Raising Cain: Parenting the RH Law Generation (Part 2)

Published by rudy Date posted on May 29, 2011


As debates about the Reproductive Health (RH) bill continue to rage, proponents of the bill recently introduced certain amendments to the proposed statute, in response to the concerns raised by those against its enactment into law.

Among the issues raised involve the mandatory sex education provision of House Bill (HB) 4244, which provides that children from Grade 5 to high school will mandatorily undergo age appropriate sex education, which shall include subjects ranging from fertility awareness, family planning methods and values formation. The bill also provides that the curriculum will be designed by designated government agencies and shall be common to all learning institutions (Section 16).

Those against the RH bill argue that such mandatory provision goes against the Constitution, which guarantees the State’s full support for the natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for the development of moral character (Article II, Section 12).

Under the cited constitutional guarantee, parents have the primary right and duty to teach matters of sexuality and reproductive health to their children, consistent with their religious convictions and moral beliefs. However, the passage of HB 4244 into law and the implementation of mandatory sexual education will deprive parents of this natural and primary right, which is intrinsic in the exercise of responsible parenthood that HB 4244 purportedly promotes.

In response, proponents of the RH bill proposed to amend Section 16 of the bill by adding the following statement: “Parents shall exercise the option of not allowing their minor children to attend classes pertaining to Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education.”

At first glance, this amendment appears to be a viable answer to the issues raised by concerned parents. However, an in-depth examination of the RH bill will reveal that this option is only illusory as the effectiveness of its exercise is not guaranteed by the Bill and can, in fact, be negated by very specific policies and express guarantees that the RH bill provides.

There are very clear guarantees in the RH bill that can negate the exercise of this parental option such as: (a) the State’s recognition and guarantee of reproductive health as a “basic human right”; (b) the States guarantee of universal access to reproductive health care services and supplies and relevant information and education thereon, without discrimination as to age, sex, religion, etc. (Section 2); (c) the freedom of choice, which must be fully guaranteed by the State (Section 3); (d) the bill’s guiding principle of respecting, protecting and fulfilling reproductive health rights to promote the rights and welfare couples and individuals, including adolescents (Section 3), which are identified under the bill as those from 11 to 20 years old; and (e) the State guarantee of the right of any person to provide or receive information about the availability of reproductive health care services, including family planning (Section 24).

Let us examine how these guarantees can be on head-on collision with and effectively defeat the parental option not to allow minor children (below 18 years of age) to attend mandatory sexual education.

A very specific question to be asked is: as between the parents’ option not to allow their minor child to attend mandatory sex education and the State-guaranteed “basic human right” to reproductive health, which includes the guaranteed freedom of choice and guaranteed right to access to reproductive health care education, without discrimination as to age, which shall prevail?

In the event that a child, under the influence of peer pressure or popular media brought about by the heightened State promotion of reproductive health education, chooses to attend sex education classes, contrary to the religious and moral convictions of his/her parents, whose right will the state uphold — the primary right of parents to educate their children according to their religious beliefs or the State-guaranteed rights of individuals, including adolescents without discrimination, to freedom of choice and to access to sex information and education?

As pointed out by Sean Murphy in his article “Philippines ‘RH bill’ of 2011: The shape of things to come?” the recognition of reproductive health as a basic human right creates serious problems for the exercise of freedom of conscience and religion.

Commenting on the exemptions granted to health care workers who might object to the provision of reproductive health services, supplies and information on the basis of moral convictions, Murphy argues:

“…the general claim of rights …would, if accepted, leave no principled basis upon which to exempt any health care institution or health care worker from a requirement to provide contraception, contraceptive sterilization, or even potentially embryocidal or abortifacient drugs and devices.

For if it really were a “human right” to be given contraceptives or contraceptive sterilization, it would follow that anyone who refused to provide them would be guilty of a human rights violation. Moreover, it is contrary to sound public policy to permit violations of authentic human rights based on appeals to religious or conscientious convictions.  We do not, for example, admit a defense of religious freedom in cases of racial discrimination, nor do we accommodate racial prejudices. Thus, the general claim of rights made in the bill would, if accepted, leave no principled basis upon which to exempt any health care institution or health care worker from a requirement to provide contraception, contraceptive sterilization, or even potentially embryocidal or abortifacient drugs and devices.”

In the same vein, if reproductive health rights, which is defined in the RH bill to include the right to relevant information and to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination (Section 4), is recognized as a basic human right, there would be no principled and reasonable basis to exempt parents from having their minor children attend mandatory sex education, should they choose to do so, contrary to their parents’ wishes. Parents who refuse to allow their children to attend sexual education classes, contrary to their children’s wishes, would be guilty of human rights violation. In this light, the exercise of parental option proposed by the advocates of the RH bill rendered inutile.

That this parental option is more illusory than real is highlighted by the fact that outside of the educational system, individuals without discrimination as to age are guaranteed universal access to reproductive health services, supplies and information that are to be mandatorily and readily provided by local health care workers (Section 17) and mobile health care services (Section 15). And as the RH bill mandates the Department of Health and the Philippine Information Agency to initiate a heightened national multi-media campaign to raise public awareness of reproductive health rights, including family planning (Section 24), individuals including children and adolescents without discrimination, will be bombarded with reproductive health information, over which parents have no control.

In the face of easily accessible reproductive health services and supplies and information thereon without discrimination as to age, sex, religion, etc., the parents’ right to determine their children’s education on matters of sexuality based on their religious beliefs and moral conviction, as guaranteed by the Constitution, is rendered fictional. –Daily Tribune

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