On April 8, the Philippines Supreme Court upheld a reproductive health law that has been at the center of a wide debate and major controversy. One of the main components of the law includes the requirement of general public access to birth control including the free distribution of contraceptives and condoms. In addition to access to birth control, the law includes an outline on the approval of family planning and sex education teaching in schools. The Catholic Church has strongly opposed the law and legally challenged it for over a year. Now that the law is in place, both those that support the new ruling, and those that disapprove of it, have firmly voiced their opinions.
Although the new law includes several controversial issues, there were several provisions of the law that the Philippines Supreme Court struck down. The main issues that were not included in the law were those that allowed minors to receive birth control with a guardian’s written consent and penalties for health care providers or facilities that refused to provide information about birth control because of religious beliefs. Although these were minor victories for the Catholic Church, there was disappointment communicated after the law was announced.
President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, commented that the he was happy to see that the law did not include many of the provisions that the Supreme Court struck down. He indicated that by dismissing many of the provisions, the Court upheld the importance of adhering to an informed religious conscience. He also included that he was disappointed with the law and that the Catholic Church must continue to value the sacredness of human life and safeguard every person from conception to natural death. Catholic Archbishop Oscar Cruz commented that the law in no way promotes reproductive health because it prevents reproduction.
Supporters of the law consider it to be a major victory for the people of the Philippines, many of which are Catholic. In a recent poll by a private company, 72% of Filipinos supported and favored the new law. The number of teenage pregnancies has doubled in the Philippines in the last decade and this law is aimed to reduce that figure in addition to addressing other significant issues. Congressman Edcel Lagman, an author of the law, commented that the decision upheld the separation of the church and state and declared the government as the ultimate power in secular concerns like health and socio-economic development.
Any appeal to the Supreme Court’s decision must be done within 15 days from April 8.