Tag Archive | "abortifacient"

Did the 1987 Constitution Define Conception as Fertilization?

One of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, Bernardo M. Villegas, who happens to be an Opus Dei member and a vocal opponent of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, made a claim that conception is defined as fertilization.

In an article published in The Manila Bulletin in December 2010, Villegas confidently wrote:

In the Philippine Constitution of 1987, conception is defined as fertilization, the moment the egg is fertilized by the sperm. This was the majority decision (32 to 8) of the members of the Constitutional Commission of 1986 convoked by the late President Corazon Aquino…No amount of further debate will change that. Only a charter change can modify that conclusion… In the meantime, any contraceptive device (e.g. the “morning after” pill, the IUD, etc.) that can be medically demonstrated to be abortifacient, i.e. killing the fertilized ovum before implantation, will always be declared unconstitutional, whether or not the RH bill is passed.

Which makes one wonder, why then, during the period of amendments for the RH bill, particularly at the plenary session last November 19, did Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile propose to define conception as “the successful penetration of an ovum by a spermatozoa in the fallopian tube, otherwise known as fertilization, when a new life begins, to form in the mother’s womb.”

In the Records of the Constitutional Commission, there was a discussion between Bernardo Villegas and Blas Ople:

MR. OPLE: We say, “Protect the life of the unborn from the moment of conception.” Is there in jurisprudence anything now that will help us visualize the precise moment, the approximate moment when conception begins and, therefore, the life of this new human personality entitled to all the protection of the laws in the Constitution begins? Is there any standard legislature or jurisprudence that will support an interpretation of the moment of conception?

MR. VILLEGAS: Jurisprudence? None… We believe that the abortion debate from a scientific standpoint must proceed on the assumption that…human life begins at fertilization of the ovum.

MR. OPLE: But we would leave to Congress the power, the mandate to determine.

MR. VILLEGAS: Exactly, on the basis of facts and figures they would obtain from experts.

MR. OPLE: Yes, to legislate a kind of standard so that everyone will know what moment of conception will mean in terms of legal rights and obligations

So as far as the Commission was concerned, conception was not defined in the 1987 Constitution and the power and mandate to determine was left to congress. And since Enrile’s proposed definition lost 9 to 11, there is still no legal definition of conception up to now.

The proposed amendment of Enrile that did get approved, however, was to define abortifacients as “any drug or device that induces abortion or the destruction of a fetus inside the mother’s womb.” Based on this definition, drugs or devices that prevent the implantation of the fertilized ovum are not considered abortifacients.

Now what does this all mean for the RH bill? Actually, not much. Contrary to the opponents’ claims that it will promote abortion, the RH bill is not defined by the pill or the IUD or any contraceptive drug or device that may or may not prevent implantation. The RH bill is about providing informed choice and free access to safe, effective, and legal means of family planning, and this even includes natural methods. If certain contraceptives are declared abortifacient by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an RH law will not provide for their distribution.

And to show their good faith, the authors at the lower house made an amendment to make sure that the services, methods, devices, and supplies provided by the State “do not prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum.” So even as the term conception is yet to be legally defined, the authors already took the initiative of crafting the bill to fit the conservative definition, which means fertilization, in case it gets adopted.

So the next time you hear the anti-RH folks say “abortifacient” and “unconstitutional,” you know that they are lying or parroting a lie out of ignorance. Either way, you know that their objection is absurd and that their argument was not forged with intellectual honesty and an openness to dialogue.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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Abortifacients and the RH Bill: The Real Relationship

One of the issues delaying the passage of the RH Bill is the question of when life begins, or more importantly, when the protection of life begins. It’s no help that our constitution uses the imprecise term conception, allowing a lot of room for discussion as the pro-life argue that it refers to fertilization while others maintain that it means implantation, and this debate has taken long enough at the expense of the rest of the provisions of the bill which have nothing to do with the fertilized ovum, such as providing for midwives, emergency obstetric care, and maternal and newborn health care in crisis situations.

While the World Health Organization has already answered that “to date, there is no scientific evidence supporting the contention that hormonal contraceptives and IUD prevent implantation of the fertilized ovum,” the pro-life continue to claim otherwise and even assert that since the bill seeks to provide for these contraceptives, the bill is therefore unconstitutional. I have argued in a previous post that they are actually objecting to the pill, not the bill, and this is just a follow up. If we look at two sections from both Edcel Lagman’s House Bill 96 and the final consolidated RH Bill, HB 4244, we will see the important difference that renders the pro-life’s objection moot:

Sec. 4. Definition of Terms Modern Methods of Family Planning – refers to safe, effective and legal methods to prevent pregnancy such as the pill, intra-uterine device (IUD), injectables, condom, ligation, vasectomy, and modern natural family planning methods which include mucus, Billings, ovulation, lactational amenorrhea, basal body temperature, and Standard Days methods. Sec. 4. Definition of Terms Modern Methods of Family Planning refer to safe, effective and legal methods, whether the natural, or the artificial that are registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the DOH, to prevent pregnancy.
Sec. 9. Family Planning Supplies as Essential Medicines Hormonal contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectables and other safe and effective family planning products and supplies shall be part of the National Drug Formulary and the same shall be included in the regular purchase of essential medicines and supplies of all national and local hospitals and other government health units. Sec. 10. Family Planning Supplies as Essential Medicines Products and supplies for modern family planning methods shall be part of the National Drug Formulary and the same shall be included in the regular purchase of essential medicines and supplies of all national and local hospitals and other government health units.

While HB 96 specifically identifies pills, IUDs and injectables as essentials, HB 4244 only uses the general term “modern family planning methods,” which it defines as referring to safe, effective and, most importantly, legal methods. The significance of this is that the protracted debates on the question of when the protection of life begins as well as the alleged abortifacient effects of certain contraceptives can be detached from the debate on the bill itself. If specific contraceptives are proven to be abortifacient and banned by the FDA, they obviously won’t be purchased and distributed by the government even with the passage of the RH Bill since only legal methods shall be provided for.

Fr. Joaquin Bernas, one of the members of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, says:

“There are those who argue that contraception kills life. That is true if the contraceptive means used have the effect of expelling a fertilized ovum. Those who argue that contraceptives currently in the market kill life must be able to point to the precise contraceptive devises that are abortive. A sweeping generalization is irresponsible.”

While a sweeping generalization is already irresponsible, dragging the RH Bill into the abortifacients issue and saying that it promotes abortion is downright insane, especially with the final consolidated version. That issue is separate from the RH Bill and should be discussed in another venue. I hope people will see that. Because that means one less objection, and handling objections in congress takes time, and meanwhile mothers are dying for lack of maternal care for which the RH Bill seeks to provide.

Lastly, the bill explicitly recognizes that abortion is illegal and punishable by law. What many people may not know is that about 500,000 induced abortions are happening in the Philippines each year. By providing education and information on reproductive health and access to modern family planning methods, the RH Bill aims to significantly reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and the resulting illegal abortions. So while the RH Bill will not promote the use of abortifacient drugs and devices,  it also actually seeks to prevent the need to even resort to abortion.

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