While disappointed that the country’s Supreme Court has upheld a controversial “reproductive health” law, the Catholic bishops of the Philippines voiced gratitude that the ruling also strengthened parental rights and religious freedom.
“Although the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the RH law, it has truly watered down the RH law and consequently upheld the importance of adhering to an informed religious conscience even among government workers,” said Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen Dagupan, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
He added in his April 8 statement that the court “stood on the side of the rights of parents to teach their children.”
The archbishop’s comments came in response to a decision by the Supreme Court of the Philippines to strike down portions of the controversial bill, including provisions allowing minors access to birth control without parental consent, requirements that religious healthcare facilities tell non-emergency patients about contraceptive options, and penalties for health care providers who refuse to provide information about contraceptives on the grounds of religious belief, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The court also struck down a portion of the law dealing with its implementation, which had narrowly defined abortifacient contraceptives as drugs which “primarily” induce abortions. Instead, the court determined that the law will recognize even contraceptives with a secondary abortion-inducing effect as abortifacient, and these will all remain illegal, the Philippine Star reports.
The legislation mandates government-sanctioned sex education for adults, middle school and high school students, as well as a population control program that includes fully subsidized contraceptives under government health insurance.
Opponents of the bill warned that it would contribute to a breakdown of the family, foster a contraceptive mentality and increase sexual immorality. They also voiced concerns over the health risks posed by artificial birth control.
Father Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life for the Philippines’ bishops conference, told CBC News that he saw the court decision as a “partial” victory, but “a major victory nonetheless.”
He particularly praised the strengthening the “independence” of Catholic hospitals and their right of conscientious objection.
However, he lamented that the bill still provides major government funding for contraceptives.
Archbishop Villegas said the Church cannot “see eye to eye” with the bill’s proponents but can work with them “for the good of the country.” He said the Church must “continue to uphold the sacredness of human life” and “safeguard the life of every human person from conception to natural death.”
He emphasized that the Church must “continue to teach what is right and moral.”
“We will continue to proclaim the beauty and holiness of every human person,” he said. “Through two thousand years, the Church has lived in eras of persecution, authoritarian regimes, wars and revolutions. The Church can continue its mission even with such unjust laws.”
Some opponents of the RH bill were more critical of the decision.
Father Shenan Boquet, president of Human Life International, called the decision “a great setback.”
“The real ‘losers’ in this decision are not the pro-life groups or the Catholic Church – which have been demonized throughout the entire debate over this law – but the Filipino people and their life-loving culture,” he said April 8. “It is women and children and the basic institution of the family that will suffer because of the implementation of this law.”
He contended that the bill’s backers used “deceptions” in order to “push through a massive population control agenda that will one day lead to legalized abortion-on-demand in the Philippines.”
“It breaks my heart that this is happening in such a strongly pro-life and Catholic country that has thus far been able to resist legalized abortion,” he said.
Father Boquet insisted that despite the ruling, “we will never lose hope, and will continue to fight the battle to defend life and family in this great country.”
Archbishop Villegas encouraged Catholics to maintain “respect and esteem for the Supreme Court.” He said Catholics should “move on from being an RH-law reactionary group” to become “truly Spirit-empowered disciples of the Gospel of life and love.”
“We have a positive message to proclaim,” he said.