Women continue to die from the lack of access to safe abortion, making it “a public health emergency we should all care about” even if “this fact has been buried under decades-worth of misinformation.” This is according to the Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network (PINSAN), which is proposing a bill to decriminalize abortion in the Philippines.
The proposal comes as the world marks on September 28 the “International Safe Abortion Day” to remind everyone of women’s right to access safe and legal abortion.
In a statement from Atty. Clara Rita Padilla, who initiated the drafting of the bill — “Act Decriminalizing Induced Abortion to Save the Lives of Women, Girls, and Persons of Diverse Gender Identities, Amending Article 256-259 of the Revised Penal Code” – while governments around the world have almost unanimously removed abortion restrictions in their respective countries, the Philippines has not followed suit and still has its restrictive abortion law.
“In the Philippines, our restrictive abortion law has not stopped women from inducing abortions but has only forced women to seek out unsafe methods to end their pregnancies. These women are at risk of dying when they induce abortion unsafely,” Padilla said.
Unsafe abortion happens when women: 1) rely on persons lacking the necessary skills; 2) are forced to go to an environment not conforming to minimal medical standards; 3) use tablets without access to proper information or to trained health providers; or 4) insert foreign objects into their bodies.
Because of the country’s restrictive abortion law, around 610,000 Filipino women were estimated to have induced abortions in 2012 alone — with at least three women dying each day, and 100,000 others hospitalized due to complications, Padilla said. All these can be prevented if women could openly access safe medical abortion, without stigma or discrimination.
“How can this be done? By decriminalizing abortion.”
This bill – when passed into law – will provide access to safe abortion and avert maternal deaths resulting from unsafe abortion complications.
“The restrictive, colonial, and antiquated 1930 Revised Penal Code abortion law never reduced the number of women inducing abortion,” said Padilla. “It has only endangered the lives of hundreds of thousands of Filipino women who are forced to undergo an unsafe abortion.”
Women continue to die from the lack of access to safe abortion, making it “a public health emergency we should all care about” even if “this fact has been buried under decades-worth of misinformation.”
Padilla added that “prosecution of women who induce abortion and those assisting them is not the answer. Deaths and disabilities resulting from unsafe abortion complications are preventable with access to safe abortion and post-abortion care.”
So for Padilla, “decriminalizing abortion will save the lives of women who can be anyone’s daughter, partner, mother, sister, niece, or granddaughter. It would also help reduce maternal deaths related to unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions during humanitarian crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Ending the stigma
The stigma around abortion has limited people’s access to accurate information on the topic. This leads to discrimination against women who seek or have already sought basic healthcare for abortion care, emergency abortion care, and post-abortion care.
Misconceptions about abortion mostly occur when it is made into a religious moral issue, but Padilla said that “access to safe abortion is a medical issue, not a religious moral issue.”
“We must respect a woman’s personal decision-making, her right to bodily autonomy, life, health, privacy, equality and non-discrimination, equal protection of the law, and right against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” Padilla said.
The restrictive, colonial, and antiquated 1930 Revised Penal Code abortion law never reduced the number of women inducing abortion. It has only endangered the lives of hundreds of thousands of Filipino women who are forced to undergo an unsafe abortion.
The bill seeks to eliminate this stigma by helping Filipinos better understand the imperative need for access to safe abortion.
Treaty monitoring bodies also recognize access to abortion as a human right. “Our government must comply with its international human rights obligation to decriminalize abortion as a means for women to have access to safe abortion, emergency abortion care, and post-abortion care,” Padilla said, stressig the need to save women’s lives by supporting this bill to decriminalize abortion.