By: Elizabeth Angsioco
Published in Manila Standard Today
Dated January 22, 2011
Constitutionality is one of the most frequently used arguments against the reproductive health bill. This piece looks at RH-relevant Constitutional provisions and part of the position I articulated in the Senate.
I say: the Philippine Constitution is replete with provisions mandating the government to provide RH services. To cite some:
“Art. II, Section 10. The State shall promote social justice in all phases of national development”’
Reproductive health promotes social justice by providing access to RH services to poor Filipinos otherwise enjoyed by those with money. Family planning is a glaring example. The rich can pay for contraceptives they want but NOT the poor who likewise want to use them.
According to studies, an effective family planning program can reduce maternal deaths by 32 percent and morbidities by 50 percent. Thus, the enactment of RH bill is a way to reduce inequality.
“Art. II, Section 11. The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.”
The right to make informed decisions and do so without coercion should be enjoyed by all citizens. RH is a human right guaranteed by the State.
As persons, women have the same human right to life as everyone else. The RH bill provides for life-saving services that fulfils this provision. Thus, enacting it is in accordance with the Constitution.
“Art. II, Section 12. The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and life of the unborn from conception…”
This is always used by anti-RH groups to justify their position. By focusing on the protection of the unborn and conveniently forgetting the equal protection of the mother, they twist the provision’s essence.
It should be emphasized that this provision gives equal importance to the mother’s life. Even from a utilitarian perspective, the logic is simple—the unborn needs the mother and cannot be born without her. She is also crucial in the care and well-being of those who are born. Therefore, an RH law is consistent with this provision.
“Art. II, Section 14. The State recognizes the role of women in nation-building, and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men.”
While the Constitution recognizes the co-equal role of women with men, women’s needs are often sidelined. How can women be fully active in national life when 11 of us die daily due to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications? How may poor women be involved in nation-building when they give birth to 3 times the number of children of their rich sisters? Our culture largely expects women to take care of home and family. Where will they get the time?
An RH law will provide women with services to be healthy and make and actualize informed decisions in relation with having children. This will enable women to better participate in public life.
“Art. II, Section 15. The State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instil health consciousness among them.
Art. XIII, Section 11. The State shall adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development which shall endeavour to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all the people at affordable cost. There shall be priority for the needs of the under-privileged, sick, elderly, disabled, women, and children. The State shall endeavour to provide free medical care to paupers.”
Clearly, the Constitution regards health as a right and guarantees health programs to benefit all Filipinos and specifically address needs of those who have less. RH services are among these needs and a comprehensive FP program is one crucial service.
The World Health Organization includes artificial contraceptives in its list of essential medicines, proof that contraceptives passed WHO standards on safety and efficacy. The RH Bill has a similar provision.
Moreover, an RH law will facilitate implementation of health-related Constitutional provisions because it will provide services including:
mobile health clinics; training more skilled birth attendants; upgrading hospital facilities, equipment and services; and provision of basic and comprehensive emergency obstetrics care. Therefore, the bill fully complies with the Constitution.
“Art. XIV, Section 1 and 2 (1).
Sec. 1. The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.
Sec. 2. (1). The State shall establish, maintain, and support a complete, adequate, and integrated system of education relevant to the needs of the people and society.”
The right to education encompasses RH education. This is among the crucial needs of young people not significantly addressed. There is abundant data attesting to RH education’s relevance to our young people including: 50 percent of young women are unaware that they could get pregnant after only one sexual encounter; 80 percent of young women do not know their fertile period; about 30 percent of youth think that HIV/AIDS are curable; and adolescent pregnancy makes up 30 percent of all annual births. Providing RH education to our youth is urgent and the bill does this.
“Art. XV, Section 3. The State shall defend the right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions and the demands of responsible parenthood.”
Clearly, couples are the sole decision-makers when it comes to founding a family. They should not be coerced by government, nor by religion to decide one way or another.
Even Catholics consider RH necessary. All credible surveys say that as high as 97 percent of Filipinos (with 87 percent Catholic respondents) believe it is important to plan one’s family.
Responsible parenthood demands that couples consider the quality of life they can provide their child/children. To make intelligent decisions, information is necessary. Further, government should provide access to services to those in poverty to help them become responsible parents. An RH law will realize these.
These provisions prove that the RH bill is constitutional. Its passage will help government accomplish its constitutional mandate.