MANILA - Government and the main authors of Republic Act (RA) No. 10354, also known as the Reproductive Health (RH) Law, presented their final arguments in defense of the law before the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday during the continuation of oral arguments on 14 petitions assailing the constitutionality of the law.
Senior State Solicitor Florin Hilbay told the high court that the RH Law is "carefully balanced," and it is wrong for petitioners to insist that it should only be viewed from the perspective of religion.
Hilbay questioned the position of petitioner Couples for Christ Foundation, which said the law violates freedom of religion "as it confers upon the wife sole authority to decide on matters relating to her reproductive health in disregard of their Catholic faith which gives the husband authority to decide in cases of marital deadlock."
Hilbay said this claim cannot stand since the law actually recognizes the rights to liberty and privacy of either the husband or the wife to undergo an RH and contraceptive procedure.
Hilbay said that the law is gender-neutral and is not discriminatory to either of the couple.
"What petitioner Couples for Christ Foundation wants is for men not only to have the right to undergo RH procedures such as vasectomy even without the knowledge of their wives but also the right to override the decision of their wives to have ligation.'
"This is not only unfair; it is also unconstitutional," he said.
Provisions in the law that apply to health care providers such as information dissemination and referrals, despite one's objection on the basis of religious beliefs, cannot be considered unconstitutional, Hilbay further said, since these are professional duties that the health care providers are compelled to perform.
"A person who visits a hospital is looking for a person of science, not a theologian. She, therefore, expects expert medical advice, not religious instruction or a political debate.'
"At the same time, a health care provider working at a hospital or a clinic presents herself to patients not as a religious healer, but as a skilled technician trained in the various disciplines of medicine," Hilbay said.
ETHICAL AND MORAL ISSUES, PROFESSIONAL ISSUES
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro raised ethical and moral issues such as an example of a doctor who, based on his own judgment, believes that a particular reproductive health medication is "unsafe or harmful" to a woman.
She asked Hilbay if the doctor should still be compelled to make referrals with a colleague on the matter.
"If a doctor sincerely believes that what was provided by the government is not safe, is it ethical for that doctor to refer that someone to another doctor to prescribe that prescription to that woman? If he believes it is scientifically wrong or unsafe? Is that not unethical? Is that the right thing for him to do?" De Castro asked.
To which Hilbay said it may "not necessarily be right" but the doctor "has the duty to refer.
"SEX EDUCATION" COMPONENT CANNOT BE QUESTIONED NOW
Several petitioners have questioned the provision of the law on Age and Development-Appropriate RH Education. In response to this, Hilbay said that the curriculum has yet to be formulated by the Department of Education and, thus, may not be challenged at this point.
"Because the law has not yet been implemented, the curriculum which may be the basis for a constitutional challenge has not yet been crafted.
"This honorable Court has no jurisdiction to rule on the constitutionality of a provision of the law that exists only at the level of policy and whose actual content has not yet been written," Hilbay said.
He stressed that the state has the responsibility and duty to ensure that it builds "a nation of citizens who are simultaneously civic-minded, morally responsible, and properly informed."