Validity of TRO Against RH Conference: Part 1

On January 23, 2014, the Regional Trial Court of Pasay denied the petition for a temporary restraining order against the Reproductive Health Conference in PICC on the grounds of free speech. The petition was filed by Pro-life Philippines due to the lectures promoting abortion on the 3rd day of the Conference. There were speakers from Planned Parenthood International and other pro-abortion advocates. The question is, were there were really valid grounds to deny the petition? Does freedom of speech have greater  importance? Or could the law have restricted this right?

The right of freedom of speech is found in Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution.

No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

There are two ways to regulate freedom of speech. They are prior restraint and subsequent punishment. Prior restraint refers to suppressing and censoring speech. Subsequent punishment imposes a penalty for having expressed oneself. Both these restrict or regulate the right to free speech. The right to freedom of speech, of expression is not absolute. Court determines the validity of regulation by balancing the interests of the parties. The balancing of interest test determines which of the two conflicting interests demands greater protection based on the circumstances.

Obviously, the petition for a temporary restraining order was an example of prior restraint. The petition sought to stop the lectures discussing and promoting abortion. Based on past Supreme Court decisions, prior restraint can only be exercised under certain circumstances. A clear and present danger exists when the evil sought to be avoided is serious and imminent to a high degree. The evil must be present and inevitable.

Apart from these, there are also limitations to freedom of speech in Criminal Law. The Revised Penal Code criminalizes inciting to war, rebellion or sedition, false testimony, threats, libel, slander etc.

The question is, do lectures in a Reproductive Health Conference promoting abortion constitute a clear and present danger? In balancing the interests involved, was the court right in favoring freedom of speech (advocating the murder of unborn babies) and denying the plea for prior restraint (promoting the right to life)? Is promoting abortion a criminal act?

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