Many Filipinos condemn Filipino women and girls who induce abortion, not knowing that some of these women and girls are actually victims of rape or incest.
A Filipino woman or girl is raped every 72 minutes.
In 2014 police records, 7,409 women reported that they had been raped.
This is alarming, yet it may just be the tip of the iceberg as the numbers only refer to the rape victims who reported to the police.
One of the glaring consequences of rape is unwanted pregnancy. After being sexually abused, Filipino women and girls have resorted to unsafe and clandestine abortions to end their unwanted pregnancies; others have tried to commit suicide.
According to the Women’s Crisis Center research titled “Feminist Action Research on Reproductive Health Needs and Concerns of VAW Survivors,” 83 percent of its women rape survivors have induced unsafe abortion.
For many people, rape seems a very remote occurrence, something they only hear or read about in the news. But for us who assist rape victims on a daily basis, it is very much a reality.
Lawyers, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and police officers who assist rape victims witness the pain that these women suffer.
The Philippines cannot deny rape survivors their right to terminate unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape. Our laws must provide rape survivors the right to decide what is good for their health and lives.
These women and girls suffered an extremely traumatic human rights violation. It is our duty as a state, regardless of religious beliefs, to provide access to safe and legal abortion to rape survivors.
If we don’t, these women and girls may die or be hospitalized due to complications from induced unsafe and clandestine abortion.
It is high time we faced the issue of access to safe and legal abortion as a public health and human rights issue.
Our restrictive criminal law on abortion having been based on the old Spanish Penal Code of 1870, not even on religion, has driven women to induce unsafe and clandestine abortion. The illegality of abortion has not deterred women from terminating an unwanted pregnancy; it has only made it risky for Filipino women and girls.
Based on estimates of the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), more than half of all pregnancies in the Philippines were unintended and about 20 percent of these unintended pregnancies end up in abortion.
The reality is that single and married women and girls, many of them Catholics, resort to unsafe and clandestine abortion to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
Based on the latest AGI report, 610,000 Filipino women induced abortion in 2012; 1,000 women died from complications from unsafe abortion; and over 100,000 women were hospitalized due to complications from unsafe and clandestine abortions.
It was reported in 2012 and 2013 that unsafe abortion was one of the top three obstetrics-gynecological cases in eight out of nine hospitals managed by the Department of Health.
Other predominantly Catholic countries and former Spanish colonies have liberalized their laws on abortion. Spain itself legalized abortion on request during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy in 2010; other predominantly Catholic countries such as Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, Costa Rica and Ireland and former Spanish colonies such as Uruguay and Colombia now allow abortion on certain grounds, leaving the Philippines to contend with its antiquated colonial Spanish law.
Asian countries such as China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have liberal abortion laws, while Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand have recently liberalized their laws to allow abortion on certain grounds.
Some people mistakenly believe that the Philippine Constitution prohibits abortion because of the provision on equal protection of the life of the woman and of the unborn from conception. On the contrary, other countries with constitutions and laws explicitly protecting the life of the unborn or life from conception allow abortion under certain exceptions, such as Ireland, Slovak Republic, Poland, Kenya, Hungary and Costa Rica.
In the complaint of LC vs Peru filed with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), where an adolescent girl who became pregnant as a result of rape was denied her request for therapeutic abortion, Cedaw recommended to Peru in 2009 to review its laws to decriminalize abortion when the pregnancy results from rape.
The 2006 Cedaw Concluding Comments recommended for the Philippines to remove the punitive provisions imposed on women who induce abortion and to provide access to quality services for the management of complications arising from unsafe abortion to reduce maternal mortality rates.
In its 2014 report on the inquiry on reproductive rights violations in the Philippines, Cedaw recommended for the Philippines to amend Articles 256 to 259 of the Revised Penal Code to “legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life and/or health of the mother, or serious malformation of the fetus and decriminalize all other cases where women undergo abortion.”
As a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Philippines should repeal its laws that punish women and girls who have undergone abortion as a matter of public policy to save women’s lives.
Clara Rita Padilla is the founder and executive director of EnGendeRights. She holds a juris doctor degree from Ateneo de Manila University and has been practicing law for over 21 years, working in the fields of gender, gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.