporarily halted by the Supreme Court (SC) on March 19, 2013, following the filing of 14 petitions questioning its constitutionality

The petitioners have 15 days to appeal the decision, Te said.

Monumental decision

"This monumental decision upholds the separation of church and state and affirms the supremacy of government in secular concerns like health and socio-economic development," Edcel Lagman, the principal author of the law, said immediately after the verdict.

"A grateful nation salutes the majority of justices for their favourable ruling promoting reproductive health and giving impetus to sustainable human development."

At the Senate, principal author Pia Cayetano said the real beneficiaries of the RH law would be the poor women and children in the Philippines. 

“Many women who have questioned this, even men, are people who have access [to reproductive health], so this is for the poor, especially poor women, who do not have the ability to access their own information and services,” she said. (READ: RH ruling shows Philippines values women – Cayetano)

Supporters of the RH law who held a vigil outside the Supreme Court compound in Baguio rejoiced over the ruling, saying it energized them for the next phase of the battle, which is to make sure the government funds and implements it. (READ: Health advocates rejoice over upheld RH law)

Watch below how supporters of the law welcomed the SC ruling:

The Catholic Church, which counts over 80% of the country's 100 million population as members, had led street protests denouncing the law as "evil," and at one point in its opposition campaign threatened Aquino with excommunication.

Father Melvin Castro of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said he does not consider the SC decision a defeat for the "pro-life" camp.

"When we remember the Lord, when he suffered and died, before the human courts, he lost. Before the public opinion, they were crying out crucify him. And the Lord said, followers would suffer just as he did. We're prepared to suffer. We're very much prepared to suffer... What matters is to teach what is true and good," he said in an interview. 

CBCP's president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, said Catholics should stop being an “RH-law-reactionary group,” even as former Senator Francisco Tatad, a member of the Opus Dei, said the SC ruling could encourage Catholics to engage in "civil disobedience" or "actual revolt."

“We cannot see eye-to-eye with our pro-RH brethren on this divisive issue, but we can work hand in hand for the good of the country,” Villegas added. (READ: Move on, bishops tell reproductive health critics)

That the RH law remains a divisive issue was evident online, where netizens expressed opposing opinions. (READ: Netizens happy, skeptical after SC RH decision– with a report from Agence France-Presse/