(True Stories of Abortion in the Philippines)
It was 1984 and Gelle was barely 17 when she “killed” her first baby. The procedure was through saline solution (considered one of the riskiest abortion methods invented) and paid P1, 500 for it. At that time, she had to pawn her watch, a necklace given by her mom, and sold a new cassette tape recorder to be able to pay the midwife who performed the procedure. Although she was “in love” with the young man who impregnated her, she was very sure that she wasn’t ready for motherhood. Aside from not being ready, she was the reigning campus queen and the editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. She couldn’t allow an untimely pregnancy to take her away from the limelight of a campus celebrity. Thus, the decision to have the fetus aborted.
Minerva was 27 when she decided to see a “hilot” and undergo the “killer massage.” This is the most painful method of abortion, the most popular in the Philippines, and the cheapest technique of killing a fetus. Minerva was already married and the terminated fetus was supposedly her third child. However, at that time, she was bound for Oman to seek greener pastures. For Minerva, the pregnancy came at an inconvenient period. She thought at that time that she couldn’t risk her future and her dreams. She’d rather risk the baby.
Gelle and Minerva are just two of the hundreds of thousands of Filipino women who have unplanned pregnancies that take place every year. All of these women face a tough choice — either give birth to a child they are not prepared or able to care for, or resort to a secret, and frequently precarious, method of aborting the baby in the womb.
Facts and Figures
It is grueling to directly assess the exact number of abortions performed in the Philippines. This is because both the women involved and the practitioners/providers do not report the procedure. The latest research on national abortion prevalence in the Philippines employed indirect estimation methods and utilized hospital records to appraise a rate of 27 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 2000, with lower and upper estimates of 22 and 31 abortions per 1,000 women. Particularly, this rate was significantly higher than a more contemporary projection of the unsafe abortion rate in Southeastern Asia in general (22 abortions per 1,000 women), signifying that the Philippines may have more risky abortions than some neighboring countries. Forecasts, based on the 2000 national abortion ratio and taking into account population increases, estimated that 560,000 abortions took place in 2008 and 610,000 abortions in 2012 (UN Population Division, 2011; Center for Reproductive Lives, 2010; Juarez et al., 2005).
Gelle and Minerva: Post-Abortion
When asked if she felt remorse on what she did, Gelle’s answer came as a little bit of a surprise. “No, I never felt guilty about what I did. I believe that was the best option for me at that time…my boyfriend was a happy-go-lucky person and I just can’t imagine him being a responsible and caring father to my kid…I’d rather lose the baby to death than allow him to lead an uncertain life.” But a few minutes after what she said, she added, “but from time to time, I do think about that baby…how he would look like when he grows up, how he would become, how I would treat him and how we would be as mother and son…” (There was a trace of sadness in Gelle’s face when she said this). Then tears fell which she immediately wiped off her face, trying her best to appear strong and not regretting from her decision. She ended this part of the interview by saying that “it may be a mistake and a sin to kill that baby…I’m not really sure… I did what I had to do and paid a huge price for it.”
Unlike Gelle, Minerva was quite regretful of her abortion, perhaps because she was already a mother to two beautiful children when she had that procedure. She already had an idea how it is to be a mother and killing that baby in 1991 was painful to her, physically and emotionally. From memory, she recapped what she went through. “It was just so painful every time the hilot’s hands touched my abdomen. It was like she was digging, plowing and excavating something out of my stomach all at once. If I was in twisting agony, how much pain did my baby feel; clueless to what was happening to him/her?….that baby never had the chance (she was saying these words in between sobs)…I never knew if the baby was a boy or a girl because when I finally did the final “push” (as instructed by the hilot), all I can see was a fist-size spherical blood and several tiny pieces of bloody filaments. It was then I realized that the ‘killer massage’ the hilot did to me was intended to crush, ground and batter the baby to extinction.”
Scientists and scholars from the Guttmacher Institute and the University of the Philippines Population Institute projected that more than 470,000 abortions were performed in the Philippines in the year 2000.
This assessment was established primarily on patient records representing post-abortion care from more than 1,000 hospitals all over the country. But not every Filipina needs or successfully obtains treatment after an abortion, hospitalization numbers alone do not capture the extent, enormity, and frequency of abortions in the Philippines. In 2010, the number of hospitalizations due to abortion situations was estimated at 90,000. This elevated the projected occurrence of abortions to 560,000 in that year alone.
In part, Sec. 12, Article II of the 1987 Philippine Constitution stipulates, “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”
Abortion is forbidden by Philippine law. Articles 256, 258 and 259 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines commands imprisonment for women who submit to abortion, along with any person who contributes/helps in any way in the procedure. Article 258 additionally enforces a higher prison time on the woman or her parents if the abortion is carried out “in order to conceal [the woman’s] dishonor.”
There is no law in the Philippines that explicitly permits abortions to save a woman’s life; and the broad-spectrum stipulations which do punish abortion have no specific qualifications if and when the woman’s life is imperiled. While it can be contended that an abortion to save a mother’s life is a mitigating situation that should block criminal prosecution under the Revised Penal Code, it has yet to be resolved by the country’s Supreme Court.
Plans for Liberalization
Suggestions to ease up Philippine abortion laws have faced strong opposition by the Catholic Church and other Christian church goers, the kind of resistance that has substantial effect in a principally Christian nation. Presently, the constitutionality of abortion constraints has yet to be defied before the Philippine Supreme Court.
Many Filipinos condemn Filipino women and girls who resort to abortion not knowing that some of these women and girls are rape or incest victims or are abused women in intimate relationships. For countless Filipinos though, whether a woman has been raped or voluntarily gave herself to a sexual partner does not matter. Abortion is murder, abortion is a sin, and abortion should be stopped. Filipinos can be very closed minded about this issue and there is nothing much that can be done about it.
For the women who experienced abortions, there is no point in being remorseful. It is futile to always feel guilty about it, after all, it has been done, and therefore, it cannot be undone. Women should not allow these painful memories to become scars that erratically inflict agony. Instead, they should make these memories as stepping stones to becoming a more mature person, a person who made tough choices and a person who knows how to pay the price of one’s decisions.
For those who are in “crisis situations” brought about by an untimely pregnancy, always bear in mind – what you need to eliminate is the crisis, not the baby.
Written by Gemma Minda Iso
Gemma Minda Iso, a freelance writer for over 12 years, has published one book and is about to launch her second. She does project-based in-depth research works for foreign clients, writes a column for a local newspaper and speeches for government officials and private company executives. Currently, she dabbles with her events management start-up and is kept busy with her Toastmasters International-related activities.
Population Division, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, File 5B: female population by single age, major area, region and country, annually for 1950–2010 (thousands), medium-fertility variant, 2011–2100, in World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision, CD-ROM, New York: United Nations, 2011.
Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), Forsaken Lives: The Harmful Impact of the Philippines Criminal Abortion Ban, New York: CRR, 2010.
Juarez F et al., The incidence of induced abortion in the Philippines: Current level and recent trends, International Family Planning Perspectives, 2005, 31(3):140–149.
The Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, Book 2.