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Filipino bishops urge doctors to claim conscientious objection to new RH law

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The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has issued a pastoral guidance that calls for health care professionals to oppose the implementation of the country’s new contraceptive-promoting reproductive health law by claiming their right of conscientious objection.

"When a health-care worker, whether practising on his own or as part of a public or private healthcare facility, objects, on the basis of conscience, to artificial contraception, such a health-worker is NOT OBLIGED AND MAY REFUSE to refer a patient to anyone else (health-care worker or facility) from where the contraceptives may be obtained," the bishops’ letter states.

The bishops explain that while the original wording of the RH law would force a health care worker to refer a person seeking contraceptives to a person or agency that would supply the product or service, the Supreme Court struck down this compulsory referral as unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruling stated, "Though it has been said that the act of referral is an opt-out clause, it is, however, a false compromise because it makes pro-life health providers complicit in the performance of an act that they find morally repugnant or offensive."

The pastoral guidance points out that the high court's ruling makes the previous mandate to force referral discriminatory and in violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

"What this means therefore," the bishops state, "is that the right to conscientious objection can be claimed and exercised even by health-care workers in the employ of the government.”

"Obviously, Catholics should not, on moral grounds, seek employment in the very government agencies that promote artificial contraception. But if circumstances compelled them to be employed in such agencies, or if they were already employees at the time the agencies adopted a pro-RH policy, said Catholics should be aware that they cannot be forced to promote, distribute or dispense artificial contraceptives against their religious or moral conviction."

The bishops say that the right of conscientious objection, as now upheld by the Supreme Court, must be made known to all health care professionals.

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"The salutary measures taken by the Supreme Court to strike down what it found to be the constitutionally infirm provisions of this dangerous law will be for naught unless we pass on this necessary information to our Catholic brethren who are impacted by the law," the guidance states.

"It is therefore strongly suggested that each diocese organize seminars and symposia at which our Catholics employed or exercising their professions in hospitals, clinics and similar facilities, public or private, and those working in local government units whose functions may involve the implementation and promotion of the RH Law, are in attendance and where they may receive proper instruction on this important decision of the Supreme Court and their rights following from the said ruling," the bishops conclude.

The full text of the "Pastoral Guidance on the Implementation of the Reproductive Health Law" is available here.

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