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.
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