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. 1. The penalty of reclusion temporal if, he shall use any violence upon the person of the pregnant woman.
  2. 2. The penalty of prison mayor if, without using violence, he shall act without the consent of the woman.
  3. 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?

  • Abortion should be legalized, but only for specific circumstances (aside from saving maternal life from imminent danger; that's already legal, even if the law EXPRESSLY says nothing about it.).
  • Abortion should remain completely illegal. There is no need to change any law concerning this matter..
  • Abortion should be made a readily available choice.
  • Undecided
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Comments 16 comments

CebuExperience.com 6 years ago

Nice article. I found an old UN document and it shows that abortion was legal in 2000? Is this completely in error or were there later changes. The Penal code seems to be rather old, so it would seem to have been illegal in 2000 too.

I'm a foreigner, while I have opinions, as I understand it, I'm not allowed to express them so I wont but boy is it hard for an American to keep his mouth (fingers) shut. haha

CebuExperience.com 6 years ago

PS, I didn't hear the radio show you mentioned but her sobs haunt me too and my heart hurts for her.

saisun profile image

saisun 6 years ago from Philippines Author

@Cebuexperience Thank you very much for commenting on my hub! :) Actually, the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines was enacted in 1930; so yes, it's old. (It even has a provision on Duel. Yes, the ones with the swords. Article 260; right after Abortion Practiced by a Physician or Midwife) It has been updated by more recent legislation, of course, but I do think that it needs a major overhaul.

I'm not so sure if this is the same UN Document you were talking about, but one from the Population Policy Data Bank of the UN does mention that the only case when abortion is legal here in the Philippines, is when it is done when the mother's life is in grave, immediate danger, and the procedure is indispensable to her survival. To the best of my knowledge however, there is no provision in the Philippines' body of laws that expressly mentions this exception. One paper I read suggested that intentional abortion to save the mother's life could be considered a justifying circumstance under Article 11 of the Revised Penal Code, but that's about it.

Also, I'd actually encourage people to give me their opinions, regardless of their nationalities. This issue has been bothering me for quite a while, and I've been trying to get a critical analysis from people, but most of them just tend to shut down when the subject matter comes up. :)

P.S. I honestly wanted to shoot that radio announcer in the face that night. I still do. A little.

chi 5 years ago

i most definitely wanted abortion to be permanently illegal. legalization of abortion would only contribute to the already high percentage of young adults engaging in premarital sex. at a very age where reproductive system is not yet mature, abortion would only endanger the life of the woman.!!!!!!!!

yes yes yo 4 years ago

That is a nice article for me because life is sacred and we have the right to life.

chel 4 years ago

my sister is going all thru this mess..shes had an anwanted abortion ang bleeds heavily after, then she walk in to a nearby hospital..9 doctors got to ask and vindicate her as a murderer and slut..lots of traumatic words and action had benn done..im not happy about how they treat postabortion women seeking help...and worst after they finally seek treatment they decide to send her to a womens desk..what's womens dessk i dont know but my sister said it sounded like they want to get her jailed..i dont have knowledge about this things..and im wuote afar from her to give her moral support as shes been traumatized already by the whole situation...have u got any knowledge how to deal with this like jail imprisonment any numbers i could rang and ask for help in her behalf..thanks...im in united kingdom at d moment and helpless to get a help for her...email me please at rhiggins7922@hotmail.co.uk

saisun profile image

saisun 4 years ago from Philippines Author

I'll be honest, I really can't do anything about judgmental assholes like the doctors and medical staff that your sister encountered, because I really can't guarantee that the people working above them or the watchgroups that monitor this kind of behavior don't suffer from the same prejudices.

However, I think I can at least try to help clarify things:

The Women's Desk is usually a police desk where they send women who were victims of what is called "VAWC" crimes; crimes of Violence Against Women and Children, such as rape, or spousal abuse. Sometimes though, the Women's Desk is also where people send women who have committed crimes, and I'll be perfectly honest: in the Philippines, intentional abortion is still a crime, and the ones who tried to send your sister there probably thought that they were doing their civic and moral duty.

