"Truly children are a gift from the Lord;
the fruit of the womb is
a reward" (Ps 127:3).
Pastoral Guidance on the Implementation of the Reproductive Health
Our dear brother priests, Catholic physicians and health care
workers, government officials and employees, educators and fellow Church
While we would have wanted the Supreme Court to nullify the
(Republic Act No. 10354), we must now contend with the fact that it has
ruled rather to strike down important provisions of the law in deciding
Imbong v. Ochoa, G.R. 204819 (April 8, 2014) and companion
It is our pastoral duty to pass the necessary information and
instruction to our Catholics who, as health care workers (physicians,
nurses, midwives, medical aides, medical technologists, etc.), are
employed in health facilities, whether public or private, so that they
may know what their rights are under the law as passed upon by the High
Court. The same duty is owed to our Catholic government officials and
employees who, in the discharge of their public duties, may be asked to
enforce the RH Law. The Supreme Court
majority opinion alone is 104
pages long and many may not have the patience nor the skill to make
their way through the legal argumentation involved.
As teachers of the faith and morality, assisted by our legal experts,
we are presenting an outline of the salient points in the Supreme Court
decision which we think may be helpful for our pastoral ministry and
1. The Supreme Court points out that the whole idea of contraception
(as the means to control population growth) runs through the RH Law. It
is in fact the governing and overarching principle of the RH Law. Other
provisions such as skilled birth attendance, maternal care including
pre- and post-natal services, prevention and management of
sexually-related diseases and sicknesses are already provided for in the
Magna Carta for Women. In rendering its decision in the Imbong case, the
Court affirms the principles of "no-abortion" and "no-coercion" in the
adoption of any family planning method.
2. The right to life is grounded on natural law and is inherent in a
person, and therefore not a creation of, or dependent upon a particular
law, custom or belief. The right to life precedes and transcends any
authority or the laws of men.
3. Abortifacients are prohibited by the RH Law. An abortifacient is
any drug or device that:
a. induces abortion; or
b. induces the
destruction of a fetus inside the mother's womb; or
c. prevents the
fertilized ovum to reach and to be implanted in
the mother's womb.
In this regard, it is important to point out that the Supreme Court
has invalidated two related provisions in the Implementing Rules and
Regulations of the RH Law for inserting the modifier 'primarily' in the
definitions of "abortifacient" and "contraceptive". The Court notes that
the word "primarily" (which is not found in the RH Law itself) would
HAVE INTRODUCED THE SURREPTITIOUS INTRODUCTION OF DRUGS AND DEVICES
THAT, THOUGH PRIMARILY NOT ABORTIFACIENT, WERE ALSO ABORTIFACIENT IN USE
AND IN EFFECT. The Court clarifies that, consistent with the no-abortion
spirit of the RH Law, even contraceptives that have no such primary
intention, but have the secondary effect of destroying the fetus or
preventing nidation (attaching of the fertilized egg to the uterine
wall), should be considered as abortifacients and are, therefore,
4. No contraceptive that harms or destroys the life of the unborn
from conception or fertilization, either as a primary or secondary
effect, can be allowed under the law, even if it be advertised,
categorized, distributed and announced as a contraceptive. The
determining factor therefore is whether or not the supposed
contraceptive also prevents nidation, or the attaching of the fertilized
egg to the uterine wall, or destroys the zygote, embryo, blastocyst or
fetus. If it does, then it cannot be allowed under the law.
5. In the distribution by the Department of Health of contraceptive
drugs and devices, the provisions of an existing law, R.A. 4729, must be
complied with. Said law makes it unlawful for any person, partnership or
corporation to sell, dispense or otherwise distribute, whether for or
without consideration, any contraceptive drug or device, unless such
sale, dispensation or distribution is by a duly licensed drug store or
pharmaceutical company and with the prescription of a qualified medical
TO OUR KNOWLEDGE, NO SINGLE CONTRACEPTIVE HAS YET BEEN SUBMITTED TO
THE FDA PURSUANT TO THE RH Law.
6. The Court expresses itself very strongly on the following point:
At this point, the Court is of the strong view that Congress cannot
legislate that hormonal contraceptives and intra-uterine devices are
safe and non-abortifacient. The first sentence of Section 9 that ordains
their inclusion by the National Drug Formulary in the Essential Drug
List (EDI), by using the mandatory 'shall' is to be construed as
operative only after they have been tested, evaluated and approved by
the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). The FDA, not Congress, has the
expertise to determine whether a particular hormonal contraceptive or
intrauterine device is safe and non-abortifacient.
We urge our Catholic
doctors, for example, the Association of Doctors for Life, to demand
from the FDA the testing and evaluation of all contraceptive drugs and
devices, including those that are already being presently sold and made
available to the public, as to whether they are safe, legal, and
7. When a health care worker who objects, on religious or moral
grounds, to contraceptives is compelled by the law to refer the patient
seeking information on modern reproductive health products and services
to another who may be willing to supply such information or services,
this obligation to refer already burdens the objector to do something
that his conscience forbids him to do. The premise of this holding is
the inviolability of the human conscience.
Put more directly, when a health-care worker, whether practising on
his own or as part of a public or private healthcare facility, objects,
on the basis of conscience, to artificial contraception, such a
health-worker is NOT OBLIGED AND MAY REFUSE to refer a patient to anyone
else (health-care worker or facility) from where the contraceptives may
The Supreme Court observes that "though it has been said that the act
of referral is an opt-out clause, it is, however, a false compromise
because it makes pro-life health providers complicit in the performance
of an act that they find morally repugnant or offensive."
