Philippines Court Rejects Claims of New York Based Pro-Abortion Group

The Philippine Court of Appeals recently rejected claims made by a radical pro-abortion group based in New York. The court dismissed an effort seeking to overturn an executive order promoting natural family planning.  The petition was filed earlier this year by a group of Manila residents who relied heavily on legal advice and material from the international pro-abortion litigation group, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).Executive Order No. 003 was instituted in February 2000 by then-mayor of Manila, Jose Atienza. The executive order “upholds natural family planning not just as a method but as a way of self-awareness in promoting the culture of life while discouraging the use of artificial methods of contraception.”

CRR admits that the executive order technically applies only to city health centers and hospitals and does not explicitly ban “artificial” contraception.  But CRR and the petitioners alleged that the executive order created “serious and lingering damage to residents” and that the executive order has in practice resulted in a “sweep” of contraceptive supplies and services from city health centers and hospitals. Further, they claim that the executive order “deprive(s) many women of their main source of affordable family planning supplies.”

“Imposing Misery,” a CRR publication severely critical of the executive order, claims that the Philippines is in violation of international law and has a legal duty to “ensure right of citizens to a full range of family planning services and information.” 

The document argues that the Philippine government is required to provide contraception under its international legal obligations.  The document specifically mentions the CEDAW Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the non-binding Beijing Platform for Action.  CRR’s international law argument relies almost exclusively on the non-binding interpretations of the treaty monitoring bodies, which have routinely overstepped their mandates by criticizing sovereign states on their abortion laws and reproductive health programs.

“Imposing Misery” outlines a litigation strategy to challenge the executive order. CRR recommends that “lawyers and advocates should explore different legal avenues to bring a court case challenging the executive order. “At the national level, an administrative complaint can be filed. Citizens who feel their rights have been violated by the policy can also file a petition in the courts, including the Supreme Court. If options at the national level prove ineffective, individual complaints can be taken to international bodies under the CEDAW Optional Protocol and the ICCPR.”

CRR regards the challenge to the Manila executive order as an important test case. According to CRR’s 2007 annual report, a positive decision to rescind the ban “would establish constitutional protections for reproductive rights throughout the country. It could also be used to defend similar rights in neighboring countries, as well as in Catholic countries throughout the world.”

Government officials have defended the focus on natural methods of family planning, as modern contraceptives have not been banned and are still available commercially throughout the country.

Though the Philippine Court of Appeals has dismissed the petition, the petitioners have vowed “to take their case to the international courts,” and other domestic avenues to challenge the order remain open.

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