women's rights

[DASH of SAS] Abortion is an open secret

Ana P. Santos
[DASH of SAS] Abortion is an open secret
Chances are, you know a woman or are friends with a woman who has needed an abortion

In the eyes of the law, abortion is a crime. In the reality of women’s lives as told in tentative whispers and in hushed conversations, abortion is an open secret.

From the poetic irony of the herbal concoctions openly sold in market stalls in front of Quiapo Church. To the whisper network in the grassroot communities where everyone knows someone who knows someone who can perform an abortion. To the online space, where, as this I-Witness documentary showed, abortion pills are bought and sold through PM and delivered via courier.

The Philippines has one of the most restrictive laws when it comes to abortion. It is one of the remaining countries where women who access abortion and the healthcare staff who provide abortion services can be punished with fines and up to six years of imprisonment. There is no space for exceptions in cases of rape or incest, and though therapeutic abortions or medically accepted reasons to save a woman’s life are allowed, many doctors remain silent about this medical alternative. 

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Restricting abortion does not prevent it. Data shows that there were 610,000 induced abortions in the Philippines in 2012. Abortion is an essential medical procedure that when done safely, is relatively low risk. However, restricting abortion has forced women to seek underground and often unsafe abortions. The consequence of this is the recorded 100,000 women hospitalized due to complications related to unsafe abortions and resulting in 1,000 women dying.

Who are the women who may need an abortion? Far from the common representation of these women as being poor, uneducated, loose women who have lost their moral compass, these women are just like you and me. Studies show that 1 in 4 women will need an abortion by the time she reaches age 45. At some point over the course of their reproductive lives, women may need to acces an abortion.

That’s because abortion as an essential medical procedure may be needed, for several reasons such as a pregnancy jeopardizing the women’s health and life; the fetus won’t survive or will suffer life-threatening complications; and spontaneous abortion which requires post abortion care. Other reasons include failed birth control or instances of rape. 

In this Rappler episode of Telling My Abortion Story, two women came forward to talk about their abortion experience.

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In both instances, Sheila and Candice’s (not their real names) families were generally supportive of their decision. Both women felt relief rather than regret about their abortion and wished that other women would have the same kind of options available to them.

If you ask around enough and offer a secure, non-judgmental space where women can feel safe sharing, chances are you will find someone like Sheila and Candice – someone you know, are related to, are friends with, or care about who has needed an abortion. 

I know I have. One woman shared that her pregnancy was a high-risk one. The fetus’s heart had stopped beating and an abortion was necessary. Her pregnancy was life-threatening. The doctor chose not to perform the procedure, which she felt unnecessarily endangered her life.

Another woman reached out to me after reading my column about therapeutic abortions to tell me that her pregnancy had to be terminated. There was no way that the fetus would survive and the longer that she waited, the more likely that her life would be endangered. She and her partner both wanted and were prepared for the pregnancy. She was upset by the doctors telling her that she needed to terminate the pregnancy to save her life but they could not perform the procedure.

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She and her partner were exploring abortion overseas in either Hong Kong or Malaysia. Both of us thought of the other women faced with this dilemma who did not have the resources or option to access an abortion overseas.

I still remember her telling me, “I went to different doctors. They told me the same thing. I needed to terminate the pregnancy to save my life, but they could not perform it. One doctor could not even say ‘abortion’ and kept referring to the procedure as the ‘A-word.’”

In another instance, a woman said that after having three children, she had unexpectedly become pregnant. She and her husband talked about their options and both had come to the conclusion that getting an abortion was the best choice for them.

In a dinner with two other women, both disclosed that they had had an abortion and were grateful that they lived in a country that allowed women the freedom of bodily autonomy.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes abortion as an essential health service. The WHO recently released Abortion Care Guidelines for the provision of abortion care. The WHO recommended against laws and other regulations that  restrict abortion by grounds and further recommended that abortion be available on the request of the woman, girl, or other pregnant person. 

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Recently, abortion has come into the social discourse as an electoral issue.

Senatorial candidate Luke Espirtu came into the picture saying that it is time we stop controlling women’s bodies and minds. “Now, women should decide,” Espiritu was quoted as saying. 

[DASH of SAS] Abortion is an open secret

The Robredo sisters, Aika and Tricia, also came forward with their own nuanced position on abortion. 

Ang unfair na i-blame natin sa bata ‘yung [pregnancy], tapos ‘yung youth nya robbed sa kanya. Ang dami tuloy nagre-resort to extreme and unhealthy means na nag-e-endanger ng buhay,” said Tricia Robredo.

(It is unfair to blame a young person for a pregnancy and rob them of their youth. As a result, there are many who resort to extreme and unhealthy means which endanger their lives.)

Paano naman ’yung iba? It goes beyond us. ’Yung policy na ’yun would concern other females,” said Aika Robredo. (What about the others? It goes beyond us. The policy would concern other females.)

As these stories show, there are various reasons a woman may need an abortion over the course of her life. Abortion is an essential medical service. It should be treated as one – Rappler.com

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