The woman, the law and the unborn child

report released by the Center for Reproductive Rights revived an ongoing debate about reproductive health, particularly abortion. Now the Philippines whirls in a Roe-v-Wade-type of environment: to ban or to decriminalize? Pro-life advocates bill abortion as a desecration of the human dignity of life. The CRR report bills the ban on abortion as an abuse of human rights. So, who’s got it right?


The Law

The Revised Penal Code of the Philippines criminalizes abortion and mandates imprisonment for women who undergo the procedure (Article 256), as well as those who assist (Article 258) – including parents, physicians, midwives, etc.

(Of course no one has been jailed for abortion in recent years – although many have died. In parts of Latin America, however, women sit in jail for the “homicide” of their unborn children.)
The penal code was enacted in 1930 and remains in effect today. No laws exist to expressly authorize abortions for health reasons or when the woman’s life is endangered by the pregnancy, or in cases of incest or rape.

Notably, the constitutionality of abortion has not been challenged before the Supreme Court.
Debate over “where life begins” is legally moot, as the constitution expressly states that it is from the time of conception. Sec 12, Art II:

“[the State] shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

Which brings us back to our original dilemma: if they both should be equally protected under the law, then why do we have laws protecting the unborn but criminalizing the woman?

The Figures

Before we go on to the arguments, let’s look at the numbers in the Philippines:

  • About 70% of unwanted pregnancies end in abortion (WHO)
  • Pro-Life Philippines puts that number at 1 in every 4 pregnancies
  • Between 90,000-100,000 women who’ve had unsafe abortions are hospitalized every year (DOH)
  • In 2008, there were 560,000 abortions wherein 1,000 women died (CRR)

Most of these deaths are caused by complications from an “unsafe abortion,” which CRR defines as:

“…a procedure for terminating an unwanted pregnancy either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment lacking the minimal medical standards, or both.”

But in a predominantly Catholic country where abortions are stigmatized, and where the law criminalizes abortion, what other options do women have?
A pro-life advocate would respond, “that’s why you shouldn’t have an abortion.” A pro-rights advocate would say, “that’s why you should decriminalize it.”
(Note that I used the term “pro-rights” over “pro-choice.” Sometimes, abortion is not a choice, it’s necessary).


The Main Arguments

Pro-Life Philippines says this about why women have abortions:

  • For those who are married: to space pregnancies; too many children;
  • added financial burden.
  • For the unmarried: unwanted pregnancies.
  • Many have an abortion because the latter “interferes with occupation, studies, or employment.”

The main thrust of pro-life advocacy is the protection the unborn child’s life, the preservation of families, and upholding values.

On the other side of the fence, CRR reports that in the Philippines, most women have abortions to protect their health, or due to poverty, or to allow them to care for their existing children, or they are “unable to control their fertility through contraception.” They also point out the implications of criminalized abortion:

“[It leads] directly to the preventable deaths of thousands of women each year. In practical terms, children have needlessly lost their mothers, husbands have lost their wives, and parents have ost their daughters. While women’s reasons for abortion may vary, because of the criminal ban any decision to terminate a pregnancy leads in just one frightening direction— toward painful, risky, and potentially fatal methods of pregnancy termination.”

The reasons set out by Pro-Life Philippines are quite narrow and leaves out some important considerations. “Added financial burden” for one sounds petty, but it can be a matter of life a death for many of the country’s poor, who from the beginning did not have easy access to reproductive health education. “Unwanted pregnancy” is quite belaboring the point – if it was wanted, would it be aborted? What are the reasons behind it? Rape? Incest? Health concerns for the mother? No financial means for adequate pre-natal care? No available options for adoption?

At the same, there must be a balancing act between allowing abortions for those who truly need it, versus those who just see it as a “way out.” Pilar Versoza of Pro-Life Philippines, speaking to the New York Times in 2005, said that she believed abortion had become a “convenient option” for some women. It’s a risk, but the alternative is riskier.

