More than a million women a year seek alternatives to abortion in the Catholic-majority Philippines
As an experienced doctor in the Philippines, Miriam has seen her fair share of high-risk operations and procedures, but she claims that none are “as intricate or as risky” as abortions.
“We take on great dangers if we agree to conduct an abortion,” said Miriam, who is hiding under an identity in the Philippines to avoid punishment. Four ladies, ranging in age from 23 to 48, have had abortions performed by her in secret.
As a mainly Catholic country and former American colony, the Philippines prohibits abortion and has done so for more than a century. Women who are convicted of aborting their fetuses face sentences of two to six years in prison.
The state punishes doctors and nurses who are caught performing or assisting in abortions with heavy penalties. According to Miriam, “we run the possibility of losing our medical licenses and also being charged in court.”
Abortion is now punishable by law for millions of women in the US following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that proclaimed it a constitutional right to seek a termination. Abortion laws are now in the hands of individual states, and some of those governments have outright prohibited the procedure.
There are many women in the Philippines who will go to great lengths to avoid undesired or infertile births, no matter the risks.
The Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network’s lawyer, Clara Rita Padilla, said that while the Philippines’ abortion law has “progressive interpretations,” there are no clear exemptions that allow for the termination of pregnancies even in severe cases like rape and incest — or to save the pregnant woman’s life.
According to a PINSAN study completed in 2020, the lives and health of Filipina women were put at danger by 1.26 million abortions. In addition, that number is anticipated to rise. University of the Philippines researchers estimate that 1.1 million abortions take place in the Philippines each year.
According to Padilla, the majority of women who had abortions did so because they were poor and/or under the age of 25. She claimed that without access to legal procedures, many women were forced to have unsafe abortions conducted in makeshift clinics by midwives, healers, and unskilled doctors.
“In the Philippines, orthodox religious views have shaped the country’s culture. In our view, abortion bans are already a fact of life, and it is women from low-income and minority households who bear the brunt of the burdens.”
Pro-choice advocates in the United States reacted angrily to the ruling of the Supreme Court. But the end of Roe wasn’t only a political success for conservative Catholics and evangelicals; it was a spiritual victory as well.
In the Philippines, where the Catholic Church holds considerable authority and influence, this sense of celebration was also felt. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, pro-life and anti-abortion activists from around America celebrated.
Crispin Varquez, a local bishop and prelate of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, said in an interview on Radio Veritas Asia, a church-run station based in Quezon City, “The US Supreme Court’s decision to ban abortion is excellent news.”
Varquez called the timing of the move “opportune” because it fell on the eve of the Sacred Heart Feast.
“It’s a decision guided by the Holy Spirit,” he explained.
Abortion, according to Pope Francis, is like “hiring a hitman,” and the Supreme Court’s ruling must be accepted.
He told Reuters, “It’s human life — that’s science. Is it morally acceptable to kill a human being in order to solve a problem?”
Filipino women’s guilt for seeking abortions is sometimes exacerbated by their Catholic society.
“The Catholic Church propagates the narrative that abortion is murder,” said Marevic Parcon, another founding member of PINSAN. Parcon was raised a Catholic, as were the majority of Filipino women. She indicated that her religious beliefs had a profound impact on her views on abortion. “Nuns would show us images of late stage abortions — it was that dreadful influence they had over your psyche and emotions,” she added. “At church, you were always taught to fear abortions.”
CNN’s inquiries for reaction from the Filipino Catholic Church and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) were ignored.
Kristy, who has also chosen to use a pseudonym because she fears prosecution, is one of many women who believe they have little alternative but to seek out so-called “backstreet,” or illegal abortions.
Since “they would never accept it,” she hid the abortion from her husband and other family members.
Because she was already struggling to feed her other four children, they wouldn’t let her keep the infant. “How are we going to pay for a fifth of the cost?”
Aside from using condoms, she and her husband do not utilize any sort of birth control. Birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs) were also out of the question. “I don’t know how much that would cost,” she replied. “I have no idea where to look for them or how to use them.”
In order to get a “healing massage,” she paid 550 pesos ($10) to the midwife when she found out she was pregnant.
Midwife assistant was holding her down and hammering and rubbing her lower abdomen while she went to work and eventually caused a miscarriage. According to Kristy, the experience was “messy and so terrible. When the pain became unbearable, all I could do was scream. Even now, I’m having difficulties winding down for the night.”
In spite of her shame, she said, “I know that my family is better for this.”
Abortion opponents argue that the Philippines should remove “inhumane provisions” from its abortion law and eventually decriminalize abortion to save the lives of women.
New opposition leader Senator Risa Hontiveros remarked that “these rules have only led to a quiet epidemic of unsafe abortions that have lost the lives of so many Filipina women. It’s also wrong to lock up women who have been through such traumatic situations.”
Hontiveros said that dangerous abortions performed in the shadows must be banned. Abortion destigmatization must be a national priority for the United States, she said.
The growth of authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism in many nations has made it imperative for women to “vigilantly protect our rights and liberties,” Hontiveros added. Under Philippine law, I totally support any effort to decriminalize abortion.
Abortion was a hot topic for Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier this month when he discussed his plans to legalize it in “extreme circumstances.”
“If (victims) can establish that they were raped and that they became pregnant through nonconsensual intercourse, I believe they should be given the option to abort or not. Perhaps they are incestuous,” President-elect Marcos Jr., who made the statement, has since been elected.
According to him, the death toll from unsafe abortions outweighs the resistance of church leaders. Since it is a woman’s body, she has the final say.
He was welcomed by pro-life groups and legislators for his pro-choice stance. “We have seen this play out across the world,” said Parcon of PINSAN, “restricting abortion does not stop it, it rather makes it more harmful.”
As far as we have gotten, Marcos brought it up throughout his campaign. If he claims he will make it a priority, then we must hold him accountable.
Senate Minority Leader Maria Hontiveros commended President Aquino’s “openness” to changing the country’s anti-abortion laws.
In her speech, she remarked, “This provides optimism that we can soon decriminalize abortion and modify our laws in view of the realities faced by Filipina women and families.”