8. The same rule therefore applies to non-maternity specialty
hospitals and hospitals owned and operated by a religious groups and
health care service providers. While, originally, Section 24 compelled
such institutions, under pain of penalty, to refer patients to
facilities or institutions that can render contraceptive services, the
Court struck down this COMPULSORY REFERRAL as UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
9. Section 5.24 of the RH – IRR reads:
Provided, that skilled health professionals such
as provincial city or municipal health officers, chiefs of hospitals,
head nurses, supervising midwives, among others who by virtue of their
office are specifically charged with the duty to implement the
provisions of the RPRH Act and these rules cannot be considered as
THE COURT RULES THAT THIS SECTION OF THE IRR IS DISCRIMINATORY AND IN
VIOLATION OF THE EQUAL PROTECTION CLAUSE of the Constitution. What this
means therefore is that the right to conscientious objection can be
claimed and exercised even by health-care workers in the employ of the
government. Obviously, Catholics should not, on moral grounds, seek
employment in the very government agencies that promote artificial
contraception. But if circumstances compelled them to be employed in
such agencies, or if they were already employees at the time the
agencies adopted a pro-RH policy, said Catholics should be aware that
they cannot be forced to promote, distribute or dispense artificial
contraceptives against their religious or moral conviction.
10. The accommodation granted the conscientious objector, however,
does not extend to emergency cases, as when the mother's life is in
danger. When a patient, for example, is rushed to the emergency room who
has, with the help of a backstreet abortionist, commenced the abortion
procedure that is botched, although the fetus has already been
destroyed, with the result that she is bleeding profusely, the
health-care providers cannot refuse intervention or treatment on the
ground of conscientious objection but must take all steps necessary to
save the life of the mother. This exception is based on natural law,
which calls for the preservation of human life.
11. FAITHFUL TO THE STATE POLICY TO PROTECT THE FAMILY, the Court has
ruled that when a married person seeks an irreversible form of
contraception (vasectomy and tubal ligation provide the most ready
examples), BOTH SPOUSES must give their consent, and when the spouses
disagree, the procedure may not be performed. This is in marked contrast
to the original provision of the law that would have allowed the choice
of the person who was to undergo the procedure to make the final call.
But this, the Supreme Court rightly rules, would have directly eroded
family cohesion that the Constitution obligates the State to protect and
12. The Court also emphatically holds that EVEN IF THE MINOR IS
ALREADY A PARENT OR HAS HAD A MISCARRIAGE, she will still need the
consent of her parents in order to receive surgical or non-surgical
family planning services. The Court reasons that parental authority over
the minor is not lost by the incidence of a miscarriage or premature
It is precisely in such situations when a minor
parent needs the comfort, care, advice and guidance of her own parents.
The State cannot replace her natural mother and father when it comes to
providing her needs and comfort. To say that their consent is no longer
relevant is clearly anti-family. It does not promote unity in the
family. It is an affront to the constitutional mandate to protect and to
strengthen the family as an inviolable social institution.
By way of an exception, the Court upholds the right of the minor to
receive information about family planning services, and to undergo
emergency surgical procedures in life-threatening situations.
13. The Court recognizes the right of private educational
institutions to be excluded from the mandatory reproductive health
program under Section 14, on the ground of the recognition of the
academic freedom of private educational institutions especially with
respect to religious instruction. Our Catholic schools then are not
obliged to propagate the reproductive health curriculum of the
government, although, consistent with church teaching, they must prepare
our youngsters to be responsible parents.
14. Our Catholic brethren employed in the different local government
units and performing non-medical functions should also be informed that
they have the right not to support or participate in the implementation
of reproductive health program, based on religious or ethical ground.
The Supreme Court has voided the provision in the RH Law that compels
them to implement the Law regardless of their religious or ethical
15. Significantly, the Court says:
Be that as it may, it bears
reiterating that the RH Law is a mere compilation and enhancement of the
prior existing contraceptive and reproductive health laws, but with
coercive measures xxx All the same, the principle of 'no abortion' and 'non-coercion'
in the adoption of any family planning method should be maintained.
The salutary measures taken by the Supreme Court to strike down what
it found to be the constitutionally infirm provisions of this dangerous
law will be for naught unless we pass on this necessary information to
our Catholic brethren who are impacted by the law.
It is therefore strongly suggested that each diocese organize
seminars and symposia at which our Catholics employed or exercising
their professions in hospitals, clinics and similar facilities, public
or private, and those working in local government units whose functions
may involve the implementation and promotion of the RH Law, are in
attendance and where they may receive proper instruction on this
important decision of the Supreme Court and their rights following from
the said ruling.
It is good to keep in mind that the RH Law also mandates the
government to promote and support Natural Family Planning, particularly
if this is demanded by local communities.
The Episcopal Commission on Family and Life as well at the CBCP Legal
Office will be available to give formation seminars in the various
ecclesiastical circumscriptions upon the invitation of the bishops. May
Mary Mother of Life guide our every step in protecting the dignity of
human life and protecting every human life from harm!
"Truly children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a
reward" (Ps 127:3).
For the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, July 7, 2014
(SGD)+ SOCRATES VILLEGAS, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan