Let’s talk about abortion

by Ana Santos, Sex & Sensibilities

In a nation among the only remaining 6% of the world where abortion is illegal and where even “condom” is an emotionally-laced word, it wasn’t surprising that the topic of abortion drew first blood among many.

There was the usual name-calling of “baby killers” and “murderers with no moral conscience”, which was expected. Check the comments of a news article about abortion.

At a recent round-table discussion hosted by Likhaan Women’s Health Center,RH advocates discussed the issue.  Sharon Camp, President of Guttmacher Institute, presented the current global statistics on abortion, after which, we watched a video called “Agaw Buhay”  (“Fighting for Life”), a documentary about three women – one of whom was a doctor – who got an unsafe abortion and later died from it.

Even among this group of university professors, NGO leaders, and civil society groups, we needed to clarify certain ambiguities.

This article aims to share the highlights of that afternoon’s discussion with you so that you may have a better understanding of abortion. More importantly, it hopes to shed some light on the anguish and torment that comes with contemplating abortion – which is often overlooked in the discussion of this controversial issue.

There is a difference between abortion on demand and abortion for medically acceptable reasons or in the case of rape or incest or mental illness.

This abortion map shows the countries where abortion is legal on demand (like in the United States and Europe) and other countries where it is legal only for certain reasons.

In the Philippines, abortion is illegal and punishable by law. A woman who has an abortion is liable to be punished with imprisonment of up to 6 years and what’s more medical officials who assist her are liable to have their license revoked. It is a direct adaptation from the Spanish Penal Code.

So all abortions in the Philippines are, for the most part, done unsafely.  Those who-have-not resort to all sorts of herbal concoctions and clandestine backroom procedures. Those who-have fly off to any of the other countries where abortion is legal on demand to have the medical procedure done in a safe and hygienic environment.

RH Bill supporters who advocate for abortion on health grounds have drawn a fine line in the RH Bill: i.e. that while the bill did not try to legalize abortion for any ground, at least the law would help prevent abortion and treat post-abortion women without judgement.

There are valid medical reasons why a woman would need an abortion.

During the round–table discussion, one woman shared her own experience where she needed to have a pregnancy terminated. She was not a skimpily dressed teenager who had let a hot date turn into a due date.

She was a woman was in her late 30s to early 40s, married, and a professor at a leading Catholic university.

Several years ago, she was diagnosed as having an ectopic pregnancy. Her doctor told her that there was no way the ovum was going to survive, but because abortion is illegal, the pregnancy could not be terminated. The only option presented to her was to wait for her condition to get worse.

She suffered through excruciating pain over the next couple of days until finally, the pregnancy was terminated. She asked the doctors present in the room if there was really no other choice for her.

The doctors in the room, who included former Department of Health Secretary Alberto Romualdez and POGS President, Dr.  Reggie Pitchay were all mortified.

Dr. Pitchay categorically said, “That is a life-threatening condition and pregnancy should have been terminated immediately upon diagnosis.” Dr. Pitchay added, “Even if it is Black Saturday!” just to emphasize her point.

Another doctor explained that the international medical definition of when life starts is upon the implantation of the blastocyst in the uterus and not at conception. In this case, the ovum had implanted itself in the fallopian tube and not in the proper place of the uterus.

According to Atty. Beth Pangalangan of the UP College of Law, the legal definition of life according to the Constitution is only at birth or when life actually exists.

This is one example of a life-threatening condition that would classify as a valid medical reason to terminate a pregnancy. Waiting for the condition to worsen endangered that woman’s life.

Rape and incest are considered valid reasons for terminating a pregnancy.


A while back, one man, a former colleague, begged me to ask him about his opinion on allowing abortion in the case of rape or incest. He wanted to tell me that he was not in favor of it because  women might pretend they were raped just to get an abortion.

Pro Choice

Saying that we shouldn’t let rape victims get an abortion because others might pretend to have been raped is like saying that we should outlaw alcohol because people are, for sure, going to get piss drunk and do some really crazy things, like drive under the influence and put their life and the lives of others at risk.

As Dr. Junice Melgar, Executive Director of Likhaan said, “Judgment and condemnation like this trivializes the decision and the anguish that comes with deciding to have an abortion. There is no woman out there who dreams of having one.”

And finally, the current classification of abortion as illegal has unimaginable ramifications on women who suffer from abortion-related complications.

They are publicly humiliated in hospitals, brutally reprimanded (some report being slapped by health care officials) and sometimes even refused treatment despite their critical condition.

One story in “Agaw Buhay” was about a doctor who had undergone an illegal abortion. She suffered from complications and was hospitalized. She stayed in the charity ward and actually refused to be transferred to the private room which was being offered to her by colleagues who learned she was a doctor. She preferred to stay anonymous in the charity ward where she literally just withered away until she became very pale, and later, her extremities turned a deep shade of purple.

After a few days, she died.

That woman was a doctor. She was educated and presumably someone with adequate means. Poorer women report of similar and at times, much worse treatment.

Gunshot patients are treated without the need to know if the patient is the perpetrator or the law enforcer. The goal is simply to save a human life.

Why should a woman’s life – endangered because of abortion complications – come to mean any less?

Highlights of the Guttmacher Institute Presentation
As presented by Sharon Camp, President of the Guttmacher Institute

60% of women live in regions where the abortion laws are liberal
6% of countries where there is no access to safe and legal abortions (the Philippines is included here)
42 million abortions worldwide – about half of  which are unsafe
20 million unsafe abortions occur in the developing countries
4 in 10 women who undergo unsafe abortions experience complications
Poor women are disadvantaged and are most likely to experience serious abortion complications.

In the Philippines, there are:

560,000 induced abortions every year
90,000 treatments at facilities for abortion complications
1,000 deaths
______
let’s talk abortion,” was first published on August 11, 2010 by Ana Santos, Founder & Editorial Director of Sex and Sensibilities. The entry is republished here with permission from Ms. Santos.

Ana links being a sexual health advocate to her stint as a dating & relationship columnist for a men’s magazine for four years. During this time, she realized that there was a need for intelligent, culturally sensitive information about sexual and reproductive health.  Her full-length features on HIV/AIDS awareness, safer sex, reproductive health and other women’s issues have been published in Marie Claire, Women’s Health Philippines, Playboy, Metro, among others. She also maintains a weekly column in The Manila Times called “The Single Files”.

As a correspondent for international media agencies, Ana also writes about armed conflict and internal violence in Mindanao.

Ana graduated with degree in Journalism from the University of the Philippines.

Image used, under fair use

Guest Writer

  • Bert

    “The thesis: “A fertilized egg in the fallopian tube is a person already, and, as such, cannot be allowed by law to be aborted.”

    To give you a direct answer to your question, GabbyD, here it is:

    I disagree with that thesis because:

    1. A fertilized egg in the fallopian tube has no chance of becoming a person like you and me, so won’t matter whether.

    2. If it’s not aborted, it will kill the woman.

    3. If there is no law allowing the abortion to be done in such cases, doctors will always be hesitant to do the operation, fearsome of the repercussions that the anti-abortion law might entail, thus
    endangering the woman.

    4. If there is a specific law allowing it to be done legally, then
    the better and easier for everyone concerned.

    Now it’s my turn to ask you another question. What gives you the idea that a fertilized egg inside the fallopian tube is “a person” already? Can you give us a link?

  • Bert

    The thesis: “A fertilized egg in the fallopian tube is a person already, and, as such, cannot be allowed by law to be aborted.”

    “tama? so ituloy natin — why do you disagree?”-GabbyD

    Aw, GabbyD, bumalik na tayo sa umpisa. Ito ang sagot ko sa’yo noong Sept. 27, 2010 at 2:28 pm, ito pa rin ang sagot ko ngayon:

    “You don’t need it? Aw, come on, Gabby, aren’t you being illogical? Do you really want to keep on doing something which you think is wrong just because there are mitigating circumstances that says it’s ok, when all that has to be done is an enabling law that will make the wrong be right? What’s wrong with doing something right according to the law without having to worry about the presence or absence of mitigating circumstances?”

