DESPITE the Supreme Court ruling that struck down a number of key provisions in the Reproductive Health (RH) Law, the high tribunal’s unanimous decision to declare the controversial legislation as “not unconstitutional” should pave the way for “universal access to reproductive health care services and supplies, and sex education,” said pro-RH activist and former Akbayan representative Risa Hontiveros.

“I am very relieved that finally, the RH Law [will] be implemented, especially the heart of the law, which is the access to [reproductive health] services and supplies, and sex education,” Hontiveros said in an interview with the Varsitarian. “[C]ouples can begin learning the full range of information they need to make informed and responsible choices; young people can be oriented by their parents and teachers; and parents, especially, can start planning how to fit the elements of the RH Law in their families,” she added.

If problems in the RH Law’s implementation arise, a remedy may be needed for the provisions that were struck down, which involve penalties for health personnel, government employees, and health institutions refusing or failing to provide services and programs under the law, said Hontiveros.

“If ever the provisions that were struck down will create problematic situations in the future, then, we will cross the bridge when we get there. We will see what process, legislative, legal or judicial, can be used to cure the situation,” she said.

Former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., for his part, said the eight provisions stricken out made the court decision a “little better” by removing the compulsory nature of the RH Law, or Republic Act 10354. “There is no more compulsion,” he said in a separate interview.

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The biggest consequence of the decision will be the spread of a “contraceptive mentality” and a “culture of death” among Filipinos, especially among the youth, Pimentel warned. “The biggest injury here would be to [the] young people who are not even married but will try to have sex provided that there is no fertilization. “It will affect the upbringing of the youth,” he said.

Pimentel said anti-RH lawmakers should come up with a more refined version of the RH Law and determine what would really be an acceptable legal framework in a Christian society like the Philippines.

He also called on the clergy to take the lead in continuing the fight against the RH law by preaching that “life begins at conception.”

“I am a little upset by the fact that the clergy does not seem to take a serious leadership role in this matter … This is a question of morals, and I think the Church should step in and provide the leadership,” Pimentel said.

“The idea [that life begins at conception] should be preached from the rooftops [of] every parish by priests and responsible lay people, especially by doctors. [They should] target the youth, the young adults, and ultimately, the community in general,” he added.

In its 106-page decision released last week, the Supreme Court affirmed that life begins at fertilization, which, it said, should be taken as synonymous with “conception.” The decision written by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza cited dictionaries, medical literature, court decisions, and records of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution. Article II, Section 12 of the Constitution says the state shall “equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

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The ruling could prevent government distribution of hormonal contraceptives, which have mechanisms to frustrate life after fertilization, such as by making a woman’s uterine wall inhospitable to a fertilized ovum.

Hontiveros said that instead of arguing over when life begins, an issue that she pointed out was still being debated in the scientific and medical communities, Filipinos should value life in general and the “freedom of choice” that the RH Law provides.

“The Supreme Court is not the authority to declare when human life begins. Even the Catholic Church, in the course of her long history, has evolved its thinking regarding this idea,” she claimed. “We should value the idea of valuing life. Filipinos have different beliefs, but the [kind of] life that each one believes in, is the one we should love and acknowledge.”

The high tribunal said the RH Law itself outlawed contraceptives that frustrate life after fertilization.

Citing the intent of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, the Supreme Court said “contraceptives that kill or destroy the fertilized ovum should be deemed an abortive and thus prohibited. Conversely, contraceptives that actually prevent the union of the male sperm and the female ovum, and those that similarly take action prior to fertilization should be deemed non-abortive, and thus, constitutionally permissible.”

“The Textbook of Obstetrics (Physiological & Pathological Obstetrics), used by medical schools in the Philippines, also concludes that human life (human person) begins at the moment of fertilization with the union of the egg and the sperm resulting in the formation of a new individual, with a unique genetic composition that dictates all developmental stages that ensue,” it added.

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“The authors of Human Embryology & Teratology mirror the same position. They wrote: ‘Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed…. The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity.’”

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