Among CRR’s key findings is that “criminalization of abortion has nor prevented the procedure, but made it unsafe.” And indeed, some of the actions of pro-life groups have made safer abortion methods harder to come by. After intense lobbying, the popular abortifacient pill Cytotec available over the counter for 20 pesos, had been banned. They now cost up to six times as much per pill in the black market, leaving many more reasons to seek alternative methods of abortion, including DIY techniques.
Pro-Life admits that abortion is done by hilots and the women themselves. CRR reports:

“The most frequently used unsafe methods include painful abdominal massages by traditional midwives, inserting a catheter into the uterus, medically unsupervised consumption of Cytotec… to induce uterine contractions, and ingestion of herbs and other concoctions sold by street vendors. Common physical complications caused by these methods include hemorrhage, sepsis, perforation of the uterus, damage to other internal organs, and death.”

Why action cannot wait

According to Haydee Morales of Planned Parenthood,

“Instead of reducing the number of abortions, …draconian laws are simply forcing the procedure underground, making it unsafe and all too often deadly. Severe restrictions do not prevent abortion. They do not protect anyone. Instead they place women’s lives at risk. No matter how you feel about abortion, the truth of the matter is that restrictions on abortion don’t change the reasons women have them.”

The Guttmacher Institute says that restrictions on abortion do not reduce the incidence of abortion. In fact, the incidence of abortions drop in countries where nearly all abortions are safe and legal. Their studies show that the likelihood of women seeking abortion does not differ between developed and developing countries.

“But there are options,” Versoza said (in 2005). “Education is one, but the way sex education is being taught in school and in the media does not help. What is being imparted to our children is information, not values formation.”

How far can the state go in “teaching values” to its constituents, if at all? At the same time, the state cannot ignore such a significant health problem that is tied to its laws.

Our lawmakers should go back to the Constitution: “[the State] shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”We have the laws that protect the children. We also need laws that protect the women.

Felicity

  • Bert

    Basing from the conversations below I would hazard some guesses on where the guys stand on abortion:

    -Jeg is in favor of a law allowing abortion.
    -UP n is in favor of a law allowing abortion.
    GabbyD is not in favor.

    While me, I’m in favor of an abortion law in line with Jeg’s arguments.

    • Jeg

      Eh? Im afraid you missed my entire point, ole buddy. Im in favor of no law allowing abortion. I said the law could not possibly cover certain cases on principle.

      • UP nn grad

        That’s as wishy-washy-wishy-washy as one can get, Jeg. What does that mean exactly, your “… in favor of no law allowing abortion”? Does Jeg support those who want medical-science accepted procedures to be allowed in Pilipinas hospitals so ( someone’s maid who has been impregnated by her boss… or) a 35-year old woman with medical conditions has legal and safer choices other than those provided in some iskinata using clotheshangers and hilot-techniques?

        • UP nn grad

          The CBCP will label as pro-abortion any person who espouses “… out of the iskinata into hospitals”. I think you are pro-abortion, Jeg… just too chicken to admit it.

          • Jeg

            Lol. If you say so. 😀

  • UP nn grad

    and while you think cost-benefit analysis, also think of this one. Cars driving around metro-Manila and other cities of Pilipinas, emanating radiation.

    Used cars smuggled into Pilipinas from Japan…. emanating radiation.

  • GabbyD

    “Which brings us back to our original dilemma: if they both should be equally protected under the law, then why do we have laws protecting the unborn but criminalizing the woman?”

    seriously? ok, i’ll bite: because the fetus CANNOT commit a crime against the woman.

    • Jeg

      If you squint your eyes hard enough, youll see the ‘dilemma’. If for example the pregnancy is a definite threat to the life of the woman, then you have the dilemma. But this is easily solved when you leave the state out of it since in situations like this, when the law gives equal weight to mother and baby, the decision is with the individual. The woman can decide to kill the baby so she might live or let herself die so her baby might live. The decision is hers and in cases like this, the state shouldnt criminalize her decision or the people who helped her realize it.

