Scrambling to get the Reproductive Health Bill approved before the Christmas break, its authors in the House of Representatives have dangled an enticing gambit by unveiling a ”tamer, watered-down version” of the controversial measure.
The re-packaged Bill aims to bait acceptance from detractors and approval from the general public, on the strength of compromised amendments.
On surface, the amendments appear to bridge the gap separating the proponents from the objectors. But upon closer scrutiny and beneath the veneer of an attempted compromise, the revisions really do little to save the Bill. The reason is simple: THE AMENDMENTS MISS THE POINT.
What is wrong with the Bill is the Bill itself. It is inherently destructive, unconstitutional, wasteful, and redundant. Here’s why:
1. Stripped to its bare essentials, the Bill is really a population-control measure. No amount of denial from its authors, or words to the contrary in the Bill, can fudge the fact that its purpose is to pare down drastically our population growth. This characterizes the Bill as a poisonous pill, threatening our nation’s long-term stability and existence. Countries that went this route (e.g., Singapore and Russia) have since cursed this path and reversed their course, their aging population and vanishing workforce serving as grim reminders of their blunder. We should learn from their painful mistake. We should build on the encouraging study made by the HSBC Banking Corporation, which counts the Philippines as one of the promising economies in the world due, among others, to its population. Indeed, population is a boon, not a bane, when people are properly trained and educated.
2. In targeting the poor, the revised Bill impliedly blames this marginalized sector for the economic woes of our country. Majority of our people are mired in poverty not because of their number, but due to years of neglect, indifference, and apathy by other stakeholders. Population is not the cause of poverty; it is poor governance, corruption in government, lack of employment opportunities, poor education and lack of training of the underprivileged.
3. The revised Bill impinges on people’s constitutional rights.
For example, while it purports to respect the right of an individual to refuse to extend health care services based on religious beliefs, the Bill compels him, under threat of imprisonment, to “refer the person seeking such care and services to another healthcare service provider within the same facility or one conveniently accessible who is willing to provide the requisite information and services.” (Sec. 26 (a)(3)). By obligating the conscientious objector to make the referral, the Bill effectively forces him to become a party to what his beliefs may consider to be a sinful act, in violation of his religious rights.
The provision on sex education effectively forces parents to surrender (i) their Constitutional right to raise and develop the moral character of their children (see Art. II, Sec. 12 of the Constitution), and (ii) their statutory right to care and rear their minor children for the development of their moral, mental and physical characteristics and well-being (see Art. 209, Family Code). While the revised Bill would give parents the option not to allow their minor children to attend classes pertaining to reproductive health and sexuality education, this “safety-valve” is meaningless and impossible to implement given the Bill’s mandate to integrate reproductive health and sexuality education “in all relevant subjects” of the curriculum. Moreover, as a practical matter, how many parents will take the trouble of exercising this option without knowing its consequences on the grades of their children? The provision is intrusive and runs counter to the State’s commitment to “protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.” It also conflicts with Article 149 of the Family Code, which provides that “the family, being the foundation of the nation, is a basic social institution which public policy cherishes and protects.” If allowed to pass, the RH Bill would invade the sanctity of family life by imposing behavioural patterns that will undermine family values.
Another example of its unconstitutionality is Section 26(a)(1), which penalizes any health care provider who shall “knowingly withhold information or restrict the dissemination thereof, and/or intentionally provide incorrect information regarding the programs and services on reproductive health, including the right to informed choice and access to a full range of legal, medically-safe and effective family planning methods”. By forcing the health care provider to speak the line of contraception–and punishing him for expressing his own
opinion and beliefs against it–the provision violates the individual’s freedom of speech and religion. To the extent that it restrains his desire to speak his mind, the prohibition constitutes unlawful prior restraint.
