PHILIPPINES – PINSAN urges candidates to support the Decriminalization of Abortion Bill 

According to the TribuneNet.PH, the six Presidential aspirants are at odds with each other on whether the government should grant abortion rights to Filipino women. In their respective interviews with television host Boy Abunda this week, one candidate expressed openness to the possibility of allowing abortion for victims of rape or incest, while two aspirants rejected it. The remaining two were undecided.

In a press release on 31 January 2022, PINSAN said: “We are glad that decriminalization of abortion is one of the top election issues and candidates are being asked about their stand on this. We would like to ask the candidates if they have read the Decriminalization of Abortion Bill launched in September 2020,” said Atty. Clara Rita Padilla, spokesperson of the Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network (PINSAN) and the drafter of that bill.

At least three women die every day from complications from unsafe abortion in the Philippines. One in eight women and girls who induce abortion are rape survivors. Unsafe abortion is one of the five leading causes of maternal deaths and hospitalizations of women and girls.

Atty. Padilla added, “A rape survivor who is a minor and is forced to carry a pregnancy to term may die from the pregnancy and childbirth because such early pregnancies are risky. I cannot imagine how some candidates would take a stand against abortion even for rape survivors when clearly complications from unsafe abortion and forced risky pregnancies are life and death issues for women and girls. How are they not able to recognize this as a public health issue and how can they not see this as a clear violation of women’s and girls’ rights? In 2020, there were an estimated 1.26 million unsafe abortions due to lack of access to safe abortion. Decriminalizing abortion will save their lives. We urge candidates and voters to support the Decriminalization of Abortion Bill.”

In reference to Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso’s comment that rape victims “must learn to live with the consequences of being a [rape] victim, Johnny Chua, Officer-In-Charge of Catholics for Reproductive Health, said: “His statement makes him absolutely unfit for the office he seeks.”

Marevic Parcon, Executive Director of the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights emphasized, “Women’s issues including access to safe abortion as integral part of social rights and justice issues. Presidential aspirants cannot speak of human rights without clear plans to address violations of women’s bodily autonomy and integrity.”

Atty. Padilla concluded, “Let us remind the candidates and elected officials that they are representing the needs of the Filipino populace and they should heed the call to decriminalize abortion. As candidates and elected officials, they should be mindful of the constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state, freedom of religion, conscience and belief, and non-establishment of religion; and they should be able to distance their own personal beliefs from the public good. It is their duty to uphold secular standards, public health and human rights.”

The Tribune believes that advocates of safe abortion have found an ally in survey frontrunner Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. “The bottom line is, when it comes to the subject of abortion, it is a woman’s decision because it is her body,” he said. For Marcos, abortion may be justified for rape victims, young mothers, those who have mental problems, and those who were found incapable of taking care of a child. Rape or incest victims may opt to raise their children, but he said the choice to have an abortion should still be theirs.

Senator Manny Pacquiao and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso rejected abortion even in rape-related pregnancies. Pacquiao, a fervent Evangelical Christian, said the government should provide free counselling to rape victims. “Give them a few months. Wounds will heal and they will understand,” he said. “They just need proper counselling.”

Mayor Domagoso said: “I don’t like taking life, so I don’t want abortion.” He thought that families, communities, and the government should step in to support children born out of wedlock (sic).

Vice President Leni Robredo, the only woman standing and who has the backing of several religious groups, said: “I am against abortion for me, but I am open to discussing its decriminalization.” She acknowledged that keeping abortion illegal just pushes women with unwanted pregnancies to seek unsafe abortions. “I would like to listen to more people about it. I’m open to more discussions about it,” she said.

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson said he has yet to decide whether he would favour abortion or not. “We need to know the far-reaching implications on women who were raped and couldn’t undergo abortion. We need to study this based on available data and based on coordination, by consultation with experts.”

At present, abortion remains illegal in the Philippines under all circumstances despite the passage of the Reproductive Health Law in 2012, which made family planning education and contraceptives accessible. The Penal Code renders it a criminal offence, punishable by up to six years in prison for doctors and midwives and 2–6 years in prison for women who have an abortion. The medical licenses of health professionals who perform abortions or provide abortifacients may also be suspended or revoked, according to the Midwifery Act, Medical Act and Pharmaceutical Act.

SOURCES: E-mail from PINSAN, 31 January 2022 ; Tribune.Net.PH, by MJ Blancaflor, 29 January 2022