With a little help from my friends. Preventing the burden of abortion in the Philippines

A recent study from the Guttmacher Institute proves that women from all social classes in the Philippines are interested in having smaller families—less than four kids per family. In particular, women in rural areas report to have 1.5 kids more than desired. [1] In the Philippines, there is a positive correlation between poverty and abortion resulting in 68 percent of total abortions (about 400,000) coming from women who live below the poverty line. These are usually clandestine abortions practiced without professional supervision and within unsanitary environments with high risks of spreading contagious diseases.[2] Abortions in rural areas are often guided by a hilot—a traditional birth attendant who suggests drinking some local herbs and a series of harsh activities.[3] Although abortion is illegal in the Philippines the rates for this practice have shown alarming spikes. Today, almost 500,000 women undergo abortion procedures.[4] Furthermore, the complications that are derived from malpractice are taking the lives of at least 1,000 women every year and 100,000 more are hospitalized and treated with infections. In most cases women refuse to be attended out of fear to be imprisoned, and in some others they would be seen as criminals and would not receive attention.[5]

The situation is critical, but policy-makers have consistently neglected improving family planning services. Today, a bill for reproductive health has been presented to Congress, but the stakes of passing the legislation seem unlikely. Two major factors impede its success. One is the constitutionality linked to abortion, as it is consider a crime even in cases of incest, rape and to save the mother’s life. Second, as the Philippines is a Catholic state, religion plays an important role in the battle to legalize abortion; “the church believes that the bill is an attempt to promote and legalize abortion.[6]

Although this dismal scenario, increasing abortion rates and women’s family planning declarations show that education and mass communications have impacted the way in which women think about their future lives. The rapid urbanization process in this country has also made women more aware of the burden of big families. Modern contraceptives can be used to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and although their usage is increasing the government has no plans to spread their availability. In rural areas, traditional methods remain the leading practice to prevent abortions, however, they are not very effective.

Local legislation has proven to fail the needs of society when it comes to discuss family planning. Strong punishment methods are imposed to avoid women from deciding the fate of their unborn children, yet that does not stop them from wanting to practice an abortion. A recent report from the New York based Center for Reproductive Rights reveals that “criminalization of abortion has not prevented abortion in the Philippines, but it has made it extremely unsafe.[7]

Considering this, the Philippines should concentrate on providing more flexible laws to avoid the mortality and disease burden caused by abortions. The WHO recalls that 20 percent of maternal deaths are caused by unsafe abortions in the Philippines.[8] As the national framework offers little protection to this critical health issue, it is in the hands of international watchdog organizations like the United Nations to advocate for greater attention to the issues surrounding maternal health. The WHO for example has published numerous materials guiding safe abortion practices and manuals to provide the proper medications for this purpose.[9]

Nonetheless, it is difficult for developing countries such as the Philippines to reform their current policies on abortion when in the developed world (most notably the US) abortion is not considered a human right. Ultimately abortion should be considered a health issue, not necessarily a “human rights crisis”. There is a dire need for the Philippines to recognize that its health system is being severely affected by the increasing practice of unhealthy abortions. Once this is done, the country should assess the opportunities to provide women more mechanisms to prevent unsafe medical practices that would put their lives at risk. Reforms in the Philippines are just a matter of time.


[1] Improving Reproductive Health in the Philippines. Rep. Vol. 1. New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2003. Print. p.1-2.

[2] Hindstrom, Hanna. “Abortion in the Philippines.” The Guardian. 19 July 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/journalismcompetition/hanna-hindstrom-shortlist-2011&gt;.

[3] Sheker, Manini. “A Call for Reproductive Health.” The Guardian. 22 Nov. 2011. Web. 23 Nov. 2011. <www.guardian.co.uk>.

[4] Conde, Carlos H. “Rights Group Denounces Illegality of Abortion in Philippines – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times. 02 Aug. 2010. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/world/asia/02iht-phils.html&gt;.

[5] Improving Reproductive Health in the Philippines. Rep. Vol. 1. New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2003. Print. p.5.

[6] Sheker, Manini. “A Call for Reproductive Health.” The Guardian. 22 Nov. 2011. Web. 23 Nov. 2011. <www.guardian.co.uk>.

[7] Conde, Carlos H. “Rights Group Denounces Illegality of Abortion in Philippines – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times. 02 Aug. 2010. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/world/asia/02iht-phils.html&gt;.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Hindstrom, Hanna. “Abortion in the Philippines.” The Guardian. 19 July 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/journalismcompetition/hanna-hindstrom-shortlist-2011&gt;.

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