Abortion Ban in Philippines Results in Dire Human-Rights Crisis
A study on abortion in the Philippines argues that the government has committed violations of human rights by criminalizing abortion regardless of circumstance. As a result, the Philippines has failed to fulfill its obligation to international bodies that seek to protect women’s health and human rights.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — In the Philippines, it’s not enough that women who wish to terminate their pregnancies do not have legal and safe means to do it. In many hospitals and clinics across the country, Filipinas who undergo abortion and then seek medical treatment because of complications are routinely harassed and violated by health-care providers.
These are among the findings of a study done by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based advocacy group. It concluded that because of the criminal ban on abortion in the Philippines, a dire human-rights crisis has emerged, which it blamed on the Philippine government and the powerful Roman Catholic Church.
One of the case studies in its report, titled Forsaken Lives: The Impact of the Criminal Ban on Abortion in the Philippines, is about a woman named Lisa, who went to a hospital to seek post-abortion care. According to Lisa, she experienced verbal abuse, the procedure was delayed despite her severe bleeding, and she was humiliated by hospital whose nurses put sign on her bed that says hers was an abortion-related case.
“I just wish that the doctors would stop threatening women like me who had an abortion,” the report quoted Lisa as saying. “They do not know the whole story, the women’s experience in life that led to abortion…. Some women, instead of going to the hospital to seek medical care, would rather not out of fear of being imprisoned. That is why there are numerous cases of death and infection.”
In the study, the CRR says that the criminal ban did not stop abortion in the Philippines. The ban merely pushed it underground, where women who terminate their pregnancies do so in unsafe conditions.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, another US group that has done abortion studies in the Philippines, an estimated 560,000 induced abortions took place in the Philippines in 2008. Out of that, 90,000 women sought treatment for complications and 1,000 women died.
“These tragic and preventable deaths are a direct consequence of the nation’s restrictive abortion law and an indirect consequence of the lack of adequate information about and access to effective modern contraceptives in the Philippines, especially in Manila City,” the report said.
The Philippines, CRR said, is one of the few countries in the world that criminalized abortion in all circumstances with no clear exceptions, even if the life of the mother is in danger.
The study argues that the Philippine government has committed violations of human rights by criminalizing abortion regardless of circumstance. CRR said that the government has failed to fulfill its international obligation to protect women’s health and human rights. The human rights violated by the criminal ban include the rights to life; health; freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; equality and nondiscrimination; and privacy.
All of these rights are guaranteed by major international treaties that have been signed and ratified by the Philippines, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention against Torture (CAT), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
The continuing implementation of the restrictive abortion law further shows the Philippines’ noncompliance with official recommendations of United Nations treaty monitoring bodies (UN TMBs), which have repeatedly urged the government to address the problem of unsafe abortion in the Philippines through law reform, the report said.
In its conclusion, CRR asserts that “there is an urgent need for legal and policy reform and accountability measures to address unsafe abortion and related abuses of women’s human rights in the Philippines.”
Because the Catholic Church remains dominant in the Philippines, efforts to at least provide exceptions have been met with stiff resistance. Not only that, the Church actively campaigns against measures, such as Reproductive Health Bill, to educate Filipinos about sex and the contraceptive options available.
In 2000, the regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo supported the call of the Catholic Church for natural planning method, the only method the Church approves of. Then Manila City Mayor Lito Atienza even implemented in his city Executive Order 003 that prohibits modern contraceptives in public health clinics funded by the local government and mandates instead the promotion of natural methods of family planning.