Legal Notes – HB 13, or the so-called Right to Life of the Unborn Child Bill, is not Pro-Life

Legal Notes of Rep. Kaka J. Bag-ao

Akbayan Party-list

November 24, 2010

Issue #7, Volume 1, Series of 2010

North-wing 616, House of Representatives

Phone – 9316026 or 9315001 loc 7435 | Email: repbagao@gmail.com |Contact Annie Bag-ao (+639088849546)

HB 13, or the so-called Right to Life of the Unborn Child Bill, is not Pro-Life

Contrary to the claims of anti-RH lobbyists, nothing in the RH bill changes the law against abortion. The only bill that by implication would change the anti-abortion provision of the Revised Penal Code is HB 13, the so-called Right to Life of the Unborn Child championed by Rep. Golez and Pampanga Rep. GMA. By lowering the penalty for the crime of abortion, HB 13 is actually encouraging abortion.

Delineating between abortifacients and contraceptives

One of the arguments of anti-RH groups is that contraceptives are abortifacients.  However, the two terms, often-used in discourses regarding the RH bill, should not be used interchangeably because there exists a huge and glaring difference between words “abortifacients” and “contraceptives”.

The term abortifacient is defined as a device or substance which causes the premature termination of pregnancy and induces abortion. In cases of abortion, which is the endgoal of abortifacients, it presupposes that there is already a conception or the meeting of the sperm cell and the egg cell.

On the other hand, contraceptives are those that prevent conception.  It is precisely the meeting of the egg cell and the sperm cell which it seeks to prevent.  For emphasis, if contraceptives are used, no conception will be had.  From this alone, contraceptives cannot be considered as abortifacients.

The “beginning of life of an unborn child” according to the Constitution

The entitlement of the unborn child to protection by the State is enshrined in Section 12, Article II of the Constitution. It mandates the State to equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn starting from conception.  In fact, our New Civil Code considers an unborn child as already born, even granting the child particular rights as long as certain requisites of the law are met.

The intention of the framers of the Constitution in including the protection of the unborn child among the policies of the State is to protect life from its beginning.  It is assumed that human life begins at conception and that conception takes place at fertilization.[1] The crucial point therefore in determining when a life begins is the point of conception or more specifically, the meeting of the egg cell and sperm cell.  This view is actually the Catholic church’s approach to the problem.

Applying the definition of “beginning of life” espoused by the framers of our Constitution, abortion results to the termination of the life of an unborn child and this is why it is statutorily prohibited under Articles 256 to 259 of the Revised Penal Code.  In contrast, in the matter of contraceptives, no conception occurs.  Thus, the State policy on the protection of the unborn child is completely inapplicable.

HB 13 and the RH bill

House bill No. 13 or otherwise known as the Protection of the Unborn Child bill is backed up by supposed pro-life groups and critics of the RH bill.  They are branding it as an alternative to the RH bill.

However, a closer look at the bill shows that there is actually no conflicting principles between the RH bill and HB 13. As a matter of fact, both can subsist with each other.

Section 6 of HB 13 ensures the protection of the unborn against abortive acts.  It mandates that the unborn child shall be protected from abortive acts which cause or may recklessly endanger or expose the unborn child to damage, injury or death, whether committed by the mother, a physician or other person, intentionally or not, with or without consent of the mother, or committed with or without violence.

HB 13 offers nothing new to those acts already penalized under Articles 256-259 of the Revised Penal Code.  The superfluity of the passage of HB 13 is highlighted by the fact that it actually imposes a lower penalty on abortion as compared to the provisions under the Revised Penal Code, reducing the duration of imprisonment from six months and one day to six years in the RPC to one to six months in HB 13.

It should be emphasized that the RH bill filed by Akbayan changes nothing in the law on abortion.  It merely provides that the government should ensure that all women needing care for post-abortion complications shall be treated and counseled in a human, non-judgmental and compassionate manner.  This provision is a response to the ill-treatment resorted to by doctors and nurses against those who are suffering from complications brought about by induced abortion.  It does not allow abortion but only calls for understanding and compassion to those who are undergoing treatment from abortion complications.  The provision also aims to prevent the deaths of women who are suffering from abortion complications and do not seek medical attention because of the social stigma appended to their condition.  At least 11 women are estimated to die every day from abortion complications.  This is what the bill seeks to prevent.

Moreover, as previously discussed, contraceptives are not abortifacients.  Thus, the RH bill cannot be said to be contrary to HB 13 and violative of the State policy to protect the right of the unborn child.  In fact, Section 7 of HB 13 states that the protection commences from the moment of conception similar to the view of the Constitution, as discussed herein.

Numerous countries, such as Ireland, have provisions in their Constitution which call for the protection of the “unborn” similar to our Constitution and HB 13.  Despite this, their governments fund and deliver all modern contraceptive methods. It is about time that our government should do the same.

The RH Bill Goes Beyond the Issue of Contraceptives

The debates on the RH bill should not be constricted only on whether contraceptives are abortifacients or not. The broader benefits offered by the RH bill must be highlighted. The importance of the RH bill to the issue of health in general should not be diluted be the simple expedient of accusing it to be an anti-life legislation.

The fundamental goals of the RH bill include the reduction of maternal mortality, prevention of reproductive system-related diseases and curbing the rising cases of abortion. It calls for the easy access to adequate and effective reproductive health services.

Therefore, the issue of contraception is merely a small aspect in the broad spectrum of reproductive health services being offered by the RH bill. To struck down the RH bill and obstinately obstruct its passage as a law without even considering the entire gamut of reproductive services it offers, will unduly deprive our citizens, most specially Filipino women, with the health services they rightfully deserve from the State.

*** A lawyer by profession, AKBAYAN Rep. Kaka Bag-ao was the Convenor of the Alternative Law Group (ALG), a network of NGOs providing legal support to marginalized communities. She was the legal counsel of the Sumilao farmers.


[1] Bernas, Joaquin, SJ, The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines A Commentary, 2009 Edition, citing IV Record 799-811 of the  Constitutional Commission

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