SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: On the RH Law decision: What win-win?

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/10 April) – Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines, said the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 has been “truly watered down” even if the Supreme Court declared that it is not unconstitutional.

Was it an honest assessment or simply an attempt to belittle the implications of the SC’s ruling on whatever influence the Church may still have on policymaking, and perhaps more importantly, on its flock?

Except for eight items which were struck down, the Court unanimously held that the RH Law has not violated the constitution. The items that were declared unconstitutional mainly revolve around issues of religious conscience, rights of parents over [their] minor children, and the right given to a wife or husband to undergo reproductive health procedures without the consent of his or her spouse.

But “truly watered down” the law has not been. The central objective of the RH Law – allowing each and every Filipino access to reproductive health tools and education – has remained untouched. This may still be carried out even without the eight provisions that the SC deemed unconstitutional.

The ruling does not prevent the State from, among others, providing free reproductive health services and supplies, age-appropriate reproductive health education in schools, and distributing contraceptives to those who may wish to use them.

In short, the net effect of the Court’s decision is that the Church may not impose its own moral judgment and doctrine as the infallible yardstick of secular matters. The Church has all the freedom to air its views on matters of State policies, but it should acknowledge that it is only one among the many voices that compete in influencing legislation. If it refuses to concede, then we better pack Congress with priests and nuns. (Interestingly, even the Church itself is divided on the RH Law. But that’s not the point.)

The Catholic groups that filed those anti-RH Law petitions only have themselves to blame for their fiasco. Had they been more attentive, they would have noticed that the Justices were bound to junk the petitions from the start. First, the petitions dealt with questions that, as one Justice put it, simply reenacted the debates in Congress and which have been addressed in the final version of the law. Second, they asked the Court to decide on a political act vis-à-vis Church doctrines on procreation and related issues.

Now pray how the Court may act on theological questions that are raised before it. Yet the petitioners seemingly paid no heed when at least one Justice said they were not in a position to judge on such mystical questions as when life begins.

And, as a double whammy for the Church, a survey made last month by the Social Weather Stations found that 72 percent of Filipinos are in favor of the RH Law, and 77 percent agree that “the RH Law follows what the Constitution should stand for, so it is only proper for the Supreme Court to allow it.”

The same survey, the results of which were released a few days before the Court’s decision, says 68 percent are aware of the RH Law and 84 percent agree that “the government should provide free supply or service to the poor who wish to use any family planning method”.

Isn’t it ironic that a vast majority of this predominantly Catholic country doesn’t listen to the bishops when it comes to reproductive issues? For the Church, to borrow a term from fellow MindaNews columnist Patricio Diaz, that would be a “loss-loss” situation.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])