“Truly children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Ps 127:3).
Our dear brother priests, Catholic physicians and health care workers, government officials and employees, educators and fellow Church workers:
While we would have wanted the Supreme Court to nullify the RH Law (Republic Act No. 10354), we must now contend with the fact that it has ruled rather to strike down important provisions of the law in deciding Imbong v. Ochoa, G.R. 204819 (April 8, 2014) and companion cases.
It is our pastoral duty to pass the necessary information and instruction to our Catholics who, as health care workers (physicians, nurses, midwives, medical aides, medical technologists, etc.), are employed in health facilities, whether public or private, so that they may know what their rights are under the law as passed upon by the High Court. The same duty is owed to our Catholic government officials and employees who, in the discharge of their public duties, may be asked to enforce the RH Law. The Supreme Court majority opinion alone is 104 pages long and many may not have the patience nor the skill to make their way through the legal argumentation involved.
As teachers of the faith and morality, assisted by our legal experts, we are presenting an outline of the salient points in the Supreme Court decision which we think may be helpful for our pastoral ministry and discernment:
1. The Supreme Court points out that the whole idea of contraception (as the means to control population growth) runs through the RH Law. It is in fact the governing and overarching principle of the RH Law. Other provisions such as skilled birth attendance, maternal care including pre- and post-natal services, prevention and management of sexually-related diseases and sicknesses are already provided for in the Magna Carta for Women. In rendering its decision in the Imbong case, the Court affirms the principles of “no-abortion” and “no-coercion” in the adoption of any family planning method.
2. The right to life is grounded on natural law and is inherent in a person, and therefore not a creation of, or dependent upon a particular law, custom or belief. The right to life precedes and transcends any authority or the laws of men.
3. Abortifacients are prohibited by the RH Law. An abortifacient is any drug or device that:
a. induces abortion; or
b. induces the destruction of a fetus inside the mother’s womb; or
c. prevents the fertilized ovum to reach and to be implanted in the mother’s womb.
In this regard, it is important to point out that the Supreme Court has invalidated two related provisions in the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the RH Law for inserting the modifier ‘primarily’ in the definitions of “abortifacient” and “contraceptive”. The Court notes that the word “primarily” (which is not found in the RH Law itself) would HAVE ALLOWED THE SURREPTITIOUS INTRODUCTION OF DRUGS AND DEVICES THAT, THOUGH PRIMARILY NOT ABORTIFACIENT, WERE ALSO ABORTIFACIENT IN USE AND IN EFFECT. The Court clarifies that, consistent with the no-abortion spirit of the RH Law, even contraceptives that have no such primary intention, but have the secondary effect of destroying the fetus or preventing nidation (attaching of the fertilized egg to the uterine wall), should be considered as abortifacients and are, therefore, banned.
4. No contraceptive that harms or destroys the life of the unborn from conception or fertilization, either as a primary or secondary effect, can be allowed under the law, even if it be advertised, categorized, distributed and announced as a contraceptive. The determining factor therefore is whether or not the supposed contraceptive also prevents nidation, or the attaching of the fertilized egg to the uterine wall, or destroys the zygote, embryo, blastocyst or fetus. If it does, then it cannot be allowed under the law.
5. In the distribution by the Department of Health of contraceptive drugs and devices, the provisions of an existing law, R.A. 4729, must be complied with. Said law makes it unlawful for any person, partnership or corporation to sell, dispense or otherwise distribute, whether for or without consideration, any contraceptive drug or device, unless such sale, dispensation or distribution is by a duly licensed drug store or pharmaceutical company and with the prescription of a qualified medical practitioner.
TO OUR KNOWLEDGE, NO SINGLE CONTRACEPTIVE HAS YET BEEN SUBMITTED TO THE FDA PURSUANT TO THE RH LAW.
6. The Court expresses itself very strongly on the following point: “At this point, the Court is of the strong view that Congress cannot legislate that hormonal contraceptives and intra-uterine devices are safe and non-abortifacient. The first sentence of Section 9 that ordains their inclusion by the National Drug Formulary in the Essential Drug List (EDI), by using the mandatory ‘shall’ is to be construed as operative only after they have been tested, evaluated and approved by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). The FDA, not Congress, has the expertise to determine whether a particular hormonal contraceptive or intrauterine device is safe and non-abortifacient.” We urge our Catholic doctors, for example, the Association of Doctors for Life, to demand from the FDA the testing and evaluation of all contraceptive drugs and devices, including those that are already being presently sold and made available to the public, as to whether they are safe, legal, and non-abortifacient.
7. When a health care worker who objects, on religious or moral grounds, to contraceptives is compelled by the law to refer the patient seeking information on modern reproductive health products and services to another who may be willing to supply such information or services, this obligation to refer already burdens the objector to do something that his conscience forbids him to do. The premise of this holding is the inviolability of the human conscience.
Put more directly, when a health-care worker, whether practising on his own or as part of a public or private healthcare facility, objects, on the basis of conscience, to artificial contraception, such a health-worker is NOT OBLIGED AND MAY REFUSE to refer a patient to anyone else (health-care worker or facility) from where the contraceptives may be obtained.