I'm very sorry to have to tell you this, but if she did have the abortion intentionally, she could go to jail for it. I personally think that the law on this matter is rather unfair to women whose bodies have already undergone so much trauma, but as it currently stands, there is nothing we can do about it. I mean, our Congress don't even have the balls to pass a simple Reproductive Health bill! (sorry, my personal frustrations are starting to show)

Anyway, here is a list of links to NGOs that may be able to either give your sister legal help, or counseling:

- LEGAL HELP: http://pcw.gov.ph/index.php/directory-women-ngos/9...

SALIGAN is an NGO that offers legal aid to women

- COUNSELING: http://pcw.gov.ph/index.php/directory-women-ngos/9...

Women's Crisis Center is a facility that offers counseling to women who have suffered from abuse and/or gender discrimination. They may have people there who can help your sister process the trauma that she had experienced.

If you are interested, the contact numbers of these organizations are on their webpages. I have not worked with either of them personally, and I do not know if the info on these webpages are up-to-date, but at least now you know the names of two organizations that you can turn to for help. It would be best if you or your sister contact them directly, to see if they can help you.

I cannot guarantee that the people working there will be neutral towards your sister's plight, because abortion is still a very touchy issue. However, most of the time, people working in women's rights NGOs are trained to deal with traumatized women. Hopefully, they will at least be professional enough to set their prejudices aside and treat your sister with the care and respect she needs.

Good luck!


hinazille profile image

hinazille 4 years ago from Dominica (West Indies, The Caribbean) :D

this is definitely a very relevant topic... and a very difficult issue to discuss.. i believe that making abortion totally legal and available for any and everybody under any circumstances is obviously counter productive.

what would make sense is to legalise it with certain conditions, whilst simultaneously educating the youth and providing societal guidelines that would decrease chances of girls getting pregnant with no means of support.

education & prevention will combat the rising issue, but you do need to have a law that makes some sort of exceptions, for example if the mothers life is at risk, if the mother has been raped, if the child is a result of an inappropriate relationship.

nestor 4 years ago

legalizing abortion is like legalizing crime

helen 4 years ago

I second the motion. Legalizing abortion is like legalizing crime. Check out the history of legalization of abortion in the U.S. In the beginning, abortion is legal only for hard cases. But look at what's happening now. Thank God, we have U.S. to serve as example of what we shouldn't do with our law. Thanks.

Frances 4 years ago

An issue tackled over and over and especially encountered as motions in debates. Truthfully, I am against the fact of abortion per se, eradicating human life; however, in a sense that legalizing abortion can also balance the stigma of the negative psychological and economical factors from abortion (i.e low crime rate based on a book 'Freakonomics', easier mgmt for the mother, etc.) Again, however, only a few considerably "positive" effects can withstand the issue

raul 4 years ago

ABORTION!? it's like having a crime and disobeying God who made us... our lives! The Bible says, " For you are beautifully and wonderfully made."

Thank God, we have life! A life that full of goodness and mercy coming from God!. Thanks.

biyon 3 years ago

molog agaw dli maga gaon sini ing atao.....

natalie 3 years ago

what if the mother and the child is at risk and you have to choose, what would you?

jade 2 years ago

What if the mother is at risk of dying? Is there any choice to abort the child?because im at this situation right now..

saisun profile image

saisun 2 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi jade! Unfortunately, in my experience, local legislation on the matter is tragically scarce. It's like everyone in charge would rather not have to deal with the issue at all.

All I can offer you is that note that I'd mentioned in one of the comments above: one UN document states that in the Philippines, abortion is only legal if done when the mother's life is in grave, immediate danger, and the procedure is indispensable to her survival.

Please note the following words: GRAVE and IMMEDIATE danger, and INDISPENSABLE to her survival.

This means that abortion would only be legal if the mother is literally about to die RIGHT THEN and THERE, and the abortion is the ONLY WAY to save her life. Ultimately, this would mean that you have to be at death's door, and your doctor has to say that this is the only way for you to survive.

Personally, I think this is extremely unfair, because the mother has absolutely no say in the matter, even though her life and her dignity are at risk. It's possible that there are new writings and new laws, but I am not aware of them at this point. For more information, you may speak with someone from Women's Rights NGOs like SALIGAN.

Personally, if the situation is that dangerous for you, and you can afford it, I'd suggest going to a country where abortion is legal, and have a safe and legal procedure done there. I sincerely hope things will work out for you and that you will come out of the situation safe and healthy.

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