Opinion: The ‘A’ word
The ‘A’ word
A stands for abortion. Five hundred seventy thousand Filipino women underwent induced abortions in 2008. Around 90,000 of them were hospitalized, and 1,000 died from complications. Surely, these abortion figures (Guttmacher Institute) should be more than enough to shock people. But will these make us closely look at the problem? More importantly, will these data jolt the government into action? Or will we be like the moralists whose knee-jerk reactions are to condemn women and brush these numbers aside as untrue?
Abortion is illegal in the Philippines. The Constitution criminalizes it. Because it is also culturally taboo, abortion is rarely discussed and done mostly within the context of religion or morality – that abortion is a mortal sin. Opportunities to objectively, honestly and intelligently dialogue on abortion is severely lacking. There is virtually no venue for women to freely discuss abortion without the moral prescriptions and judgment from others. Because it is illegal and stigmatized, abortion remains hidden; the data are hard to come by.
Admittedly, the above-mentioned numbers are estimates. These are, however, intelligent estimates, and the result of a rigorous process of research and data extrapolation based on factors used in comparative estimations in other countries. Thus, these figures cannot and should not be disregarded as untrue.
These numbers show how critical and widespread the problem is. Despite its being illegal, more than half a million women undergo abortion a year. This is more than the entire population of Makati City in 2007. The number of women who are hospitalized as a result of the abortion is a few thousands more than Isabela City’s population. The number of women who died is comparable to the population of an entire small barangay. Such is the magnitude of the problem.
Abortions are performed clandestinely. In many cases, unsafe manners are used by those who perform them. They endanger women’s lives. There were cases of women who used barbecue sticks and clothes hangers to induce abortion. Highly dangerous ways such as these are more common for poor women. Their rich ‘sisters’ can pay for needed services, sometimes even getting the procedure (and vacation) in another country.
Profiling women having induced abortions will reveal that 68 percent are poor, 91 percent are married/in union, 57 percent have more than three children and 87 percent are Catholics.
When asked why they resorted to abortion, 72 percent cited poverty, 54 percent said they already had enough children, and 57 percent indicated that the pregnancy occurred too soon after the last one.
Therefore, contrary to popular notion that those who have abortions are young women who sleep around, the reality is that it is the poor, Catholic married women with several children who are forced into this situation. Moreover, it is clear from the women’s reasons that their pregnancies were unplanned or unwanted. Fifty-four percent of those who had abortion were not using any contraceptive when they got pregnant. Of those who were doing family planning, 75 percent were using a traditional method.
In my decades of working with community women, I have yet to meet one who is pro-abortion but have encountered many who said they had to resort to it out of desperation. Deciding to have an abortion is never easy. Women agonize over this and in most cases, make the decision not for themselves but for their families, especially the several children they already have.
Take D, for example. Now 48 years old and an ambulant vendor, she gave birth to her first child at 17 and was pregnant each year for the next five years. Thus, at the age of 22, she already had six children. A devout Catholic, D. had three abortions after her sixth child because her husband would not hear of pills when they could hardly provide food for their children. She said that the abortions saved her six living children. After, she decided to take the pill and only told her husband five years later. She now says that without the abortions and pills, she could have given birth to at least six more children, something that they definitely could not afford.
T also had an abortion. She and her husband used to work in the same factory but her man was retrenched and became seriously ill. T became the sole breadwinner and then she got pregnant. With four children, high medical costs for the husband, no savings and only her meager earnings to tide the family over, the couple knew that it was the worst time to have another child. They decided that an abortion was the only solution.
While invisible, women having abortions are real women with real stories to tell. Unfortunately, society seems uninterested.
In fact, the abortion scare is used by the Catholic hierarchy and its fundamentalist allies against the reproductive health bill. Virtually all anti-RH positions equate the bill with abortion. Particularly, the FP provisions are under attack. Let’s look at what House Bill 96 (Lagman) actually says.
Section 3, i. states that, “While nothing in this Act changes the law against abortion, the government shall ensure that all women needing care for post-abortion complications shall be treated and counselled in a humane, non-judgmental and compassionate manner.” Clearly therefore, the RH bill does not promote abortion’s legalization but takes serious notice of and addresses abusive treatment suffered by poor women in the hands of medical practitioners even when these women are already suffering from complications.
The same section says that government shall promote, without bias, all modern natural and artificial, medically safe, legal, and effective family planning methods. The bill has related provisions that ensure access to family planning of those who need the services the most – those in poverty. Note that the unmet need for family planning of poorest women is 51 percent and; those who are not poor need much less. (National Demographic and Health Survey, 2008).
Addressing abortion necessitates dealing with unplanned, mistimed and unwanted pregnancies. Access to family planning programs is a must. Studies show that correct and regular use of contraceptives can bring down abortion rates by as much as 85 percent (Allan Guttmacher Institute). Therefore, contrary to what anti-RH groups say, the bill’s passage will bring down the number of induced abortions in the country.
Anti-abortion groups should actually support the reproductive health bill.