Philippines: Abortion banned in Catholic-majority country, so more than a million women a year turn to other options

“We are taking a huge risk if we agree to have an abortion,” said Miriam, who uses a pseudonym to protect herself from prosecution in the Philippines. She has performed four abortions on women aged 23 to 48, all in secret.

Doctors and nurses found to be performing abortions or providing assistance are also subject to severe penalties from the state. “We risk losing our medical licenses as well as facing charges in court,” Miriam said.

In the Philippines, many women are looking for other solutions for unwanted or non-viable pregnancies, regardless of the risks.

Lawyer Clara Rita Padilla, spokesperson for the Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network (PINSAN), said that while there are “progressive interpretations” of abortion law in the Philippines, there are no clear exceptions to allow termination of a pregnancy, even in severe cases such as rape and incest, or to save the life of a pregnant woman.

A 2020 PINSAN study found that there were 1.26 million abortions in the country, “putting the lives and health of Filipino women at risk.” And this number is expected to grow. Another study by the University of the Philippines found that 1.1 million abortions occur in the country each year.

Padilla said most of the women who had abortions were from poorer backgrounds, and many were under 25. Due to the lack of legal services, women often resorted to dangerous clandestine abortions performed by midwives, healers and untrained doctors in makeshift clinics. said.

“The Philippines is a product of very conservative religious beliefs. For us, the ban on abortion has already become a reality, and women from poor families and minorities suffer the most.”

The power of the church

Abortion rights activists in the United States greeted the decision of the Supreme Court with indignation. But for those who adhered to conservative Catholic beliefs or evangelical principles, the end of Roe was not only a political victory, but also a spiritual one.
This sense of jubilation was also felt in the Philippines, where the Catholic Church wields great power and influence. Local church leaders and groups publicly condemning abortion, divorce, and the use of modern contraceptives, welcome decision of the Supreme Court.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to ban abortion is good news,” Crispin Varques, local bishop and prelate of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, said in an interview with Radio Veritas Asia, a church station based in Quezon City.

Varkes said the move was “timely” as it coincided with the sacred celebrations of the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

“(It is) a decision enlightened by the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Pope Francis called abortion akin to “hiring a hitman.” dear decision of the Supreme Court.

“This is human life – this is science,” he told Reuters. “The moral question is whether it is right to take a human life to solve a problem.”

The shame that many Filipino women feel about seeking an abortion is often reinforced by their Catholic culture.

“The Catholic Church promotes the view that abortion is murder,” said Marevich Parkon, another founding member of PINSAN. Like most Filipino women, Parkon was raised Catholic. She said that religion shaped her views on abortion very early. “In church, you were always taught to be afraid of abortion,” she said.

“The nuns showed us videos of late-stage abortions – it was the terrible control they had over your psyche and emotions.”

The Philippine Catholic Church and the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Philippines (CBCP) did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

Pope Francis upholds US Supreme Court ruling

suffering in secret

However, as great as the stigma is, some women, like Christy, who also uses a pseudonym for fear of prosecution, are coming to the conclusion that they have no choice but to look for the so-called underground or illegal abortions.

The mother-of-four kept her abortion a secret from her husband and family because she knew “they would never let it happen.”

“They will only make me leave the baby, and we are already struggling to feed our four children,” she said. “How can we afford to raise a fifth?”

She did not take any contraceptives and her husband does not use condoms. Access to other forms of contraception, such as birth control pills and IUDs, was also out of the question. “I can’t imagine how much it will cost,” she said. “I wouldn’t know how to get or use them.”

So when she became pregnant, she sought the services of a midwife and paid her 550 pesos ($10) for a “therapeutic massage.”

She described how the midwife’s assistant held her as she walked to work, kneading and pounding her lower abdomen, which eventually caused the miscarriage. “It was dirty and so terrible,” Christy said. “The pain was so excruciating that I could only scream. I still have trouble sleeping.”

“I feel very guilty, but I know that my family is better off for this,” she added.

An anti-abortion poster on the wall of a building in Manila.

Time for a change?

Opponents say it’s time for the Philippines to get rid of “inhumane provisions” in abortion law and finally decriminalize abortion to save women’s lives.

“These rules have only led to a silent epidemic of unsafe abortions that have cost the lives of so many Filipino women,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros, a government spokeswoman. new leader of the opposition. “We also shouldn’t send women to jail after such a hard and painful experience.”

The practice of unsafe clandestine abortions must end, Hontiveros said. She also reaffirmed the importance of destigmatizing abortion as a national step for the country.

“Women must be vigilant in defending our rights and freedoms, especially as authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism are on the rise in many parts of the world,” Hontiveros said. “I fully support the push to decriminalize abortion under Philippine law.”

Ferdinand "bongbong"  Marcos Jr. gives a speech at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila.
In an interview earlier in January, then-presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr shared his view on abortion and said he would legalize it in “hard cases”.

“I think if it can be shown that (victims) were raped and that they got pregnant not from consensual sex, then they should have a choice whether to have an abortion or not. Perhaps the second is incest,” said Marcos Jr., who has since been elected president.

He also said that he was “more concerned about deaths from unsafe abortions” than opposition from church leaders. “It’s a woman’s decision, because it’s her body.”

Advocates and legislators hailed his liberal stance on abortion. “Limiting abortion doesn’t stop it, it makes it more dangerous, and we’re seeing it happening all over the world,” said PINSAN’s Parkon.

“Marcos brought it up during his campaign and for us it was the furthest we’ve gotten so far, and if he says he’s making it a priority, then we need to hold him to account.”

Senator Hontiveros said she welcomed the new president’s “openness” in supporting changes to the Philippine abortion law.

“This gives hope that we will soon be able to decriminalize abortion and reform our laws to reflect the realities that both Filipino women and their families face,” she said.

“However, I’m waiting to see if his words reflect a genuine commitment to women’s rights. For the sake of Filipino women all over the world, I hope they do.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *