In landmark verdict, Philippine reproductive health law now 'constitutional'

A gavel. The Philippines' controversial reproductive health bill will finally be enshrined into law. Photo by: SalFalko / CC BY-NC

After countless hurdles and obstacles, the Philippines’ controversial responsible parenthood and reproductive health law was on Tuesday finally deemed “constitutional” by the Supreme Court.

In a much-awaited ruling, the court affirmed the constitutionality of the law, but struck down a number of provisions, most of them sanctions for individuals or entities that refuse to provide family planning services due to their religious beliefs.

The verdict was celebrated by civil society groups and local and international development organizations, despite continued protests from several faith-based coalitions.

“The United Nations in the Philippines welcomes today’s ruling of the Supreme Court,” the international body said in a statement. “Together with the Filipino people, the [U.N.] celebrates this landmark ruling which recognizes the basic human right of Filipinos to reproductive health.”

Allowing people to gain control and giving them a choice on how they view their reproductive health development is crucial as it “places people’s rights and dignity at the heart of development,” the statement added.

Calls for a reproductive health law in the Philippines have been ongoing for over a decade, highlighting the country’s rampant population growth as well as the more glaring issue of maternal mortality.

The World Health Organization suggests the target prevalence of maternal mortality should not exceed 52 per 100,000 live births, in line with the Millennium Development Goals, but in the Philippines an average of seven mothers die every 24 hours from pregnancy-related diseases, according to 2012 data.

Prior to Tuesday’s ruling, the reproductive health bill was passed into law in early 2013, but the Supreme Court almost immediately issued a temporary restraining order against it in response to high pressure from Catholic politicians and other faith-based groups.

Among the provisions struck down is one that required private health clinics owned by religious groups to provide family planning services, which now will only be voluntary, further limiting the public’s access to contraceptives.

Interested parties have 15 days to appeal the decision.

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.

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