    Ito pa ang isang sagot ko sa’yo, Sept. 27, 2010 at 2;41 pm

    “Several years ago, she was diagnosed as having an ectopic pregnancy. Her doctor told her that there was no way the ovum was going to survive, but because abortion is illegal, the pregnancy could not be terminated. The only option presented to her was to wait for her condition to get worse.”-from Ana Santos, the author

    “See, GabbyD? And you said an abortion law for that is not needed? Would you always want to wait for her condition to get worse?

    Have a heart, GabbyD.”

    Nakakapagod namang makipag-usap sa’yo, GabbyD. Paulit-ulit.

    Ikaw ba, bakit ka ba agree sa thesis na iyan? Wala ka pang sinasagot sa tanong ko.

    Do you think a fertilized egg in the fallopian tube has an iota of a chance to becoming “a person”, as you said, and survive, which could justify endangering the life of the mother? I think there is no chance for survival, zero, zilch. Are you going to disagree with that, too? Can you tell us why it has a chance to survive to become a person like you and me?

    I will reiterate with my assertion that anyone, priest, catholic, religious, or not, anyone, who will OPPOSE an abortion law for REASON that a fertilized egg inside the fallopian tube is “a person” and therefore cannot be terminated is insane.

    Do you think, GabbyD, that I’m the one insane for saying that?

  • GabbyD

    yes, i remember the argument. lets move the argument forward.

    sabi mo you disagree with this: “To make it short, GabbyD, here is the thesis that we are talking about: “A fertilized egg in the fallopian tube is a person already, and, as such, cannot be allowed by law to be aborted.””

    tama? so ituloy natin — why do you disagree?

  • Bert

    “@ bert
    this is what i’m saying. you dont need it. its understood that there are mitigating circumstances in which doing a wrong thing is ok.”-GabbyD, Sept. 27

    “oo nga. kahapon pang 100% clear you disagree. the question is why? what is your reason and your arguments?”-GabbyD, Sept. 30

    Why, GabbyD? You don’t know why? Simple lang, I’ll remind you of what you wrote, para maalaala mo. Noong kamakalawa lang, Sept. 27, 2010 to be exact, nakalimutan mo na ang sinulat mo.

    You said you don’t need an abortion law, and I ask you why not, because I am perplex such a law still does not exist. That’s why. I hope that’s clear enough already.

    My argument is that there should be a law allowing abortion for ectopic pregnancy and other medically justifiable reasons, and you said it’s not needed. So we have an argument about that, do you remember?

  • GabbyD

    “I disagree with that thesis, while, it seems, you’re agreeing with it. Are you?”

    oo nga. kahapon pang 100% clear you disagree. the question is why? what is your reason and your arguments?

  • Bert

    To make it short, GabbyD, here is the thesis that we are talking about: “A fertilized egg in the fallopian tube is a person already, and, as such, cannot be allowed by law to be aborted.”

    Isn’t that the subject of our discussion?

    I disagree with that thesis, while, it seems, you’re agreeing with it. Are you?

  • Bert

    Now, GabbyD, we’re going into semantics, aren’t we? :).

    This has nothing to do with philosophers, mind you. This is just about your assertion that groups opposed to an abortion law allowing abortion to be done on a ectopic pregnancy case will oppose such law with a claim that “a fertilized egg inside the fallopian tube is ‘a person already’ therefore cannot be aborted, which, if I understand it right, you think should be a valid claim. Do you think, GabbyD, that it is a valid claim? And do you really think that they will do that kind of claim?

  • GabbyD

    insanity? setting aside the issue of the LAW, lets hear it: why is an unborn child NOT a person? what is a person? Why is that “person” a person?

    bonus points if u can cite moral philosophers to bolster your case.

  • Bert

    “the law posits that the person IN the womb is a PERSON, in the same way that anyone OUTSIDE the womb is a person.”

    Ah, GabbyD, you are ascribing insanity to those religious and catholic groups, aren’t you? For what else would they be if they could think a fertilized egg in the fallopian tube a person already, and imposed such reasoning in opposing this abortion law we’re talking about. I think I’ll have to disagree with you on that.

  • GabbyD

    “that it’s reasonable to conclude that no congressman or senator would dare sponsor or approve such kind of legislation related to murder or theft fearing a backlash from public opinion, “….

