04/08/2014, 00.00
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Filipino Bishops call for respect for the Supreme Court, but reiterate life's sacredness

The highest court in the land rules in favour of the Reproductive Health Act, but nullifies some of its provisions, thus acknowledging the principle of conscientious objection. The law bans therapeutic abortion but encourages couples to have no more than two children. For its part, the Catholic Church will continue "to uphold the sacredness of human life [. . .] from conception to natural death."

Manila (AsiaNews) - The Supreme Court of the Philippines today upheld the constitutionality of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 but nullified some of its provisions, thus allowing for conscientious objection.

Opposed to the law for more than 15 years, the Filipino Catholic Church reacted immediately to the ruling. Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, president of the Bishops' Conference, said that "The Church must continue to uphold the sacredness of human life, to teach always the dignity of the human person and to safeguard the life of every human person from conception to natural death.

Since its adoption in December 2012, Catholic groups and organisations filed 14 petitions against the law, claiming that it was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court responded initially by blocking the law for four months (March 2013), and then stopping it for an indefinite period (July 2013) until today.

In today's ruling, the Supreme Court struck down Sections 7 (Access to family planning), 23 and 17. The first one required "private health facilities and non-maternity specialty hospitals and hospitals owned and operated by a religious group to refer patients, not in an emergency or life threatening case, to another health facility which is conveniently accessible." The other two sanctioned medical staff that refused to provide information or services on family planning methods, in effect prohibiting conscientious objection.

In his press release, Mgr Villegas noted the fact that the Supreme Court watered down the Reproductive Health Act; thus recognising "the importance of adhering to an informed religious conscience even among government workers." Equally, it came down "on the side of the rights of parents to teach their children" their own beliefs.

In view of this, "I encourage our Catholic faithful to maintain respect and esteem for the Supreme Court," said the president of the Bishops' Conference.

"The Supreme Court," he added, "has decided on the RH issue based on existing laws in the Philippines. [. . .] Through two thousand years, the Church has lived in eras of persecution, authoritarian regimes, wars and revolutions. The Church can continue its mission even with such unjust laws."

The Reproductive Health bill bans therapeutic abortions but encourages couples to have no more than two children. In addition, it requires public health clinics to offer free condoms and birth control pills.

The law has the support of major international NGOs, the UN and UNICEF, who view a high birth rate as one of the main causes of poverty.

The Filipino Church, with the support of by many national Catholic associations, has instead always backed the Natural Family Programme (NFP), whose goal is to promote a culture of responsibility and love based on natural values.

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