Abortion in the Philippines

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Abortion in the Philippines is considered taboo because of its legal, religious and cultural implications. Despite the criminalization of the act, there is an unknown number of women who perform induced abortions to stop unwanted pregnancies. Abortion remains a controversial topic for many conservative Filipinos who are concerned with its social and psychological repercussions, thus, only a limited number of investigatory reports have been conducted on the topic.

Basically, abortion is any procedure to end a pregnancy. There are many types of abortions that range from surgery to invasive techniques such as massages and medicine.

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History of Abortion

The Philippines is one of the fourteen countries that outlaw abortion. The first recorded law can be traced back to the Spanish era, wherein the Catholic church viewed abortion as an act of ”murdering” the unborn child. Abortion was further criminalized under the Penal Code of 1870.

The 1870 Penal Law was also incorporated into the Revised Penal Code that took effect in 1930, during the American regime. Despite this, many Filipino women still have abortions. It is estimated that for the year 2008, the death rate for Filipinas who underwent the abortive procedure reached 1000 while 90,000 women suffered from complications.


Philippine Abortion Ban

The Constitution of the Philippines mandates that the state “shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception” (sec. 2, art. II), thereby negating all other reasons behind induced abortion invalid except endangering the life of the mother.

Health care providers such as physicians, midwives and pharmacists who perform the act of abortion even with the consent of the pregnant woman may face up to six years in prison and/or have their license suspended or revoked. The woman who undergoes the procedure for any reason may spend up to six years in prison.

Although the Catholic church allows induced abortions for women whose health is endangered by the child, the Philippine Constitution does not have a specific provision that allows for exemption. The Revised Penal Code, however, exempts a mother who consents to an abortion if it would mean her survival.

Abortion Practices

There are a number of methods used to expel a human fetus from the womb of the mother.

Folk Medicine

Hilots (midwives) are usually rural or small-town individuals who come from a long line of local chiropractors. Hilots have basic knowledge of Filipino herbology, just like the albularyos (herb doctors), and use various pre-natal and post-natal techniques such as suob. Traditionally, infants who were delivered by a hilot usually undergo pagbubuhos (a pre-baptism ritual) wherein the midwife immerses the baby in water.

Although a hilot is required to register herself annually at the local municipal hall, this is not strictly enforced. This is because anyone can help deliver a baby as long as they have the knowledge of postpartum care and massage.

Another source of folk abortifacients are the vendors of abortion drugs made from herbs, such as those sold in the vicinity of Quiapo Church.

Surgery

Abortion surgeries are uncommon in the Philippines due to the public's view of morality. However, many hospitals and medical centers can perform post-abortion care for mothers with very few complications.

Modern Medicine

Abortion drugs such as Methotrexate, Mifeprex (or RU486) and Mifepristone (morning-after pills) are also used as an alternative to folk medicine. This is because many women believe that other drugs are unsafe to ingest. However, since these pills are only available under prescription, it is illegal for pharmacists to distribute the drug without the permission of the mother's physician. This method is usually used by women whose lives are endangered by pregnancy.

Calculated Abortion Morbidity

Ignorance has often induced Filipino women to avoid medical consultation. The unavailability of this medical service and the fear of having to undergo social condemnation has made most women seek hilots or have albularyos prescribe medicine.

A case study shows that in 3.1 million pregnancies, 15% were spontaneous abortions and 15% were induced abortions. Ninety-one percent of the women were currently in a relationship, and almost 57% had more than 3 children. Roughly 68% were financially unstable. Nearly 87% were Catholic, and 71% underwent sex education in high school.

This may imply that most Filipino women possess some knowledge of the procedure and its risks, and only choose to undergo the process because of financial problems, social issues, or an unwanted child, among others.

A 2005 study revealed that an estimated 473,400 Filipino women have had abortions, and that almost 78,900 of these were hospitalized due to post-abortion care, bringing the abortion rate to 27 for every 1000 women in reproductive age. Additionally, statistics show that abortion rose in Manila by 41% to 52%, and 11% to 17% in Visayas in the past decade.

Role of the Catholic Church

Despite a mandated separation of church and state, the opinions of the Roman Catholic church is a big influence on government action in the Philippines, basically because many Filipinos are devout Catholics. The church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception, which makes abortion of all kinds generally an act of murdering the infant.

Due to the church's stand, people who go to medical institutions for help in abortion-related illnesses usually have a hard time getting the help they require. The country's stand on abortion remains firm, and medical practitioners are either staunch supporters or people who wish to avoid being branded as the exception to the status quo. Many will be liable to refuse to treat the patient outright.

While religious members of the Catholic church tend to use family planning as an alternative, conservatives are known to follow the traditional standards of a relationship wherein couples engage in no sexual activity until marriage or until they are capable of supporting a child.

Role of the Government

Since abortion is regarded as a problem in the Philippines, it is the government's duty to confront the issue by providing comprehensive sex education and contraceptives. In this manner, the government controls the population, and minimizes the dangers of abortion. This program is being handled by the government's Prevention and Management of Abortion and its Complications (PMAC). A Reproductive Health Care Act is also being proposed.

Recently, adding sex education to the elementary school curriculum has been proposed. Considering that only 69% of the population graduates primary education and only around half of that number finishes secondary education, the information on unwanted childbirth can be properly discussed in a setting that is primed for learning. This, however, is not supported by conservatives, and is frowned upon by the Catholic church, believing that it is still the parent's job to educate their children on the subject.



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