PHILIPPINES – A social media post activates a national conversation

Lawyer and human rights activist Clara Rita Padilla did not expect a photo she posted on Facebook in May 2020 would be shared many thousands of times. In the picture (above), she holds up a copy of the proposed law she drafted that would decriminalise abortion and help address the constant problem of high numbers of unwanted or abandoned children in the Philippines. Her social media post (above) has been shared many thousands of times and drawn thousands of reactions.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he “hates” abortion. “I do not know the state of these guys promoting abortion … I hate it,” he said in 2017. “Family planning is OK. But killing the fetus inside, that’s difficult. The fetus cannot defend itself.” Yet in 2016 there were an estimated 1.8 million abandoned children in the country, not to mention a high number of deaths of women from unsafe abortions.

Contraception is said to be legally available, but according to a 2017 report, only four in 10 married women use a modern form of contraception. “Every time women’s needs for contraception and post-abortion care are not met, we expect maternal and infant death to increase,” says Junice Melgar, director of the Likhaan Centre for Women’s Health in Manila. In late 2019, the Philippine Senate cut the allocation for contraceptives from the proposed health budget, while the 2020 budget provides no specific allocation at all, but rather an increased target for use of contraceptives.