RH bill signed into law
MANILA — Thirteen years after it was first filed for debate in the Philippine Congress, the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill was finally signed into law on Friday, December 21, 2012. House majority leader Neptali Gonzales informed the media through a text message on the following Friday, December 28.
President Benigno Aquino signed the bill into law, which is now known as Republic Act 10354, without fanfare a day after both the House and the Senate approved the measure on its third and final reading on December 17 and ratified its final version on December 19 – the last day of session for 2012.
The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 is aimed at providing “universal access to medically safe, non-abortifacient, effective, legal, affordable and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices, supplies which do not prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum.” The national and local governments will both share in the responsibility of implementing the act, which will also provide “age-and development-appropriate reproductive health education” to public school students aged between 10 and 19.
Under the new law, minors will only be given access to artificial birth control methods in health centres and state-run hospitals if they have written parental consent, or have already given birth or have had miscarriages.
Information and access to family planning methods that are “proven medically safe, legal, non-abortifacient, and effective in accordance with scientific and evidence-based medical research standards such as those registered and approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)” will be provided by the State under Republic Act 10354.
“This law will be very important in improving the lives of millions of Filipina women and mothers who are presently receiving scant reproductive healthcare services from the government,” said Carlos Conde, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, Asia. “At the end of the day, those who opposed the bill just ran out of arguments, because you can see the stark reality in the Philippines: women need to be given a choice as to how they create and run their families.”
The RH Bill was met with strong opposition from the Catholic Church. In the weeks leading to its eventual passage, bishops were among those who watched legislative proceedings from the House gallery.
Father Melvin Castro denounced the bill on the web site of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippine (CBCP), saying, “This government is out to really destroy the traditional Filipino values of family and life… This government has revealed its true face. It has never been for the welfare of the family, women and children.”
However, Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, the main proponent of the RH Bill at the House of Representatives said before the passage of the bill, “The enactment this Yuletide season of the RH bill, which will save countless lives of women and children and assure their better future, is truly symbolic because millennia ago Jesus Christ was born in a manger to save the world.”
According to the UN Population Fund, 11 women die daily as a result of complications arising from pregnancy. And recently the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reported that the Philippines is one of nine countries, including Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, where HIV infections have increased by 25 per cent.
Ramon San Pascual, former executive director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development, said, “You see the need for change every day, staring you in the eyes: poor young urban girls carry their malnourished babies while the religious leaders pontificate on the evil of reproductive health education.”
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago quoted Victor Hugo, saying, “The Catholic Church has steadfastly opposed the RH bill for 13 years, but I humbly submit that there is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”