9 July 2013
The Philippines must not miss the opportunity to begin implementing a historic law on reproductive health rights for women and men, Amnesty International Philippines said ahead of the Supreme Court’s review of petitions against the law today.
The Act Providing for a National Policy on Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RH Law) came into force in January 2013, but its implementation has been delayed amid opposition from the Philippines’ catholic clergy.
The Supreme Court is today hearing 15 petitions on the RH Law’s constitutionality, which could stop its implementation if accepted by the Court.
“While not an entirely perfect law, the RH Law is a landmark achievement in human rights for the Philippines. Its implementation would go a long way towards improving the lives of men and women across the country,” said Dr. Aurora Parong, director of Amnesty International Philippines.
The RH Law does not just address fertility-related concerns. It takes a comprehensive approach to reproductive health, addressing other sexual and reproductive health issues such as HIV and AIDS, breast and reproductive tract cancers, and menopausal and post-menopausal-related conditions.
“The constitutional challenges the Supreme Court is hearing today are vaguely worded and do not hold up to scrutiny. It is key to bear in mind that the RH Law does not violate human rights, but actually strengthens them. We hope that the Supreme Court would reject the petitions and ensure that the RH Law can be implemented as soon as possible.”
The challenges against the RH Law broadly focuses on whether it violates freedom of religion and speech, whether it violates the right to life, and whether it forces citizens into sexual health treatment they may not agree with.
“The idea that the RH Law promotes some form of coercion when it comes to sexual and reproductive rights is simply not true – the text places much emphasis on the right to make free and informed decisions,” said Parong.
The RH Law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations commits to informed choice and voluntary action, stating that Filipinos “shall not be denied any right or benefit... as a consequence of any decision regarding reproductive health care services; neither shall they be coerced or induced to avail of any particular service or commodity”.
Much of the opposition from the Catholic clergy has also focused on the law guaranteeing an access to family planning services, including contraception.
“The Philippines is bound under international law to ensure that women’s right to access family planning services is respected. Provision of contraceptives, including emergency contraception, is not a violation of the right to life. At the stage of prevention of pregnancy, there is no “life” to protect. According to the World Health Organization, emergency contraceptive pills are a means to prevent – not interrupt – pregnancy,” said Parong.
The Philippines has been a party to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) since August 1981, which affirms the reproductive rights of women, stating in its preamble that “the role of women in procreation should not be a basis for discrimination”. As a state party to the CEDAW, the Philippines is obliged to ensure access to health family planning-related health services (Article 12.1), “granting free services where necessary” (Article 12.2). The Philippines has also committed to “include information and advice on family planning” in its education process (article 10h) and to develop laws that guarantee women’s rights “to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights” (article 16e).
“It is important to remember that the RH law is not just an issue of individuals’ well-being, but that sexual and reproductive rights are actually human rights. The Philippines has a duty, under both domestic and international law, to make sure these rights are protected for all of its citizens,” said Parong.
conception to operationalization: implementing the Philippine Reproductive
Health Act in line with international human rights law”, Amnesty
International Briefing, 7 March 2013. http://bit.ly/RHIRR