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#ImplementRH – A timeline of the legal challenges to the Reproductive Health Law

It has been almost five years since it was passed and signed into law, but the ever-controversial Republic Act 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (usually referred to as simply “RH law”) remains to be fully implemented.

The RH law reentered the public discourse last week when President Rodrigo Duterte used part of his State of the Nation Address (SONA) to appeal to Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to lift the pending temporary restraining order against the Department of Health’s power to procure and distribute contraceptives as mandated by the law.

This prompted Sereno to issue a clarification three days later saying that the only pending TRO covers just Implanon and Implanon NXT, two subdermal implants. Sereno said the TRO will expire as soon as the Food and Drug Administration rules conclusively that these are not abortifacents. In other words, the ball is on the side of FDA and not the SC. The High Scourt likewise emphasized that the DOH can proceed in implementing all other aspects of RH law.

At this point, The Filipino Scribe would like to give its readers a brief summary of the legal challenges that the RH law encountered since its passage in December 2012. This is with the help of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development or PLCPD.

reproductive health law timeline

Credits: Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development

December 2012 – President Benigno Aquino III signs RA 10354 into law

January 2013 – So-called pro-life groups filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking that the RH law be declared unconstitutional. The SC then issued a 60-day temporary restraining order against the implementarion of RH law.

March 2013 – The issued a status quo ante order (SQAO) vs the RH law implementation for another 120 days.

July 2013 – The SC extended the SQAO against RH law implementation indefinitely.

July to August 2013 – The SC held oral arguments over the constitutionality of the RH law.

April 2014 – The SC unanimously declared the RH law as “not constitutional,” except for eight provisions

reproductive health law timeline

Credits: Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development

May 2015 – Anti-RH groups once more sought a TRO before the SC, claiming that the DOH and FDA are guilty of committing grave abuse of discretion and violating due process when they allegedly ignored their groups’ queries about the procurement process of contraceptives.

June 2015 – The SC issued a TRO against the government’s power to procure, distribute, and promote Implanon and Implanon NXT. It also barred the FDA from issuing new certificates of product registration.

August 2016 – The SC rejected the government’s motion to lift the TRO. Instead, it ordered the FDA to “formulate the rules of procedure in the screening, evaluation and approval of all contraceptive drugs and devices that will be used under Republic Act No. 10354.

For its part, the DOH and other concerned agencies was directed to “formulate the rules and regulations or guidelines which will govern the purchase and distribution/ dispensation of family planning products or supplies.”

April 2017 – The SC once more denied the government’s motion to lift the TRO. However, it clarified that only Implanon and Implanon NXT are covered by this injunction and that the TRO will be effectively lifted as soon as the FDA rules that these are not abortifacients. The FDA was given 60 days to make this decision.

July 2017 – President Rodrigo Duterte complains against the Supreme Court’s still-unsettled TRO vs the RH law, describing it as a “bane” in his government’s efforts to efficiently implement RA 10354. In response, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno clarified that the pending TRO only covers two family planning products – Implanon and Implanon NXT.

August 2017 – The FDA is expected to issue its findings on whether Implanon and Implanon NXT are abortifacients or not, in observance of the SC’s 60-day deadline.

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