'Ruling vs RH provisions a dangerous precedent'

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Apr 14 2014 09:54 AM | Updated as of Apr 14 2014 05:54 PM

MANILA - The Supreme Court (SC) has set a dangerous precedent in striking down key provisions of the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Law or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, according to Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.

In his dissenting opinion, Leonen said the SC decision empowers the dominant Catholic Church to impose its doctrines over other religions.

The youngest member of the SC contested the majority ruling declaring as unconstitutional the mandatory referral systems in Section 17 and Section 23, paragraph (a) (3) of the law.

Leonen believes that the ruling, which cited as basis the right of religion of the doctor or health care provider, “implicitly imposes a religious belief on the patient.”

“It is also not clear in the ponencia whether the provisions on referral by conscientious objectors are declared unconstitutional for all religions or only for specific ones... If the declaration is for all religions, then this might just result in violation of the non-establishment clause. A dominant majoritarian religion is now aided in imposing its beliefs not only on patients but also on all those who have different faiths,” he explained.

“This is the natural result for speculative cases. This is dangerous constitutional precedent,” he added.

Leonen said the majority should have considered the impact of their ruling on a religion that is not the minority.

“Invocations of religious freedom can be a disguised way of imposing the dominant faith on others,” he said.

Leonen also dissented from the majority decision to declare unconstitutional Section 23(a)(2)(i), which allows married individuals to undergo reproductive health procedures without the consent of the spouse.

“The majority interprets the privacy and autonomy of the family as also providing insulation of patriarchal or sexist practices from state scrutiny. This is not what the Constitution intends,” he said.

He said the ruling was based on “speculative facts.”

He said the RH Law should have been upheld in its entirety as sought by RH advocates.

Leonen said the SC should have dismissed the consolidated petitions questioning the legality of the law instead of partially granting them.

He said issues involving the beginning of life and the Church’s position on contraceptives and sex are beyond the judicial determination mandate of the court.

“This court is not the venue to continue the brooding and vociferous political debate that has already happened and has resulted in legislation,” he said.

“A law that mandates informed choice and proper access for reproductive health technologies should not be presumed to be a threat to the right to life. It is an affirmative guarantee to assure the protection of human rights,” he added.

Almost all of the SC justices are Catholics. Leonen does not practice any religion, insiders said.

Leonen, along with President Aquino’s other appointees to the high court - Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justices Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe - dissented to the majority decision to void seven provisions of RH Law.

But it was only Leonen who dissented in the voiding of Section 3.01(a) and (j) of the law’s implementing rules and regulation, which limits “abortifacient” to contraceptives that “primarily” induces abortion.

Court observers cited Leonen’s dissent as proof that the decision of the high court has favored the petitioners.

They said contrary to the claim of pro-RH groups that they won the case, the actual text of the SC ruling showed that the petitions were "partially granted."

It was also said that the ruling has left the RH Law “toothless” as the mandatory provisions were nullified.

In its 106-page decision penned by Associate Justice Jose Mendoza, the SC ruled that the RH Law is not unconstitutional - except for the eight provisions that give the government coercive powers.