Reproductive Health Bill gets Congress nod

Posted on December 18, 2012

CONGRESS YESTERDAY finally approved on third and final reading the contentious Reproductive Health (RH) Bill widely viewed to control population growth.

A bicameral committee meeting has been set either today or tomorrow to reconcile the disagreeing provisions of Senate Bill No. 2865 and House Bill No. 4244, both certified as urgent by the President.

The House of Representatives, which passed the measure on second reading last Thursday, approved the bill on third reading, 133-79, with seven abstentions.

The bill passed the Senate with a 13-8 vote and no abstentions, after approving it on the same day. Two senators -- Manuel "Lito" M. Lapid and Sergio R. Osmeña III -- were absent.

Congress has only until tomorrow to ratify a reconciled version for signing into law by the President before the Christmas and New Year break on Dec. 22-Jan. 20.

The Palace, in a statement, welcomed the bill’s approval.

"They have made it even clearer: The people now have the government on their side as they raise their families in a manner that is just and empowered," Malacañang said referring to the lawmakers.

"Discussions regarding this bill were heated and did not lack for passionate advocates from either side. Despite this, our legislators fulfilled their duties with honor: they crafted a law that can truly address the needs of our people," it added.

Under HB 4244, free RH services and supplies will be provided to beneficiaries of a state subsidy program for indigents, health and sexuality education will be taught to students in public and private schools, while maternal health will be a top priority, among others.

SB 2865, for its part, states that "all accredited public and health facilities shall provide a full range of modern family planning methods… No person shall be denied information and access to family planning services whether natural or artificial provided that minors will not be allowed access to modern methods of family planning without written consent from their parents or guardians."

The Senate bill provided a congressional review of the proposed law every three years to "include a systematic evaluation of its accomplishments and impact, as well as the performance of its implementing agencies, for purposes of determining remedial legislation."

Rep. Teodoro "Teddy" Brawner Baguilat (Ifugao), a coauthor of the measure, said the provision on providing free contraceptives and health services to the indigent, which is not in the Senate version, may be a ticklish issue in the bicameral meeting.

The RH Bill has been tackled since the 11th Congress but intense lobbying against it by Catholic Church leaders dragged its approval until the 15th Congress. -- K. M. P. Tubadeza, M. J. O. Cantilero and N. M. Gonzales