Abortion, a question of morality and human right (abridged)

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photo from Rappler.com

Fourteen women and one gay man sat down together to discuss abortion.  In this gathering of 15 people, two of them actually had an abortion. One of them terminated her pregnancy because she was too young to have a baby and still had a full life and prosperous career ahead of  her, the other a single mother who was certain she could only afford to give a decent life to one child.  Four had been approached once or twice, by friends or a sister to either give advice or to help look for clinics that perform abortions; five have relatives or friends who terminated their pregnancies; two had a relative and friends who had died after a procedure; one planned to abort her pregnancy but decided to push through with it anyway; one almost never made it to this planet when her mother took abortifacient drugs while pregnant with her.  Reasons for the pregnancies were varied, i.e.teenage pregnancy, condom failure and forced sex.

The stories the 14 women and a gay man shared about themselves or their friends and relatives is a telling sign that abortion, though spoken about in hushed tones, is a reality that is happening in my country. It happens across economic strata and levels of education.  It has been reported that in 2011, there had been 600,000 women who had an abortion, 100,000 of them suffered complications, that led to the death of 1000.

Under the Philippine Revised Penal Code enacted in 1930, abortion is a criminal act, a woman caught and those assisting her would have to serve time in jail.  Post-abortion treatment is not provided by hospitals.  There are cases when women went to a hospital suffering from complications of unsafe abortion who were denied medical attention, rudely treated and sent out to go look for other hospitals who would dare attend to them.  And that is after making them sign a waiver that the hospital is freed from any responsibility if they died.

My country had a long battle for the passage of Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law 2012 (RH Law) because according to those who are opposed to it the law promotes abortion, which of course is denied by its advocates.   Quite to the contrary, the RH Law could actually curtail cases of abortion if sexual education and contraceptives are made available to avoid unwanted pregnancies.  The law is pending implementation while the Supreme Courts decides on its constitutionality because the 1987 Philippine Constitution says that the State shall equally protect the life of the mother and that of the unborn.   In the meantime, provision of appropriate reproductive health services and education about responsible parenthood – which includes sexuality education and proper information on family planning methods, and post-abortion care -  will have to take a back seat.   One repercussion is that unwanted pregnancies will continue, and so will clandestine and unsafe abortion practice.

Abortion is highly stigmatized here and I believe one reason, is because we are pre-dominantly Christian; religion plays an important part in the lives of Filipinos and religious leaders have a heavy influence on their followers/believers.  Although the Constitution provides equal protection to the mother and the unborn, society as a rule gives more weight to the protection of the unborn, even if the ‘unborn’ is a product of rape, marital rape, incest, or accidental pregnancy due to lack of access to contraceptives.  Regardless of the consequence abortion under our current laws is a criminal and immoral act. 

 But what is moral and legal?  Is it moral to subject a woman to a life-long ordeal looking at and taking care of the progeny of her rapist?  Is it moral to give life to a baby that will have to compete with 21 other siblings for a morsel of rice because his or her parents could not give them adequate food? Is it moral to force an 11 year-old girl to take care of her baby when she should be playing and studying in school?  Is it legal to just wait for a woman to die to save the fetus in her womb that is putting her life at risk? Is it moral to deny men and women information so they can enjoy sex without fear of accidental pregnancy  or so they can plan spacing of children? Is it legal to deny medical treatment and care to a woman who is bleeding to death due to unsafe abortion procedures? Is it moral to prevent a woman from making decisions for her own body?  Under our current laws, these are all moral and legal.  That is the unfortunate fact.

What is contentious about this abortion issue is the question of “when does life begin?’ and the right to life of a fetus.  The whole morality thing is premised on the assumption that life begins at conception. For the fundamentally religious life begins from coitus – charge this to what the holy book says about procreation – Go and multiply.  Given our Constitution, embryos and fetuses have equal right to life as any human being.  The question is whose rights need to be respected and protected when there is a conflict?  Whose interest and welfare will be upheld?  Is the right to a life of dignity respected when the State controls the decision of a woman over her body? 

For the 14 women and the gay man, safe abortion and post-abortion care should not be denied to a woman seeking this when her entire life is at stake, or for when she is certain she cannot give her child a decent life if she continued her pregnancy.  She should not be regarded as criminal if they valued her more than the embryo or the fetus inside her.  Make no mistake, these 14 women and the gay man are not pushing for a killing spree. Some of them are very religious, but recognize that between a potential life and a breathing human, the latter’s rights takes precedence.  What is immoral is to commit the potential life to a potential life of misery, especially if the government and the religious who are strongly opposing abortion for any reason, cannot provide for adequate basic services to ensure that every baby born will be able to enjoy a dignified life.  

While we are trapped in the debate, many women would still seek an abortion albeit unsafe and illegal, for reasons mentioned above, and stand to face stigmatization.   That is if they even survived from complications and are not able to access post-abortion care.  

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