The bill is flawed. This remains to be a fact as the debates currently wage on as to its viability. Truly, it is a progressive piece of legislation aiming to improve women and children’s health and welfare while bolstering the drive for information dissemination regarding sexual and reproductive health concerns. The bill fundamentally protects women’s health and is essentially founded on real concerns by real individuals. Moreover, it idealizes the concept of free choice and lauds the exercise of such.
However, the bill must not be viewed and valued on its face value but on its entirety. Its overall ramifications must be foreseen and its deleterious effects properly addressed. At its current stage, we believe that it fails to uphold morality and remains to be constitutionally infirm.
We believe that it succeeds on several aspects such as its assertion on better provision of medical services for women and children, its reaffirming stance on the illegality of abortion, its determination to better facilitate information drives and on its impressive resolve on the overall wellness of the Filipino woman. Be that as it may, it does not sit on firm foundations as some of its provisions need to be revised or ultimately stricken out. Thus, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S. J. posits in an online article that “[t]he RH bill is by no means a perfect document. I do not believe that the authors of the bill themselves consider their work sacrosanct or rock-permanent. They must realize that there are provisions in the bill which run counter to the moral beliefs of some. They cannot overlook the fact that moral rules of our society and much of our civil law are based on religious values. At the same time, however, we must also realize that in our religiously pluralist society we can differ in matters of morality, especially sexual morality. Neither, however, is the bill totally bad. There are provisions in the bill which seek to answer the crying needs of women and important needs of young people, especially among the poor.”
We respectfully believe that the bill loses its color when it mandates under Section 10 that contraceptives be considered as “essential medicine” and that the same “shall be included in the regular purchase of essential medicines and supplies of all national and local hospitals and other government health units.” It is our humble view that restrictions must be set relative to the unlimited access granted by the bill to said devices. It has been conclusively proven that most of the common contraceptives are either ineffective or harmful. Defective condoms are actually blamed for failing to prevent conception approximately 50% of the time and that most oral contraceptives are abortifacients. To consider such abortifacients as “essential medicine” would be sanctioning abortion. Moreover, birth control pills increase the risk of the occurrence of breast cancer and cardiovascular problems in women. It thus becomes imperative that these must be prescribed by authorized medical practitioners only.
Truly, the law must not operate to allow the State to offer contraceptives free of charge. It must restrict its distribution. We are not, however, imploring that such be prohibited altogether; we are merely suggesting that these be duly regulated and not be distributed in wanton disregard of its untoward effects. Thus, while the bill focuses on health and wellness, there are certain provisions which defeat said core purpose (i.e. the free and unrestricted access to contraceptives). This inconsistency has to be thoroughly addressed.
Furthermore, some provisions violate, or vitiate in the very least, the freedom of choice by making contraceptives patently accessible. The exercise of choice, in its ideal sense, must be free from any vice or defect, must be intelligent and must be spontaneous. Making contraceptives conveniently available may effectively reduce a person’s capacity to weigh his or her options well, free from any undue influence, as the law itself makes contraception ostensible, legal and accessible. This cannot be countenanced as it curtails the exercise of a person’s freedom of choice.
We further believe that the bill, although primarily concerned with apprising the curious and uninformed, does not imply that sex education be a core subject in every academe. Section 12 mandates the formation of a “Reproductive Health Education curriculum” to be spearheaded by the POPCOM, in coordination with the Department of Education. We believe that these agencies, following the same mandate that the courses be age-appropriate, must assess the frequency in conducting these courses. Excessive information may induce or increase confusion, while stale and archaic methods may prove to be ineffective; both of which would render the program inutile. Thus, these agencies, with proper funding and thorough orientation, must strike the correct balance between the given extremes.
We also believe that the church must not turn a blind eye from its constituents. It must not remain stagnant because the issues are becoming more real and more pressing. Indeed, Fr. Bernas believes that “our embrace of religious liberty is a manifestation of our belief that religion is profoundly meaningful and that we can draw from religion guidance in our social and political options. At the same time, however, we have also drawn a demarcation line, not always clear, which separates the functions of government and religion, thereby potentially severing government from a source of social and moral values dear to many believing citizens”. This becomes more apparent as the bill is slowly taking form.
Both sides are baring their fangs with their conflicting notions of the ideal versus the real. The church, being the “moral beacon” of the country, must see that morality is subjective and is not a dormant concept as it does not operate in a vacuum. It remains to be dynamic and must evolve accordingly with the current socio-cultural atmosphere. It behooves the church to recognize that ideal concepts are indeed ideal; as such, they remain to be standards which have to be followed but not blindly adhered to. In the same vein, the body politic must understand that the church’s stance on its version of morality is based on long-standing tradition and has yet to be debased by contrary actuations. Similarly, the proponents of the bill must attempt to harmonize its own goals with the morals protected by the church and must not endeavor to run counter it. Admittedly, this is a gargantuan task which may only be resolved through open dialogue between such adverse parties.As the bill remains to be in its 2nd reading, certain amendments may still be proposed. The proponents and detractors of the bill have yet to arrive at a valid and equitable compromise without ever losing sight of the primacy of the citizens’ interests.