The Constitution obligates the State to “protect and promote the right to health of the people . . .” (Art. II, Sec. 15). The revised Bill undermines this obligation by exposing our mothers and children to the harmful effects of artificial contraceptives. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified oral contraceptive pills as Group 1 carcinogens, which increases the consumer’s risk of contracting breast cancer. Findings of the Women’s Health’s Initiative have confirmed this danger, and have added the conclusion that their use also exposes women to the risk of acquiring cerebrovascular disease, myocardial infarction, and pulmonary embolism. The intervention of the Food and Drugs Administration, to whom the duty to check on the safety of these contraceptives belongs under the revised Bill, will not lessen or remove the intrinsic dangers posed by these contraceptives.
Section 26 (a)(2) is also objectionable to the extent that it allows the beneficiary of reproductive health services to proceed with the procedure despite protest from the other spouse. Such evident bias for population control promotes division and disunity in the family, at the expense of the Constitutional dictum recognizing “the Filipino family as the foundation of the nation” and directing the State to “strengthen its solidarity and actively promote its total development.” (Art. XV, Sec. 1 of the Constitution). It is also invasive of the couple’s privacy.
4. The revised Bill’s avowed adherence to freedom of choice is misleading. Since at least 70-80 % of the Bill deals with the sale, distribution, teaching and use of contraceptives and artificial birth-control methods, the effect of its penal provisions is to coerce individuals to promote, dispense, and teach these supplies and devices, contrary to the Bill’s pronouncement of free choice.
5. Much of what the revised Bill seeks to do is based on the implied premise that pregnancy is a disease, which is why scarce resources of government are to be used to prevent it. Pregnancy is not a disease, but a gift from God. It represents life, which no less than the Constitution protects from inception (see Art. II, Sec. 12).
6. The revised Bill distorts the Constitutional order of rights by equating reproductive rights with the traditional rights found in the Constitution. The so-called “reproductive rights” are not among the rights specifically protected by the Constitution, unlike the rights associated to life, family and religion. At best, reproductive rights are mere derivatives of the general rights to life and family. Thus, any recognition and guarantee of reproductive health rights must always be subject to and consistent with the State’s over-arching duty to protect life, family, and religion.
7. The revised Bill promotes a warped sense of priorities. It would spend billions of pesos on condoms, pills, and other contraceptive devices, while thousands of people are dying of cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, dengue, and other dreaded diseases without the benefit of medical attention. In particular, it would require PhilHealth to “pay for the full cost of family planning” if the beneficiary “wishes to space or prevent her next pregnancy”. Why is family planning given special attention? What about those who are truly sick? Who will pay for their medicine? Why are beneficiaries of family planning singled out for a guaranteed financial support? This is a case of double standard prohibited by the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
8. Some of the amendments are just lip-service. A case in point is the statement on “being open to life”, which is negated by the Bill’s overwhelming bias for contraception as shown by its aggressive funding and distribution of contraceptives, the grant of incentives to participants, and the threat of imprisonment against those who will frustrate its goals. Worse, the Bill practically nullifies the statement by subjecting it to the condition that “parents should bring forth to the world only those children that they can raise in a truly humane way.” The condition betrays the Bill’s intention to have the government step in and prevent the onset of life when it believes the couple is incapable of raising a child in a truly humane way. This should alarm us because it opens the door to forced contraception and sterilization.
9. Finally, the revised Bill is superfluous and unnecessary. Its best features—the provision of pre-natal services to women especially the poor– are already enshrined in existing laws, the most notable of which is the Magna Carta for Women. Even the right to contraception is assured in those laws. Being a mere surplusage, the Bill serves no other purpose than to create another potential source of corruption. In this regard, we note the report of the Phil. Daily Inquirer (quoting Renaud Meyer, the United Nations Development Program country director) that the Philippines lose P1.92 billion to corruption every year. In 2000, the cost of corruption was 10% of GNP. A more recent estimate puts it at close to 20% of the national budget.
With all its infirmities, the RH Bill—if passed into law–will succeed in only one thing: force or condition the mind of people to use contraceptives and other forms of reproductive health services at the expense of their fundamental rights. With the liberties of the citizenry trampled, and the national coffers poorer–only the manufacturers and distributors of these artificial family planning devices and services—and others with their own hidden agenda—stand to benefit from this proposed legislation.