RH law: Victory over religious bigotry
Both sides claimed victory over the decision that the Supreme Court rendered last April 8 declaring the Reproductive Health Law constitutional.
Given the pitched battle waged by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and its affiliated organizations, one would hardly expect a gracious concession of defeat.
But the Supreme Court was merely the final battle in the 15-year war that was waged to get the RH law. From the standpoint of 15 years ago, the war had been won regardless of what the Supreme Court would have decided.
When the bill was first filed in 1999 in the 11th Congress, we could not even get it out of the House committee where it was lodged – the first step in the long legislative process. Each Congress thereafter took us one step further, but it was not an easy progression.
In the 12th Congress the Catholic hierarchy began to throw serious weight behind the campaign against the RH bill. We had to hold rallies (they held counter demonstrations) just to get it reported out of committee. I remember I was with a colleague when we heard that the bill had passed committee deliberations. We were jumping for joy like mad women. I thought then that it was the beginning of the end. Clearly, I was mistaken.
A long and patient struggle
It would take another decade before we would have our RH Law.
Getting there would take years of patient and thorough research, education, and campaigning. It was not unusual for me (as with so many other advocates) to be talking about the RH bill in a small barangay meeting in a remote portion of the country one day, only to fly in for a nationally televised debate the day after.
But the hard work did pay off. The surveys going back decades have shown that the majority of Filipinos accept family planning. But we were not sure at the start whether people supported the bill or just family planning as a concept. That would come much later when reliable and scientific surveys began to ask people specifically about the RH bill.
As the SWS survey released a day before the Supreme Court decision shows, we had managed to achieve big majorities of support, not just for the bill in general, but even for its more controversial provisions.
The increase in support built up over the years. Towards the end we had support from media, big business, the academe, the medical professional societies, other Catholic groups, other religious groups, international organizations and even groups whose main concerns aren't really about reproduction or sexuality.
It was a bill that challenged given formulas in so many ways. Media persons, normally guided by their ethics of impartiality, began openly supporting the bill. Academics, movie stars, cabinet secretaries and urban poor women rallied together. Support for the bill crossed party lines in the legislature. The social movement would never have made it without the traditional politicians. The traditional politicians could not have done it without the activists.
Contesting Church power
All this was necessary because we were up against arguably the most powerful social institution in the Philippines, the Roman Catholic Church. And the Church used all its power to stop the bill. It pulled out all the stops: pastoral letters, delegations to legislature, appeals to powerful parishioners, social media advocacy, pickets, prayer rallies, big tarpaulins in churches, threats of excommunication, etc.
It was not just the breadth and depth of the methods used, there were also no ethical boundaries. I won't sugarcoat this, despite the calls from my friends to be magnanimous in victory. The anti-RH forces stooped to misinformation, plagiarism, lies, and bigotry.
From the beginning they said the pending RH bills would legalize abortion. None of the bills ever did, something noted by all the Supreme Court justices. It also called some of the RH advocates, myself included, abortionists. They also tried to play on people's bigotry by saying that after the RH bill became law, we would move on to other bills for the rights of gay people. Thanks to the decency of people, these tactics backfired. For one thing, some of the RH bill's most ardent supporters were members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups.
Compromise, compromise, compromise
Throughout the whole campaign, the pro-RH groups had to take the necessary compromises that come with the legislative process. Many of the provisions of the bill that were cited by the Supreme Court justices in dismissing the points of the anti-RH petitioners were a result of the compromises that the pro-RH groups accepted in order to accommodate the anti-RH advocates. Major blows were dealt to our initial intentions from start to finish.
When President Aquino signed the RH law in December 2012, it was a law that was very different from the original bill but one that the pro-RH groups could live with.
If the Catholic hierarchy had accepted the compromise that was the RH law, it might have walked off with a little less of a defeat than what it has received now that its constitutionality has been upheld.
I am truly irritated by the Court striking down provisions that would punish doctors who won't refer and politicians who won't support RH services. I wish I was just an RH advocate because none of that is fatal to making these services, including contraceptives and sexuality education, accessible. But I am also a physician concerned about medical ethics and a non-Catholic who is now worried about my freedom of conscience. These are the nightmares that have opened up when those provisions were struck down. But this deserves another column.
We must, however, recall that the petitioners at the Supreme Court wanted the entire law struck down.
A review of what they wanted and how they argued their petitions shows how arrogant the anti-RH forces were. Having lost the national debate, they hoped to subvert the results by a last-minute appeal to 15 men and women. In this limited arena they had hoped to overturn the wisdom of the majority. Indeed, nothing deters the fanatic who sees the truth so clearly that there is no space for nuance and diversity.
Thus they went for all the marbles. Their arguments asked the Supreme Court to rule that life begins at fertilization. It did not. And a reading of the various opinions of the other justices on this matter should give them nightmares.
They hoped the Supreme Court would ban contraceptives. It did not. Instead the Court noted the long-standing legality of these contraceptives.
They asked to stop sexuality education and leave that only to the parents. The Court refused them, noting that government had the right to augment the education that parents give their children.
The RH Law can now be implemented, complete with its mandated budget allocation. At last those of us who wish to deliver health services to women and their families can begin the long task of reducing maternal death, reproductive infections, sexual abuse.
As an equally important benefit, we may eventually have a society where the religious bigotry of the few cannot stand in the way of the will of the majority. - Rappler.com