CEBU CITY -- Private health workers may refuse to provide services listed under the Reproductive Health (RH) Law, if doing so violates their ethical or religious beliefs.
However, they must submit an affidavit explaining which services they cannot provide and why, as well as post a notice at the entrance to their clinic.
Government health workers do not have this option, officials told participants of a consultation in Cebu City on Wednesday, in preparation for the enforcement of the RH Law.
Participants included women’s rights groups, representatives of private and government hospitals, government and non-government organizations, a priest, and pro-life advocates.
The implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 were presented by the Department of Health (DOH).
Health officials assured that the new law ensures local government units (LGUs) will implement standardized health care services.
Government health providers are also obligated to ensure clients have access to all kinds of family planning programs. Medical facilities would be upgraded.
The Cebu consultation, the second in a series, was called “Usapang Kalusugang Pampamilya” and attended by 178 participants, although organizers had expected 300. The first consultation was in Davao City, and the last will be held in Manila on Friday.
“We opened the consultation to engage (people) in a discussion,” said DOH Assistant Secretary Dr. Madeleine Valera.
She said the target date for the signing of the IRR is on March 15, while the publication date is set the following day. The IRR would then take effect on March 31.
However, Valera said that even after publication, some provisions and their corresponding guidelines would still be reviewed. These include guidelines for the Food and Drug Administration and the penalty clause on health care workers who refuse to offer artificial family planning methods.
“(Health care workers in the) private sector can be conscientious objectors, (but) they must put it (the incident) in writing. But they should not prevent (the client’s) access to the programs,” she told reporters.
A “conscientious objector” is required to submit an affidavit stating what modern family planning methods he or she refuses to provide and his or her reasons.
He or she is also required, under the IRR, to post a notice at the entrance of the clinic or place of practice, in a prominent location and using a clear font, enumerating the RH services he or she refuses to provide.
“We have to interpret the law liberally,” said Valera, who added that the civil service process would be followed for government workers.
“No access should be denied (clients), especially when it comes to the protection of human rights,” she said.
The DOH led the consultation on the IRR of the RH law, which Catholic Church leaders contested because of provisions that are contrary to doctrines.
Valera, who heads the DOH health policy, finance and research development cluster, said there were Catholic church officials who joined in drafting the IRR. They included Msgr. Gerardo Santos of the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education and some members of the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference.
“They joined in, they sat down, they sent their comments (on the law), line by line. How do you call that if not that they are supporting?” said Valera.
In an interview, pro-life advocate Antonio Valle said he did not receive a personal invitation but was informed and egged on by colleagues to attend the consultation.
“I don’t believe (this is a) consultation. We cannot do anything, (it is) already a law. The draft is already there, fixed na. These are just formalities,” he told reporters.
Valle maintained that contraceptive pills and IUDs (intrauterine devices) cause abortion.
He belongs to the Task Force Pro-life Visayas, which had filed a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the legality of the RH law.
“We will pray for it (petition),” he said.
Fr. Bartolome Sagadal, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) chaplain, during the forum raised concerns on religious conviction and the phrase “post-abortion care.”
He told reporters that he was not totally satisfied with the answers that he received.
His exchange with the drafting committee, he said, showed him that the Catholic Church faces a challenge with the new law.
“It is a challenge for us to engage Catholics, in teaching beliefs. Dili tanan Catholics active (Not all Catholics actively practice their faith),” he said.
“For me, there is a lack of inputs on the true teaching of the Church,” he added. He suggested church programs such as formation activities for engaged couples, family life and even the homilies of priests.
DOH Assistant Secretary Paulyn Jean-Ubial said there would be a uniform implementation of family planning programs by local government units.
“After the devolution of health care services, providing health care services became highly politicized, dependent on (people’s) perception, dependent on the religious beliefs and the orientation of local chief executives,” she said.
“We are not forcing any one to submit to any method that he or she does not want,” she added.
Professor Rhodora Bucoy, Sidlak Gender Resource Center head, supports the RH law and said that guidelines should be in consonance with it.
“We’re happy the IRR is crafted, and believe that this should benefit the marginalized women,” she added. (Sun.Star Cebu)