For more than 15 years, the Catholic Church in the Philippines led a successful crusade against any form of family planning laws. All that changed on Tuesday when the country’s highest court denied appeals against the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act. Known as the RH Law, it requires that sex education be taught in schools and public health workers receive training in family planning. In addition, the legislation states that health centers must give out free birth control pills and condoms. Further, although abortion continues to remain illegal, the law requires public health workers to provide post-abortion care for complications arising from illegal abortions. The RH Law was signed in 2012 by President Aquino, but it was immediately suspended by the Supreme Court when over a dozen petitions were filed that argued it was unconstitutional. On Tuesday, those petitions were struck down. High court spokesman Theodore Te told reporters that the court unanimously recognized the constitutionality of the RH Law.
The principal author of the law, Edcel Lagman, called the decision monumental. In secular concerns such as socio-economic development and health, the decision “upholds the separation of church and state.” He expressed gratitude on behalf of the nation and saluted the justices, who are thereby “giving impetus to sustainable human development” in the Philippines. The country has one of the highest birthrates in the world, 3.54, and according to the government, more than 25 percent of the Philippines’ 108 million people live on the equivalent of 62 cents a day. Providing reproductive medical services to people who would not otherwise be able to afford them, say experts, is urgently needed.
The Catholic Church, to which more than 80 percent of the people living in the Philippines belongs, decried the law as evil when President Aquino signed the legislation in 2012. There were street protests, and the Church even threatened the president with excommunication. A former senator and opponent of the RH Law, Francisco Tatad, said in a Manila Times commentary that was published on Tuesday that effecting the law may cause an open revolt. At the least, stated Tatad, it means civil disobedience. At the most, he warned, it means “actual revolt at the most extreme.” He also stated that “some of us will…die as martyrs” in order to “defy the power of the devil.”
Church leaders in the Philippines have continuously maintained that it is their right to influence the legal and parliamentary branches of the government. One recent example of the political power of the Catholic Church in that country is the 1986 People Power Revolution. The archbishop at the time, Jaime Cardinal Sin, told people over a Church-run radio station to support anti-regime rebels. The ensuing response ended up ousting then-President Ferdinand Marcos. It is believed that the Church no longer holds this level of influence in today’s Philippines. According to a recent survey by Social Weather Stations, 72 percent of Filipinos were in favor of the law and 84 percent agreed free family planning options such as contraceptives should be provided by the government. Tuesday’s decision to uphold the RH Law corresponds to those numbers.
By Donna Westlund