Philippine Supreme Court Upholds Historic Reproductive Health Law

Millions of Filipinos will finally have universal, free access to contraception and expanded reproductive health education

(PRESS RELEASE) After more than a year deliberating the constitutionality of the country’s historic Reproductive Health Law passed in 2012, the Philippine Supreme Court has upheld the law.

The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, known as the RH Law, is a groundbreaking law that guarantees universal and free access to nearly all modern contraceptives for all citizens, including impoverished communities, at government health centers. The law also mandates reproductive health education in government schools and recognizes a woman's right to post-abortion care as part of the right to reproductive healthcare.

“With universal and free access to modern contraception, millions of Filipino women will finally be able to regain control of their fertility, health, and lives,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The Reproductive Health Law is a historic step forward for all women in the Philippines, empowering them to make their own decisions about their health and families and participate more fully and equally in their society.”

President Benigno S. Aquino III signed the RH Law in December 2012, which was immediately challenged in court by various conservative Catholic groups. On March 19, the Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order for 120 days that was later extended indefinitely, halting the RH Law from going into effect. Fourteen petitions questioning the constitutionality of the law on the grounds that it violated a range of rights, including freedom of religion and speech, were consolidated for oral arguments that began on July 9, 2013 that continued through August 2013.

In today's decision the Supreme Court struck down a number of provisions in the RH Law. Health care providers will be able to deny reproductive health services to patients based on their personal or religious beliefs in non-emergency situations. Spousal consent for women in non life-threatening circumstances will be required to access reproductive health care. Parental consent will also be required for minors seeking medical attention who have been pregnant or had a miscarriage. Petitioners in the case will now have 15 days to appeal the Supreme Court decision.

“While it’s concerning that certain provisions in the Reproductive Health Law were struck down, the Supreme Court has put women first and now the benefits of this law can finally become a reality for millions of Filipinos,” said Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center. “Women have waited long enough for the reproductive health services and information they deserve, and the government must now move quickly to implement all the necessary policies and programs without delay.”

Around the world, the unmet need for safe and effective contraceptive services is staggering: roughly 222 million women in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy rely on traditional contraceptives, such as the rhythm method, with high failure rates or do not use a contraceptive method at all.

The Filipino government’s long-standing hostility towards modern contraception has contributed to 4,500 women dying from pregnancy complications, 800,000 unintended births and 475,000 illegal abortions each year.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked on reproductive health issues throughout Asia, with major campaigns addressing issues ranging from maternal mortality in India to access to modern contraception in the Philippines. In Manila, the Center has documented the human rights violations that stem from an executive order that effectively bans access to modern contraceptives and that prevents women from protecting their health and exercising reproductive autonomy.

In March 2011, the Center and UNFPA released the joint briefing paper, The Right to Contraceptive Information and Services for Women and Adolescents, demonstrating how access to family planning information and services is a fundamental human right that States are obligated to actively respect, protect, and fulfill.