Supreme Court of the Philippines supports freedom of conscience

Sean Murphy*

The Supreme Court of the Philippines has issued a decision concerning the controversial Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 ( RH Law).  The ruling confirms the Protection of Conscience Project’s criticism of the parts of the law that adversely affected freedom of conscience among health care workers.  Those sections have been struck down by the Court.

The Supreme Court of the Philippines consists of 15 judges.  With respect to the issue of freedom of conscience among health care workers and institutions:

  • 11 judges held that the mandatory referral provision in the law was an unconstitutional violation on freedom of conscience;
  •  10 of the 11 also ruled that forcing an objecting health care worker to provide “complete and correct information” about contraception was a violation of freedom of conscience
    • The eleventh judge held that this was not, but added that the provision could not be used to suppress the freedom of objecting health care workers to express professional or other opinions concerning contraception.

In particular:

  • Five judges concurred with the majority decision as written.
    • Jose Catral Mendoza
    • Presbitero J. Velasco
    • Lucas P. Bersamin
    • Martin S. Villarama, Jr.
    • Jose Portugal Perez
    • Diosdado M. Peralta
  • Four judges wrote concurring opinions to supplement the majority decision
  • Four judges concurred with and dissented from the majority decision.
    • Mariano C. Del Castillo
      • Concurred with the finding that mandatory referral was unconstitutional.
      • Dissented from the finding that mandatory provision of “complete and correct information” was unconstitutional
        • But held that this provision cannot be used to suppress freedom of expression by objecting health care workers.
    • Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe
      • Dissented from the finding the mandatory referral and mandatory provision of information was unconstitutional
    • Bienvenido L. Reyes
      • Dissented from the finding the mandatory referral and mandatory provision of information was unconstitutional
    • Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno
      • Dissented from the finding the mandatory referral and mandatory provision of information was unconstitutional
  • One judge dissented.
    • Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen
      • Held that the law was constitutional in all respects.
      • Held that the court should not have permitted the case to proceed, and should, instead, have waited for actual cases to arise based on enforcement of the law.
      • Held that objecting objecting health care workers are morally and ethically obliged to refer patients for the contested procedures.

 

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