March 28, 2011
Making sense of the RH Bill
There have been so many talks, arguments and disagreements over the RH Bill since last year. Unfortunately, much of the discord surrounding it is caused by the fact that many of us have not actually read the bill and do not actually know what it contains. It is easy to be swayed to a side when one is either misinformed or does not have enough information to make their own stand. So for everyone's enlightenment, following is a digest of the salient provisions of the Consolidated RH Bill.
The RH Bill's full title is "The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2011." Its title alone tells us that the law is not just about reproductive health but of all the other things related to population growth, including parenthood. The Declaration of Policy clarifies that the spirit of the law intends to recognize and guarantee "the universal basic human right to reproductive health by all persons, particularly of parents, couples and women, consistent with their religious convictions, cultural beliefs and the demands of parenthood," including the right to information about reproductive health care.
In effect, the policy of the law is to give couples and women the freedom to decide on matters relating to their reproductive health, in accordance with personal influences such as religion, culture, and other parental circumstances.
The law also takes one step further by guaranteeing "universal access to medically safe, legal, affordable, effective and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices, supplies and relevant information and education thereon..." Taking this together with the preceding paragraphs, the law also ensures that couples and women who do decide to take a proactive role in their own reproductive health will have access to all the services and medical resources that they will need to successfully do this.
There are several provisions in the so-called RH Bill that imposes obligations on government institutions and the private sector. For example, the law mandates local government units (LGUs), with the help of the Department of Health (DOH) to: 1) employ a minimum ratio of one full-time skilled birth attendant for every 150 deliveries annually; 2) establish or upgrade hospitals to provide emergency obstetric care by setting up at least one hospital with comprehensive emergency obstetric care and four hospitals with basic emergency obstetric care for every 500,000 population; 3) be able to provide the Minimum Initial Service Package for reproductive health in crisis situations; 4) conduct an annual maternal health review according to DOH guidelines; 5) distribute family-planning supplies for the whole country; among others.
For its part, the PhilHealth is mandated to fully cover the delivery of reproductive health services to poor women while the DOH is charged with spearheading procurement of the necessary medical supplies. The DepEd, CHED and TESDA are also being directed to teach "age-appropriate health and sexuality education."
As for the private sector, the law also orders employers to "respect the reproductive rights of workers." Workplaces that employ "more than 200 workers" (male and female included) should provide RH services to all employees within their own respective health facilities while those that employ less than 200 workers will have to partner with medical institutions for the provision of RH services. Nothing in the law addresses employers with exactly 200 workers, though.
Health care providers are also mandated to provide at least 48 hours of pro bono work annually for indigent women in the form of RH services. Barangay health workers, on the other hand, are obliged to train on how to promote RH while Population Officers in each city and municipality are supposed to "furnish free instructions and information on family planning, responsible parenthood, breastfeeding, infant nutrition" and other relevant topics. Finally, couples who plan to get married must have "[received] adequate instructions on these same subjects from the Family Planning Office" before they can secure a marriage license.
There is no doubt that the RH Bill institutionalizes artificial means of family planning (although it is meant to promote both natural and modern methods) and provides access to services and supplies for those who may decide to make that choice. But note, too, that the law does not compel anybody to make that choice or penalizes any individual who will not make that choice.
In addition, one other aspect of the law that has fuelled debates is that it seeks to allocate public funds to pay for the provision of RH services and the procurement and distribution of family planning supplies. The truth of the matter is, it does, just like most every act of legislation. But the law also mandates that LGUs should "ensure that poor families receive preferential access" to these government investments given that they are the ones who are most in need of health care.
If you have questions for Atty. Allen, email email@example.com.
Atty. Allen A. Liberato is head of Corporate Legal Affairs at strategic marketing communications firm TeamAsia. She earned her Bachelor's Degree from the University of the Philippines Diliman and her law education from the University of Perpetual Help under Dean Justice Isagani A. Cruz.