Filipino Women Need Access to Safe and Legal Abortion in the Philippines (PR)

Press Release
2 August 2010

Quezon City, August 2, 2010 –“Filipinos should address the issue of access to safe and legal abortion in the country. The impact of lack of access to safe and legal abortion is a grave public health issue as shown in the report of New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights entitled, “Forsaken Lives: The Harmful Impact of the Philippine Criminal Abortion Ban”, which was released today at Annabel’s restaurant. In the Philippines, over half of all pregnancies are unintended and one-third of these unintended pregnancies end in abortion. Due to the illegality of abortion, Filipino women induce abortion clandestinely through unsafe methods. The report cites recent statistics showing about half a million Filipino women yearly who, because of various reasons including rape and dire socio-economic reasons, induce abortion with about 1000 women dying and 90,000 being hospitalized due to complications from unsafe abortion. This means that the illegality of abortion does not stop abortion but only makes it dangerous for the health and lives of Filipino women,” said Attorney Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights, and former Visiting International Legal Fellow at Center for Reproductive Rights.

The Philippine legal restriction on abortion, one of the vestiges of Spanish colonization in the Philippines, was lifted directly from the old Spanish Penal Code of 1870.[1] Recognizing the high rates of deaths of women undergoing clandestine and unsafe abortion procedures due to its illegality, the Spanish government reconsidered its restrictive law and has allowed abortion on certain grounds in 1985, over 25 years now. Last February 24, 2010, Spain approved a new law on abortion that further eases restrictions by allowing the procedure without restrictions up to 14 weeks and gives 16- and 17-year olds the right to have abortions without parental consent. The law is the latest of a series of bold social reforms undertaken by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who first took office in 2004. Spain has also legalized gay marriage and made it easier for Spaniards to divorce under Zapatero’s administration.

Atty. Padilla added, “Spain has liberalized its laws to allow abortion on broad grounds and yet we are left to contend with our old colonial laws. Other predominantly Catholic countries that allow abortion are Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, and Hungary (whose constitution protects life from conception but permits abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation). Recent abortion liberalizations occurred in Colombia, Mexico City (legalized abortion in the first trimester without restriction in April 2007) and Portugal (allows abortion up to 10 weeks of pregnancy).”

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Recognizing that the criminalization of abortion does not lessen the number of women inducing abortion but only makes it dangerous for women who undergo clandestine and unsafe abortion, in 2006, the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) urged the Philippine government to “consider reviewing the laws relating to abortion with a view to removing punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo abortion and provide them with access to quality services for the management of complications arising from unsafe abortions and to reduce women’s maternal mortality rates in line with the Committee’s general recommendation 24 on women and health and the Beijing Platform for Action.”[2]

In 2008, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed its concern that “abortion is illegal in all circumstances, even when the woman’s life or health is in danger or pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, and that complications from unsafe, clandestine abortions are among the principal causes of maternal deaths.” The Committee encouraged the Philippines “to address, as a matter of priority, the problem of maternal deaths as a result of clandestine abortions, and consider reviewing its legislation criminalising abortion in all circumstances.”

Atty. Padilla added, “The Philippine law on abortion does not even allow express exceptions based on rape, risks to the life and health of the woman and fetal impairment. The Philippine law on abortion must be liberalized to allow it on demand. This change can happen through a specific law removing the penalties for the women inducing abortion and safe abortion providers assisting them. Our constitution provides equal protection of life from conception and the life of the woman. This constitutional provision does not prohibit abortion as exemplified in the case of Hungary which has the same constitutional provision at the same permits abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation. In the case of Colombia, the Constitutional Court declared the Colombian abortion law unconstitutional and permitted abortion on the following circumstances: when the woman’s life or health is in danger; when the pregnancy is the result of rape; and when the fetus has malformation incompatible with life outside the uterus.”[3]

“Our Congress should address this issue by passing a law that expressly allows safe and legal abortion. The Philippine Judiciary should rule on the constitutionality of safe abortion when raised in court. Women’s rights advocates and reproductive rights advocates should also demand access to safe and legal abortion to address this public health issue,” added Atty. Padilla.

Atty. Padilla added, “The executive department through the Philippine National Police should stop arresting women who induce abortion because this drives women to undergo clandestine and unsafe abortion and contributes to the hospitalization and deaths of women from complications arising from unsafe abortion. Hospitals and clinics that are run by both the DOH and local government should provide increased access to information and services on modern contraceptive methods to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, eliminate the need for abortion, and prevent maternal deaths. It is unfortunate though that the proposed RH law that could reduce the number of abortions is being opposed by fundamentalist groups.”

The report also cites a “WHO study on women’s health in the Philippines…identi[fying] the reduction of unsafe abortion as one of three key challenges for women’s health as it accounts for up to 20% of the country’s maternal deaths.” Atty. Padilla stressed, “Making abortion safe and legal will save the lives of about 1000 Filipino women representing the number of women who die every year from unsafe abortion. The legalization of abortion does not increase the number of women inducing abortion instead it has led to a decrease in number of women dying from unsafe abortion. Where abortion is legal, like in Canada and Turkey, abortion rates did not increase while the Netherlands, with its liberal abortion law and widely accessible contraceptives and free abortion services, has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world.[4] Deaths due to abortion fell 85 percent after legalization in the US.”[5]***
[1] Pacifico Agabin, “The Legal Perspective on Abortion”, The Journal of Reproductive Health, Rights and Ethics, Vol. II, No. 1 (1995), at 2.
[2] 2006 CEDAW Committee Concluding Comments.

[3] Women’s Link Worldwide, Colombia’s highest court rules in favor of easing one of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws, available at (last accessed May 13, 2008).
[4] Center for Reproductive Rights, Safe Abortion: A Public Health Imperative.
[5] Id.

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