POSTSCRIPT /April 10, 2014 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Win-win ruling on RH sign of SC indecision?

SOLOMONIC?: Making like Solomon of old who threatened to cut a baby in half, each part to go to each of two women claiming to be the mother, the Supreme Court resorted to a “win-win” answer to the constitutionality question over the Reproductive Health law (RA 10354).

After deliberating in the cooler clime of Baguio, the tribunal somewhat evaded the red-hot central question and said the RH law is constitutional in some parts but unconstitutional in some other sections. Huh?

Is the Supreme Court’s resort to the double negative (the RH law is “not unconstitutional”) a preview of upcoming delicate decisions on constitutionality issues over complex legislation such as, for example, the proposed Organic Law creating the Bangsamoro?

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ESCAPISM: In the Bangsamoro case, if the Court does not want to displease President Noynoy Aquino and his Malaysian friends, it could rule just as facilely that the Organic Law is not unconstitutional in its entirety — even if some parts are.

And since there is presumption of regularity, the law is deemed constitutional unless it fails totally the tests initiated by objecting petitioners. But, again, is it constitutional? Well, it is “not unconstitutional”.

Whereupon the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels would fire their weapons in jubilation while the dispossessed majority and others feeling uneasy living in or next to the Bangsamoro would rejoice over some provisions having been struck down as unconstitutional.

We cannot win ‘em all. What matters in this time of distress is the people are given a chance to escape into occasional jubilation.

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JUNKED SECTIONS: The Court’s doublespeak could be confusing, as manifested by the simultaneous victory cheers of both the supporters and the objectors to the RH law after the decision was announced.

“The Court, after a scrutiny of the arguments and contentions of the parties in the consolidated cases consisting of 14 petitions challenging its constitutionality and two interventions to uphold its constitutionality, unanimously held that RA 10354 is not unconstitutional based on the grounds raised, except with respect to (eight) items,” Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te read from a prepared statement.

The provisions rejected include those pertaining to providing minors access to contraceptives without parental consent; penalizing healthcare providers for refusing or failing to give information about RH programs and requiring parental consent from a minor in nonemergency situations; and penalizing public officers who refuse to support RH programs.

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GIVE IT A REST: Any of the parties who disagree has 15 days to move for reconsideration. But some sectors think it might be best to await the full text of the decision while giving the contentious subject some rest.

Meantime, the multimillion-peso pharmaceutical lobby and those ready with their tons of condoms can rev up their marketing campaign.

Those panting to have sex without pregnancy can now go for it. Those taking the pill sans medical advice and who experience negative side effects, including signs of creeping cancer, can console themselves with the gift of an RH law that is “not unconstitutional”.

Parents can stop worrying about their children getting easier access to condoms and contraceptives. Their newfound freedom is not unconstitutional.

The Church, among the most active objectors to the RH law, need not be agitated. It can continue preaching about the moral law and the sanctity of human life. Someday, God will listen and probably enlighten the faithful about copulation control.

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NEGATIVE VOTES: The sections (and the provision in the RH implementing rules and regulations) that were declared unconstitutional were:

1. Section 7, which (a) requires private health facilities and non-maternity specialty hospital and hospitals owned and operated by a religious group to refer patients, not in an emergency or life-threatening case, as defined under RA 8344, to another health facility that is conveniently accessible and (b) allows minor-parents or minors who have suffered a miscarriage access to modern methods of family planning without written consent from their parents or guardian. (RA 8344 prohibits the “no deposit, no admittance” rule in emergency or serious cases). The vote was 11-4 for each of Section 7 (a) and (b).

2. Section 23 (a) (1) as it punishes any healthcare provider who fails or refuses to disseminate information regarding programs and services on reproductive health regardless of his or her religious beliefs. The vote was 10-5.

3. Section 23 (a) (2) (i) as it allows a married individual, not in an emergency or life-threatening case, as defined under RA 8344, to undergo RH procedures without the consent of the spouse. The vote was 11-4.

4. Section 23 (a) (3) as it punishes any healthcare provider who fails and/or refuses to refer a patient not in an emergency or life-threatening case, as defined under RA 8344, to another healthcare service provider within the same facility or one that is conveniently accessible regardless of his or her religious beliefs. The vote was 11-4.

5. Section 23 (b) as it punishes any public officer who refuses to support RH programs or shall do any act that hinders the full implementation of an RH program, regardless of his or her religious beliefs. The vote was 10-5.

6. Section 17 which renders pro bono RH services, insofar as they affect the conscientious objector in securing PhilHealth accreditation. The vote was 11-4.

7. Section 3.01 (a) and (j) as it uses the qualifier “primarily” for contravening Section 4 (a) of the RH law and violating Section 12, Article II, of the Constitution. The vote was 14-1.

8. Section 23 (a) (2) (ii) as it penalizes a health service provider who will require parental consent from the minor in nonemergency situations. The vote was 11-4.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 10, 2014)

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