Should abortion for rape victims be legalized in PH?

Clara Rita Padilla
'The Philippines should repeal its laws that punish women and girls who have undergone abortions as a matter of public policy to save women’s lives'

In Paraguay, the issue of a 10-year old girl who became pregnant after being raped by her own father is stirring controversy.

Many Filipinos condemn women and girls who induce abortion not knowing that some of these women and girls are actually rape or incest victims. 

A Filipino woman or girl is raped every 72 minutes.

In 2014, the Philippine National Police (PNP) recorded 7,409 women who reported they were raped.  The PNP reported that rape accounted for almost 9% of all reported Violence Against Women (VAW) cases from 2004 to 2013. 

Meanwhile, the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey estimated 6% of women ages 15 to 49 reported having ever experienced sexual violence. (READ: Kids aren’t supposed to be for sex)

This is alarming, yet this may just be the tip of the iceberg as these numbers only refer to the rape victims who reported to the police. 

One of the glaring consequences of rape is unwanted pregnancy. Having been sexually abused, Filipino women and girls have resorted to unsafe and clandestine abortions to end their unwanted pregnancies while others have tried to commit suicide. 

A Women’s Crisis Center research showed that 83% of their women rape survivors have induced unsafe abortion.

For many people, rape seems very remote, something they only hear about in the news.  But for us who assist rape victims on a daily basis, it is very much a reality. 

Lawyers, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and police officers who assist rape victims witness the pain that these women suffer.  

Our country cannot deny rape survivors their right to terminate unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape. Our laws must provide rape survivors the right to decide what is good for their health and lives. These women and girls already suffered an extremely traumatic human rights violation. 

It is our duty as a state, regardless of one’s religious beliefs, to provide access to safe and legal abortion to rape survivors. If we don’t, these women and girls may die or be hospitalized due to complications from induced unsafe and clandestine abortion.

It is high time that we face the issue of access to safe and legal abortion as public health and human rights issues where women who are rape victims would have the freedom to access safe and legal abortion and not be denied by the state their right to decide for their health and lives.

Punishing women

Our restrictive criminal law on abortion having been based on the old Spanish Penal Code of 1870, not even religion, has prevented women from inducing unsafe and clandestine abortion.  

The illegality of abortion has not deterred women from terminating their unwanted pregnancies. It has only made it risky for Filipino women and girls. (READ: Isn’t time to legalize abortion in the PH?)

Based on the estimates of the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), more than half of all pregnancies in the Philippines were unintended and about 20% of these unintended pregnancies end up in abortion. 

The reality is that women and girls including married women, many of them Catholics, resort to unsafe and clandestine abortion to terminate their unwanted pregnancies. 

Based on the latest AGI report, there were 610,000 Filipino women who induced abortion in 2012, with 1,000 women dying from complications from unsafe abortion — that’s about 3 women dying each day.

Meanwhile, over 100,000 women were hospitalized due to complications from unsafe and clandestine abortions.

It has been reported in 2012 and 2013 that unsafe abortion was one of the top 3 obstetrics-gynecological cases in 8 out of 9 hospitals managed by the Department of Health (DOH).

The current Philippine law punishing women who induce abortion —without any clear exceptions and religious imposition of one’s beliefs —has been used by doctors to unlawfully deny post-abortion care to women and to threaten women with prosecution. 

Women suffering complications due to spontaneous abortion, abortion due to trauma from intimate partner violence, and even fetal death have also been denied access to post-abortion care and were threatened with criminal prosecution.

Contrary to the Hippocratic oath of doctors, some doctors violate and continue to violate their oath and the doctor-patient confidentiality by denying access to post-abortion care, threatening to report the women to the police — violating the clear provisions of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law to provide access to humane and non-judgmental post-abortion care.  

To save women’s lives and to comply with existing Philippine laws, doctors should provide humane and non-judgmental post-abortion care required under the RH Law. 

They must also stabilize women suffering from serious and emergency cases resulting from complications from unsafe and clandestine abortion required under Republic Act 8344, and to provide appropriate health services for pregnancy-related complications such as abortion required under the Magna Carta of Women.  

As a matter of public health, doctors should act as medical providers not police officers, otherwise, women will simply not seek medical attention and end up dying for fear of being prosecuted.

Health providers must keep abreast with our laws requiring appropriate post-abortion care and the DOH on the Policy on Prevention and Management of Abortion and its Complications (PMAC), which has been implemented since 2000 and trained public doctors from pilot hospitals to provide post-abortion care. 

DOH also has a program where national government–run hospitals such as Fabella and Bulacan Provincial Hospital manage special units treating abortion complications.

Saving women’s lives 

All of these laws and programs providing post-abortion care save women’s lives.

Contrary to the misconception of doctors, there is no law requiring doctors to report women who induce abortion. Presidential Decree 169 requires medical practitioners who treated serious or less serious physical injuries covered under articles 262 to 265 of the Revised Penal Code to report injury, diagnosis, and treatment.  

But such articles do not refer to abortion.

Other predominantly Catholic countries and former Spanish colonies have liberalized their laws on abortion, with Spain legalizing abortion on request during the first 14 weeks of the pregnancy in 2010.

Other predominantly Catholic countries like Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, Costa Rica, and Ireland and former Spanish colonies such as Uruguay and Colombia also allow abortion on certain grounds — leaving the Philippines to contend with its antiquated colonial Spanish law.

Asian countries like China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam all have liberal abortion laws. Cambodia, Indonesia, and Thailand have also recently liberalized their laws to allow abortion on certain grounds. 

Some people mistakenly believe that the Philippine Constitution prohibits abortion because of the provision on equal protection of the life of the woman and the unborn from conception. On the contrary, other countries with constitutions and laws explicitly protecting the life of the unborn or life from conception allow abortion under certain exceptions such as Ireland, Slovak Republic, Poland, Kenya, Hungary, and Costa Rica.

Take this case in Peru as an example. In the complaint of LC vs Peru filed with the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), LC was 13 when a 34-year-old man started sexually abusing her.  

She became pregnant as a result of the rape and — in a state of depression — attempted suicide by jumping from a building, suffering spinal injuries with “a risk of permanent disability.” Despite her serious and deteriorating condition, her doctors refused to perform an operation because she was pregnant and denied her request for therapeutic abortion. LC then miscarried spontaneously.  

In 2009, CEDAW recommended Peru to provide reparation to LC, and to review its laws to establish effective access to therapeutic abortion, to include protocols to ensure health services are available and accessible in public facilities, and to decriminalize abortion when the pregnancy results from rape.

In 2006, CEDAW also recommended for the Philippines to remove its punitive provisions imposed on women who induce abortion and to provide access to quality services for the management of complications arising from unsafe abortions in order to reduce maternal mortality rates.

And in the 2014 CEDAW report on the inquiry on reproductive rights violations in the Philippines, it recommended for the Philippines to amend articles 256 to 259 of the Revised Penal Code to “legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life and/or health of the mother, or serious malformation of the fetus and decriminalize all other cases where women undergo abortion.” (READ: PH accountable for Manila’s reproductive rights violations)

As a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Philippines should repeal its laws that punish women and girls who have undergone abortions as a matter of public policy to save women’s lives. –

Clara “Claire” Rita Padilla is the founder and executive director of EnGendeRights, a non-governmental organization championing women’s rights. She holds a Juris Doctor degree from the Ateneo de Manila University and has been practicing law for over 21 years, working in the field of gender, gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.

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