Abortion Bans in the Philippines Lead to Escalating Tragic Deaths of Women

By Perla Aragon-Choudhury,Womens Feature Service

Despite the criminal ban of abortion in the Philippines, in 2008 alone, an estimated 560,000 induced abortions took place in the Philippines; 90,000 women sought treatment for related complications and 1,000 women died. These tragic and preventable deaths were 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. This eye opening data was recently released as part of the New York-based Centre For Reproduction Right’s (CRR) latest study, ‘Forsaken Lives: The Harmful Impact of the Philippine Criminal Abortion Ban.

Philippines is one of the few countries in the world that has criminalised abortion in all circumstances with no clear exceptions.Conditions like fatal pregnancy because of severe cases of hypertension and unsafe abortions ended with deaths. Assisted abortion is banned in the country and considered morally wrong.Cited stories evidently showed that doctors are penalized for 20 years for assisted abortion cases.

One woman named Haydee, 32, a mother of one shared her story.She consulted her doctor for her third abortion but was disappointed when her doctor declined to give her drugs to take because it is against her profession. She has severe hypertension and to continue the pregnancy would be fatal.

Dr Florence Tadiar, a doctor and women’s activist shared her sentiments with the other women who need her help because some women resorted to unsafe abortion.

Both stories are confronted with moral issues and to choose the lesser evil. In the Philippine law Under Article 256 of the Revised Penal Code of 1930, a person who intentionally causes an abortion may be jailed for two to 20 years, depending on whether the abortion was caused by violence and on whether the pregnant woman consented to the procedure. The Article 259 jails physicians and midwives, who directly cause or assist in an abortion, for a period of 20 years.Indeed, any form of assisted abortions is a criminal offense.

One of the main reasons behind the high rates of abortions in the Philippines, reveals the study, is the unavailability of a full range of family planning services and information. In 2008, an estimated 1.9 million pregnancies were unplanned, higher than a 2006 study which revealed that 1.43 million unplanned pregnancies occurred each year.

Government policy combined with binding religious rules has only added to the dismal state of women’s reproductive rights. So what’s the way out for these “forsaken women”? The study has some important recommendations. First, medical schools and teaching hospitals should formally train students and residents to manage abortion complications, and to respect and counsel women seeking illegal abortion. Second, the Department of Health (DOH) should resume training of service providers on the prevention and management of abortion and its complications or PMAC – specifically, on techniques in post-abortion care, gender sensitivity and awareness of professional and ethical obligations. Third, the government should increase the amount of – and upgrade the quality of – lifesaving drugs, supplies and equipment for PMAC. It could give more manual vacuum aspirators (MVA) for post-abortion care, plus the supplies needed (cannulas, and so on) for this procedure.

Womens Feature Service covers developmental, political, social and economic issues in India and around the globe. To get these articles for your publication, contact WFS at the www.wfsnews.org website.