On this day exactly two years ago, President Benigno Aquino III signed into law Republic Act 10354 or the Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood Act of 2012.
It was initially hoped that the enactment of RA 10354 will put an end to the contentious debates that the bill has triggered since it was first introduced in Congress back in 1999.
However, that optimism was quickly dashed when opponents of the RH law raised the issue before the Supreme Court. The SC issued a temporary restraining order against the law’s implementation January 2013.
To cut the long story short, the High Court eventually upheld the constitutionality of the RH law last April 2014 – but only after gutting several of its key provisions. Most importantly, the decision introduced the idea of a “conscientious objector.”
Briefly stated, the concept argues that individuals cannot be penalized for violating a government mandate which they oppose to due to sincerely held beliefs.
As some commentators had previously pointed out, the court tried to strike a balance between religious freedom and freedom of choice.
Since the full implementation of the law’s watered-down version only began last November 30, the effects of SC’s decision remain to be seen. Some potential conflict may arise from the following scenarios:
- Can religiously-affiliated hospitals and medical institutions deny contraceptives to couples and individuals who ask for it?
- Maria is a government health worker. Patrick, a resident in the barangay where she is serving, one day asked her for information about condoms. As a devout Catholic, Maria refused, insisting that only natural birth control methods are acceptable. Is this right?
- Is it legal for an elected city official to refuse to give his/her constituents access to reproductive health services because of religious beliefs?
If the answer to all of these is yes, it means that the implementation of the RH law is dependent on the whims of those with the responsibility of executing it.
PS: It must be noted that the High Court didn’t address the issue of sex education in their decision, saying that it “reserves its judgment” should an actual case directly pertaining on the matter be filed before it. This is another potential flashpoint in the future.