      For victims of violence such as rape, the situation is not so clear cut but again I would favor, based purely on libertarian grounds, to not hold the woman or those who choose to help her criminally liable. She was the victim of violent aggression where the sperm cell could be viewed as a weapon of violence and we have a right to be free from violent aggression.

      For the other cases cited above, to wit:

      – For those who are married: to space pregnancies; too many children;
      – added financial burden.
      – For the unmarried: unwanted pregnancies.
      – Many have an abortion because the latter “interferes with occupation, studies, or employment

      these come under the law. Even if we’re not willing to jail the women, the social stigma attached to having an abortion due to selfishness, irresponsibility, or ignorance should remain. Abortion under these circumstances should never be socially acceptable. We can’t do anything about selfishness or irresponsibility, but we can do something about the ignorance.

      • GabbyD

        hi jeg, just to react 2 this:

        “when the law gives equal weight to mother and baby, the decision is with the individual. The woman can decide to kill the baby so she might live or let herself die so her baby might live. ”

        one party in this cannot speak for himself — the baby. when one party is this powerless, then we expect/hope a third party, perhaps that state, can come in to voice its side.

        when its the family’s decision, invariably, its to save the mother.

        i dont blame them. it’d make sense from their POV.

        after all, we dont really give much thought about other people we dont know. people, fully grown people, die all the time.

        even people whom we know, we’d say when/if they die, that person was so-and-so… but thats all.

        ano pa kaya kung baby na di mo naman kilala…

        • Jeg

          one party in this cannot speak for himself — the baby. when one party is this powerless, then we expect/hope a third party, perhaps that state, can come in to voice its side.

          On principle, I dont want the state involved in this decision. Should the state for example, in cases where having the baby would kill the woman, tell the woman that she should die? Im sure you dont think so. In any case, do you agree with me that this case doesnt come under the law and shouldnt be criminalized?

        • UP nn grad

          gabbyD: if you know how it is computed, then cost-benefit analysis will quickly lead to the conclusion out that the economic value of the adult woman is much more than the economic value of the unborn.

          For those who still want to argue blah-blah-blah, a simple illustration that an adult woman (unlike the unborn) already has gone through the expensive years when the person is a dependent and an expense for books, clothes, food, immunization and booster-shots, etcetera.

          • Jeg

            Lol. You crack me up, man.

        • GabbyD

          UP,

          depends. you have to factor in benefits, not just the costs. an older person has already benefited society. depreciated na. the new person has yet to benefit society.

          jeg,

          why not, “in principle”? what is the principle?

          my principle is simple — in a perfect world, we are all represented, let the political process occur. this process will lead to outcomes that might favor one person or another. but at least everyone can fight for what they want.

          in this example, one party LITERALLY cannot speak. this is analogous to slaves. in fact its worse — at least slaves can theoretically revolt and speak with their fists.

          now, there is a macheavellian idea that says,decisions are made by people who show up. here, one party LITERALLY cannot show up.

          there is even a starker macheavellian idea — if you cannot fight for your rights, then you shouldnt have them. i think this is something B0 might espouse, if he were to speak plainly.

          this is something i can respect, even as i ultimately reject. this philosophy is true ONLY BECAUSE men dont sympathise with other men. men can choose to look at another person and SEE another person there.

          but like i said, its a tough distasteful decision/discussion all around.

          who wants to say bad news? bad implications of our actions?

          • GabbyD

            just to add to this last part about the need to fight for one’s rights…

            in the case of the unborn, this argument is at its weakest.

            the unborn cannot fight, physically incapble of fighting.

            second, a critique of this world view.

            fighting for ones rights is “technically” a bad thing. the civil rights movement is of course a good thing, but the actions/bad blood/violence that came out of that/before that is totally regrettable ex post.

          • UP nn grad

            gabbyD: If RH were to become law tomorrow, it will not be said that the fetus was unrepresented. the fetus is fully-represented in Pilipinas RH fight to that point where it can actually said that the fetus is winning.

            If “out of the iskinita into hospitals” become fact in 2018, it can not be said that the fetus was unrepresented.