The Supreme Court observes that “though it has been said that the act of referral is an opt-out clause, it is, however, a false compromise because it makes pro-life health providers complicit in the performance of an act that they find morally repugnant or offensive.”
8. The same rule therefore applies to non-maternity specialty hospitals and hospitals owned and operated by a religious groups and health care service providers. While, originally, Section 24 compelled such institutions, under pain of penalty, to refer patients to facilities or institutions that can render contraceptive services, the Court struck down this COMPULSORY REFERRAL as UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
9. Section 5.24 of the RH – IRR reads: “Provided, that skilled health professionals such as provincial city or municipal health officers, chiefs of hospitals, head nurses, supervising midwives, among others who by virtue of their office are specifically charged with the duty to implement the provisions of the RPRH Act and these rules cannot be considered as conscientious objectors.”
THE COURT RULES THAT THIS SECTION OF THE IRR IS DISCRIMINATORY AND IN VIOLATION OF THE EQUAL PROTECTION CLAUSE of the Constitution. What this means therefore is that the right to conscientious objection can be claimed and exercised even by health-care workers in the employ of the government. Obviously, Catholics should not, on moral grounds, seek employment in the very government agencies that promote artificial contraception. But if circumstances compelled them to be employed in such agencies, or if they were already employees at the time the agencies adopted a pro-RH policy, said Catholics should be aware that they cannot be forced to promote, distribute or dispense artificial contraceptives against their religious or moral conviction.
10. The accommodation granted the conscientious objector, however, does not extend to emergency cases, as when the mother’s life is in danger. When a patient, for example, is rushed to the emergency room who has, with the help of a backstreet abortionist, commenced the abortion procedure that is botched, although the fetus has already been destroyed, with the result that she is bleeding profusely, the health-care providers cannot refuse intervention or treatment on the ground of conscientious objection but must take all steps necessary to save the life of the mother. This exception is based on natural law, which calls for the preservation of human life.
11. FAITHFUL TO THE STATE POLICY TO PROTECT THE FAMILY, the Court has ruled that when a married person seeks an irreversible form of contraception (vasectomy and tubal ligation provide the most ready examples), BOTH SPOUSES must give their consent, and when the spouses disagree, the procedure may not be performed. This is in marked contrast to the original provision of the law that would have allowed the choice of the person who was to undergo the procedure to make the final call. But this, the Supreme Court rightly rules, would have directly eroded family cohesion that the Constitution obligates the State to protect and to promote.
12. The Court also emphatically holds that EVEN IF THE MINOR IS ALREADY A PARENT OR HAS HAD A MISCARRIAGE, she will still need the consent of her parents in order to receive surgical or non-surgical family planning services. The Court reasons that parental authority over the minor is not lost by the incidence of a miscarriage or premature parenthood.
“It is precisely in such situations when a minor parent needs the comfort, care, advice and guidance of her own parents. The State cannot replace her natural mother and father when it comes to providing her needs and comfort. To say that their consent is no longer relevant is clearly anti-family. It does not promote unity in the family. It is an affront to the constitutional mandate to protect and to strengthen the family as an inviolable social institution.”
By way of an exception, the Court upholds the right of the minor to receive information about family planning services, and to undergo emergency surgical procedures in life-threatening situations.
13. The Court recognizes the right of private educational institutions to be excluded from the mandatory reproductive health program under Section 14, on the ground of the recognition of the academic freedom of private educational institutions especially with respect to religious instruction. Our Catholic schools then are not obliged to propagate the reproductive health curriculum of the government, although, consistent with church teaching, they must prepare our youngsters to be responsible parents.
14. Our Catholic brethren employed in the different local government units and performing non-medical functions should also be informed that they have the right not to support or participate in the implementation of reproductive health program, based on religious or ethical ground. The Supreme Court has voided the provision in the RH Law that compels them to implement the Law regardless of their religious or ethical beliefs.
15. Significantly, the Court says: “Be that as it may, it bears reiterating that the RH Law is a mere compilation and enhancement of the prior existing contraceptive and reproductive health laws, but with coercive measures xxx All the same, the principle of ‘no abortion’ and ‘non-coercion’ in the adoption of any family planning method should be maintained.”
The salutary measures taken by the Supreme Court to strike down what it found to be the constitutionally infirm provisions of this dangerous law will be for naught unless we pass on this necessary information to our Catholic brethren who are impacted by the law.
It is therefore strongly suggested that each diocese organize seminars and symposia at which our Catholics employed or exercising their professions in hospitals, clinics and similar facilities, public or private, and those working in local government units whose functions may involve the implementation and promotion of the RH Law, are in attendance and where they may receive proper instruction on this important decision of the Supreme Court and their rights following from the said ruling.
It is good to keep in mind that the RH Law also mandates the government to promote and support Natural Family Planning, particularly if this is demanded by local communities.
The Episcopal Commission on Family and Life as well at the CBCP Legal Office will be available to give formation seminars in the various ecclesiastical circumscriptions upon the invitation of the bishops. May Mary Mother of Life guide our every step in protecting the dignity of human life and protecting every human life from harm!
“Truly children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Ps 127:3).
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, July 7, 2014
(SGD)+ SOCRATES VILLEGAS, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan