IF IT’S about “choice”, why is there coercion?

Aside from criticisms that the Reproductive Health (RH) bill is unconstitutional, experts say it will make undue demands on health professionals.

Section 28 of House Bill No. 4244 states that it respects “the conscientious objection of a healthcare service provider based on one’s ethical or religious beliefs.”

However, the same clause also requires physicians to refer patients demanding “emergency” RH services to other doctors, or face penalties.

For former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., this provision of the RH bill forces health practitioners to do indirectly what their consciences forbid them to do directly.

“The clause contradicts itself when it clears the conscientious objector of liability but requires him or her to refer the matter to somebody who would do as the RH bill mandates,” he told the Varsitarian.

Dr. Maria Salve Olalia, UST Health Service director, described the bill as “very undemocratic and un-Christian.”

“The [conscience clause] is one of the major reasons why we, Catholic physicians, are opposing this bill,” she said.

Olalia added that referring patients to other doctors could pose harm to patients.

“Why should we refer and encourage procedures which we know are not beneficial to our patients? Why encroach on the practice of our professional ethics?” she asked.

However, former Akbayan representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, a staunch RH proponent, said the bill simply asks that the patient be referred to a willing doctor.

“He or she will simply refer to another doctor or health professional, who is secular, has no conflict of interest, and has no objection to such methods,” she said.

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But Jo Aurea Imbong, executive secretary of the Legal Office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said that even with the supposed conscience clause, the RH bill still contradicts the Hippocratic Oath or the physicians’ vow to practice an ethical profession.

Pimentel echoed Imbong, saying that doctors pledged to cure, not to kill.

“The Hippocratic Oath requires doctors to heal bodies, not to destroy lives. Since the fetus is a live human being, it already has a life since conception,” he said.

Under this oath, physicians vow not to give a “fatal draught to anyone,” including the unborn.

“Neither will I give a woman means to procure an abortion,” the oath states. “I will be chaste and religious in my life and in my practice.”

“The bill does not hide its hostility for the unborn. There is nothing in the bill that safeguards the rights of the unborn at conception,” Imbong said.

She added that there would be “big complications” with natural law if the bill is passed as some proponents believe that life begins at implantation, a process that takes place shortly after the sperm fertilizes the egg.

Natural science and the Constitution say otherwise—that life begins at conception, Pimentel said.

“The difference only enables proponents of contraception to have a leeway by which they can say that before implantation, any kind of contraception—whether abortive or not—may be used,” Pimentel said.

Because of this, some contraceptives can still serve as abortifacients, he added.

This contradicts a provision in Article II, Section 12, of the Constitution that says the State “shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception,” Pimentel said.

Imbong said there are more provisions in the Constitution that invalidate the RH bill.

The bill violates at least three major provisions, namely: Section 14, the rights of women; Section 15, the basic right of ‘authentic’ health; and Section 16, the right of balanced ecology.

“It infringes the rights stated in Section 14 because the contraceptive menus in [the bill] harm women’s health and even cause death. Section 15 is defied because it provides a ‘recipe’ for harmful and lethal contraceptives. Lastly, Section 16 is violated for assaulting the conceived and the unborn child’s environment, the womb,” Imbong said.

Oral contraceptive pills have been linked to breast cancer by literature from the Mayo Clinic, www.cancer.gov, and others.

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Pimentel said the passage of the RH bill would only benefit the manufacturers of drugs, devices and other products that are designed to prevent conception.

Imbong said billions in funds intended for the bill should be allocated to more pressing matters.

“These could have gone for the needs of the poor,” she said. “Instead, the budget will be used for condoms and oral contraceptives and will only benefit those companies making what will destroy the bodies and values of the people.”

Meanwhile, Baraquel said that when a woman arrives at an emergency room because of induced abortion, the Hippocratic Oath must prevail and doctors should do no harm.

“The only godly or humane thing to do is to take care of her and not let her suffer to death,” she said.

Dr. Corazon Lim, Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist, said doctors must still uphold the truth.

“You must tell your patients the arguments of the bill, [informing them of the] consequences of their chosen action,” she said.

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