Abortion in the Philippines: Crime, or Health Issue?
This is the context
I'm a Filipino and a law student, and here, abortion is a crime. According to Articles 256-259 of our Revised Penal Code, whether you're the woman getting the abortion, the abortionist, or someone assisting or encouraging the abortion, if you commit the act on purpose, you could get sent to jail for one month, to twenty years. No exceptions.
Even among law students, the consensus in abortion is strongly "anti." Almost all of my classmates insisted that intentional abortion of any kind; was murder, regardless of whether or not it was done to save the mother’s life. Out of the thirty-eight students in my section, only about six said that abortion, if regulated, could be made legal. And they only came to this conclusion after extensive research and field-work.
While I myself would prefer to avoid having to get an abortion as far as reasonably possible, I believe that this issue should be looked at through a more critical lens.
Why? Because the attitude that most Filipinos adopt in relation to abortion is frequently more emotional than practical. Much of it can be traced back to a knee-jerk, culture-based reaction to anything involving babies and death. The lines on matters involving religion, culture, and tradition are quite blurred, and the results are all the same: a default outcry against abortion, or any sort of regulation concerning sexual health.
This preconceived, pre-set stance is so powerful in fact, that a Reproductive Health Bill, HB 5043 (2008), has been waiting in our legislative wings for quite a few years. And even though its provisions simply outline guidelines for natural family planning and sex education, it is likely to be abandoned or rejected outright. Why? Because apparently, having sex for any purpose other than procreation, is a sin. In fact, I've done my research: it is literally against canon law to have sex unless you're doing it to make babies.
Repeat this doctrine until it becomes part of one's default thought-patterns, and it means that consciously attempting to control or curb one’s ability to reproduce in any way; is the darkest of taboos, regardless of one's actual religious leanings.
How does this attitude translate into Philippine law? Here are a few quick bullet points:
- Protection for unborn children is enshrined in Article II, Section 12 of our 1987 Constitution; the provision providing for the protection of the "family as a basic autonomous social institution."
- To implement this, a child is considered to have civil personality "from the time of his conception, for all purposes favorable to him" (Child and Youth Welfare Code, Presidential Decree No. 603). This means that the moment a child is conceived, it is protected by the State.
- "civil personality" means the state of being a "person," an entity recognized by the law as capable of having rights, obligations, and the "fitness to be the subject of legal relations" (on juridical capacity, Article 37 of the Civil Code).
- To further emphasize this point, the State protects the unborn child by outlining its rights (see above), and considering acts (or omissions) that may harm the unborn child as crimes. I've already mentioned that specific provisions of our Revised Penal Code define and punish acts that harm the unborn child.
For a clearer picture, here are those provisions as taken from http://www.chanrobles.com/revisedpenalcodeofthephilippinesbook2.htm:
"Art. 256. Intentional abortion. — Any person who shall intentionally cause an abortion shall suffer:
- 1. The penalty of reclusion temporal if, he shall use any violence upon the person of the pregnant woman.
- 2. The penalty of prison mayor if, without using violence, he shall act without the consent of the woman.
- 3. The penalty of prison correccional in its medium and maximum periods, if the woman shall have consented.
Art. 257. Unintentional abortion. — The penalty of prison correccional in its minimum and medium period shall be imposed upon any person who shall cause an abortion by violence, but unintentionally.
Art. 258. Abortion practiced by the woman herself of by her parents. — The penalty of prison correccional in its medium and maximum periods shall be imposed upon a woman who shall practice abortion upon herself or shall consent that any other person should do so.
Any woman who shall commit this offense to conceal her dishonor, shall suffer the penalty of prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods.
If this crime be committed by the parents of the pregnant woman or either of them, and they act with the consent of said woman for the purpose of concealing her dishonor, the offenders shall suffer the penalty of prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods.
Art. 259. Abortion practiced by a physician or midwife and dispensing of abortives. — The penalties provided in Article 256 shall be imposed in its maximum period, respectively, upon any physician or midwife who, taking advantage of their scientific knowledge or skill, shall cause an abortion or assist in causing the same.
Any pharmacist who, without the proper prescription from a physician, shall dispense any abortive shall suffer arresto mayor and a fine not exceeding 1,000 pesos."
These provisions may all appear to be perfectly ethical and logical, and perhaps they are. However, it cannot be denied that while the unborn child is given rights and protection, the mother's rights are compromised (without countermeasures to shore this fact up).
a social reality
Health Care Issue?
However, it isn't just the Philippine legal system that manifests this attitude towards sex and sexual health. And the ones who bear the brunt of this point of view, are inevitably women.
Women (many of whom are girls barely in their teens) who have had abortions are considered pariahs. They are branded as murderers and harlots, regardless of why or how they may have gotten pregnant in the first place.
To illustrate, I offer an anecdote: One night, while riding a taxi, I heard a radio interview where a sixteen-year-old girl was harangued by the radio announcer on air for getting pregnant and then having the baby aborted. The girl’s voice was small and querulous, and it was apparent that she was terrified. Despite that, the car's speakers crackled as the radio show host yelled at her and called her a slut. He told her that the whole matter had been her fault for having dropped her panties in the first place. He also went on and on for a full five minutes about how monstrous she was for allowing herself to get pregnant. He called her a killer on the air, and told her that she deserved to be burned in Hell. This sixteen-year-old kid sobbed audibly, but the announcer did not stop until the girl finally lowered the receiver and ended the phone interview. I wasn’t able to catch the name of the radio show, since the cab driver changed the station right after, but the girl’s sobs haunted me.
This is only a part of what women in the Philippines have to face when they have abortions: regardless of how, why, or how long ago it had happened. And to make matters worse, many hospitals either turn away women suffering from abortion complications, or give them substandard, discriminatory service. This accounts for the considerable number of maternal deaths in the country. Many of these women are pregnant because of rape, incest, fraud, or simple ignorance, and they already suffer the stigma of these crimes. (Because in many cases, there is still an insidious, underlying perception that any sexually-related crime perpetrated on a woman -regardless of its brutality- is secretly the woman's own fault) When they are turned away, they not only become victims of the vicious acts perpetrated on them and on their bodies, but they also become victims of a system that actively refuses to acknowledge that they exist at all.
This is what happens
On the other hand, as has been outlined before, according to Philippine laws, the unborn child possesses civil personality from the moment it is conceived. This is in consonance with very many religious views on the issue.
The conceived child is a life in and of itself; this is something that is fundamental to very many people, and I myself am inclined to agree. Additionally, abortion methods, or those employed to induce miscarriage, are often bloody, brutal, and downright dangerous. One only needs to see the gory image of a dismembered, newly-aborted fetus to realize that yes, the end result of abortion is death. And given the legal framework that we in the Philippines work within, the relevant provisions in our Penal Code (Articles 256-259) are Constitutionally sound.
On the other hand however, we must also take into consideration all of the issues surrounding abortion and reproductive rights in the Philippines: The repercussions of prevailing social attitudes, and the implications of the issues that our laws overlook.
Given the context, the religious and cultural background, and the social issues surrounding abortion in the Philippines, what do you think?See results without voting
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