    “On the other hand, what obvious reason could possibly be used by those concerned groups to oppose an abortion law that would legally allow abortion on ectopic pregnancy cases ”

    the reason this kind of legislation related to murder wont work is the SAME reason it will be opposed in the case of abortion. the law posits that the person IN the womb is a PERSON, in the same way that anyone OUTSIDE the womb is a person.

  • Bert

    Except, GabbyD, that it’s reasonable to conclude that no congressman or senator would dare sponsor or approve such kind of legislation related to murder or theft fearing a backlash from public opinion, specially from the catholics and the religious, who definitely and vehemently I’m sure would oppose such law for obvious reason. On the other hand, what obvious reason could possibly be used by those concerned groups to oppose an abortion law that would legally allow abortion on ectopic pregnancy cases and other medically acceptable reasons? Wala, ‘di ba? That’s the reason why I said it’s so perplexing such a law does not exist up to now.

  • GabbyD

    @bert,

    sure. you can try to do that for murder, theft also… list down the circumstances where its ok to do those things and turn it into a law.

  • Bert

    “Several years ago, she was diagnosed as having an ectopic pregnancy. Her doctor told her that there was no way the ovum was going to survive, but because abortion is illegal, the pregnancy could not be terminated. The only option presented to her was to wait for her condition to get worse.”

    See, GabbyD? And you said an abortion law for that is not needed? Would you always want to wait for her condition to get worse?

    Have a heart, GabbyD.

  • Bert

    “this is what i’m saying. you dont need it. its understood that there are mitigating circumstances in which doing a wrong thing is ok.”-GabbyD

    You don’t need it? Aw, come on, Gabby, aren’t you being illogical? Do you really want to keep on doing something which you think is wrong just because there are mitigating circumstances that says it’s ok, when all that has to be done is an enabling law that will make the wrong be right? What’s wrong with doing something right according to the law without having to worry about the presence or absence of mitigating circumstances?

  • GabbyD

    @bert

    this is what i’m saying. you dont need it. its understood that there are mitigating circumstances in which doing a wrong thing is ok.

  • Bert

    “There is a difference between abortion on demand and abortion for medically acceptable reasons or in the case of rape or incest or mental illness.”

    What’s so perplexing is the absence of an abortion law allowing abortion for medically acceptable reason such as ectopic pregnancy. Is there nobody in congress who has the guts to propose such necessary law? I don’t think any sane person, priest or layman, will have the moral persuasion to oppose it, or any other reason for that matter. Will they oppose it?

  • GabbyD

    yes, generally abortion is illegal.

    however, there are exceptions/mitigations in the penal code for things that are generally illegal. ectopic pregnancy, where there is NO CHOICE but to abort to save the life of the woman falls under these categories.

  • Felicity

    Ana — “According to Atty. Beth Pangalangan of the UP College of Law, the legal definition of life according to the Constitution is only at birth or when life actually exists.”

    The constitution says AT MOMENT OF CONCEPTION.. well, it doesn’t say life but it says protection should be accorded to the unborn from the moment of conception…

  • Felicity

    Ana, love the graphic. No uterus no opinion dapat yan e haha

  • Felicity

    Technically the law forbids it, but law enforces “look the other way” (much like they do other things).
    But if someone wants to, say, sue the mother or the doctor, the plaintiff has the law on their side.

    See my blog on the law and abortion ban in the philippines: http://propinoy.net/2010/08/05/the-woman-the-law-and-the-unborn-baby-the-abortion-ban-in-the-philippines/

  • GabbyD

    re: ectopic pregnancy

    i think doctors are allowed to perform abortions in this case no? to protect the life of the mother? in these cases, its not abortion if, to save the mother, you must kill the fertilized egg (which will never come to term anyway coz its not, and never will be, in the uterus).

  • Arrogance: moralists who believe they have a right to tell a woman what is best for her, when they do not have to deal with her emotions or life circumstances, which are often despair and crushing poverty.

    They ought to channel their passionate drive into education, not engage in moralistic whippings, spewing of guilts upon the helpless, and wailing about situations that they obviously cannot comprehend.