by Henrylito D. Tacio
“Ten to 30 percent of maternal deaths are caused by abortions,” deplored Biran Affandi, chair of the Asia Pacific Council on Contraception (Apcoc). Maternal deaths are defined as mortalities during pregnancy or up to six weeks after delivery.
Abortion can either be spontaneous or induced. It is considered spontaneous (also known as miscarriage) when the loss of pregnancy happens before “fetal viability” (22 weeks gestation). Induced abortion is defined as, to quote the words of World Health Organization, “a process by which pregnancy is terminated before fetal viability.”
Statistics compiled by the Department of Health Hospital Development Plan for 1988 to 1992 reveal that in 1986 alone abortion was third in the top 10 causes of hospitalization. A large percentage of this is believed to be induced abortion.
In the Philippines, no reliable statistics on abortion is available because abortion is illegal. “No woman, doctor on hospital will ever admit to having committed the crime for fear of legal sanctions,” points out the Pro-Life Philippines Foundation, Inc.
In a study made by Josefina Cabigon of the University of the Philippines Population Institute in Metro Manila, 17 percent of the 1,169 women surveyed admitted having had an abortion. In Cebu, Davao, and Tuguegarao, where the abortion studies were also made, abortion is widely practiced albeit illegally.
“About 400,000 unsafe abortions are done every year in the Philippines,” Benjamin De Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc. “That’s about one abortion per minute.”
In one study by the Philippines Gynecological Society, they count about one in four of total maternal deaths in 78 hospitals all over the country that can be attributed to induced abortion.
In a thesis published in 1982 in Studies in Family Planning, 86 percent of 286 women respondents from Metro Manila, Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao said that poverty was the main reason for their undergoing abortion. Over half of the women who had induced abortion are married, showing that abortion is used to regulate or limit the number of children.
“Economic difficulty is the common for both the married and the unmarried, implying that a good majority belong to the poor,” noted the first State of the Philippine Population Report. One researcher added, “As long as wealth and resources are not evenly distributed in the country, the problem of poverty will continue to stalk all of us; and abortion will remain a symptom of a social cancer that we cannot solve by the mechanical application of the law.”
Another report claims that nearly half of all pregnancies or 1.43 million of about 3.1 million pregnancies in the country are unintended, a third of which are ended through abortion. Such was the case of Anna: “My boyfriend raped me. Because I wanted to end the relationship which he could not accept. But who is going to believe that? Had I chosen to let the baby live and marry my boyfriend to save my name, I know I would no have been happy. I will not be a good mother because I am forced by circumstances.”
Some women also have an abortion because a baby “interferes with occupation, studies, or employment.” A study done by Corazon Raymundo in 1996 – Abortion: A public health concern – one group of respondents were young women whose main reason for resorting to abortion was being totally unprepared for pregnancy because they were still in school and still wanted to continue their studies. (More than three million young Filipinos, 15 to 24 years old, engage in premarital sex. Seventy-four percent of them do not use any contraceptive.)
Twenty-two-year-old Rebecca was a graduating student when she decided to abort her baby. “I had to do it,” she disclosed. “I felt I would be too ungrateful to my parents if I fail to finish my course and they have worked so hard to let me study. The baby had to go. My boyfriend and I agreed to let it go.”
“The men do play a role in childbearing,” pointed out the Pro-Life Philippines. In some cases, the men are the reason why women resort to abortion. Some wives are now separated from their husbands, while others had a quarrel with the husband. Other reasons: husband has no job, husband is irresponsible or common-law husband has other family.
Women resort to various abortion methods ranging from taking certain drugs or herbal preparations to approaching a ‘hilot’ (traditional midwife) to consulting a health practitioner like midwife, doctor or nurse. In Tuguegarao, Cagayan, there was a case of ‘hilot,’ who inserted a barbecue stick in a woman’s sex organ to induce abortion.
The 1982 hospital-based study found that among the women hospitalized as a result of induced abortion, most (46%) had gone to the ‘hilot’ for abortion. Some 15% of these induced cases were done by the midwives, and another 15% were done by the patients themselves. The rest were done by doctors or nurses. A significant 15% would not reveal who had done the abortion.
“Abortions cause deaths which can be prevented if women use contraceptives,” said Apcoc’s Affandi. “Family planning or contraception is a basic need in reproductive health, just like we need clean water and nutritious food,” he added.
Some 100,000 deaths from abortion-related complications are expected yearly, while 123 million women worldwide do not use contraceptives, with some unaware of their availability or benefits, Apcoc has found.
However, many religious extremists are quick to equate contraception (and family planning) with abortion. This is misleading. “Contraception and abortion are distinct from each other and blurring the line between the two is a tactic employed by religious extremists to dissuade people from using contraception,” points out the Advocate for Youth Philippines Foundation.
According to Apcoc, the reasons these women don’t use contraceptives or opt for riskier, less reliable methods include the lack of education about contraception; the cost of contraceptive pills and the economic situation of users; plus myths, misconceptions, religious and cultural beliefs relating to this activity.
Now, should abortion be legalized in the Philippines? The 1987 Constitution prohibits the legalization of abortion as well as any judicial nullification of any legislation prohibiting abortion. The Revised penal code defines abortion and prohibits it, as stated: “The State recognized the sanctity of family life… and shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”
Among those countries which allow abortions without restriction are: the United States, Canada, many European countries, Bahrain, South Africa, China and Italy (where the Vatican is located). Some studies have shown that pregnant women who can afford go to these countries to undergo abortion.
In the Philippines, an abortion performed out of medical necessity (that is, to save the life of the mother) is, according to the Supreme Court, not a criminal act. However, the law’s approach to abortion is “only prohibition,” focusing on the persons who bring about abortion.
To terminate or not to terminate, that is still the question. As Women’s Features Service Philippines puts it: “For Catholics, abortion is never a choice. For medical practitioners, abortion presents a dilemma for they have pledged to save lives. On the extreme side of the issue, some Catholics even claim that women’s rights are being used to destroy the family. There seems to be hope in passing a law to provide safe abortion services here in the still predominantly Catholic Philippines. Meanwhile, the women and children suffer.” — ###