Philippines: Disappointing ruling blocks reproductive health law

A ruling by the Philippines’ Supreme Court to halt a new law on reproductive health is a leap backwards for human rights in the country, Amnesty International said.

The Act Providing for a National Policy on Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health, known as the RH Law, provides for access to contraception and reproductive health information for adults.

It came into force in January 2013, amid opposition from Catholic clergy. The Supreme Court, however, has now delayed its implementation pending a new hearing on 18 June.

“The law is a historical milestone in the protection of women’s rights in the Philippines as it strikes down some longstanding barriers for women’s access to sexual and reproductive health,” said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.

“It is disappointing that pressure against protecting those basic human rights is being listened to.”

The RH Law does not merely focus on fertility-related concerns, but also addresses HIV and AIDS, breast and reproductive tract cancers, and menopausal and post-menopausal conditions.

In a positive development, the RH Law makes it illegal for reproductive healthcare providers to withhold reasonable treatment or information from any adult based on the lack of third-party consent, such as permission from a husband.  It further seeks to address conscientious objection by healthcare providers by requiring them to refer patients immediately to another provider. In a move aimed at strengthening monitoring and accountability procedures the RH Law also provides for a system of maternal death reviews.

The RH Law, however, falls short in guaranteeing equal rights to minors. Those under 18s are, for instance, required to obtain parental consent before accessing contraception. An exception is made only for minors who are already parents or who have had a previous miscarriage.  Requiring parental consent could be a barrier for adolescents who would otherwise seek help from health professionals.

Amnesty International also calls for the RH Law to be implemented in such a way that pregnant women are entitled to access to health care even if this has a potential unintended impact on the health of the foetus.

And health care professionals must not rule out access to treatment required by a pregnant woman on account of its potential effect on the foetus.

“By no means is the RH Law a perfect law, but it could go a long way to improve the protection of women’s human right to sexual, reproductive and maternal healthcare.”