New Report Links Philippines Abortion Law to Human Rights Abuses

(PRESS RELEASE) Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights released the first comprehensive human rights report on the impact of the Philippines' criminal ban on abortion. Through interviews and legal analysis, Forsaken Lives: The Harmful Impact of the Philippine Criminal Abortion Ban closely examines the experiences of women under the law and exposes the many ways that the government violates their rights by failing to address its devastating effects. The Center's investigation found that the Philippines law has not prevented women from seeking abortion. Instead, abortion has been driven underground, making it extremely unsafe and potentially deadly for women.

"The Philippines government has created a dire human rights crisis in the country," Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Hundreds of thousands of women in the country resort to unsafe abortion to protect their health, their families and their livelihood. Yet, the government sits idly by refusing to tackle the issue or reform the policies that exacerbate it."

The Philippines is one of a handful of countries to prohibit and criminally punish abortion without recognizing a clear legal exception, even if a woman's pregnancy poses a risk to her life or health, if she is a victim of rape or incest, or in cases of fetal impairment. As a result, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 560,000 women turn to illegal abortion every year, including crude and extremely painful methods such as intense abdominal massages by traditional midwives, inserting catheters into the uterus, medically unsupervised consumption of Cytotec, and ingesting herbs and other concoctions sold by street vendors. Every year, 90,000 women suffer complications from these methods and 1,000 die. Abortion-related complications are one of the top ten reasons for hospitalization of women in the country.

In addition, the law has created an environment of judgment and stigma that women who seek legal medical treatment for abortion-related complications are often harassed and abused by healthcare providers or the quality of care is substandard. Medical professionals are either emboldened to perpetrate abuses against women or deprived of their ability to provide their patients with quality, humane care as required under their ethical obligations.

"The Catholic hierarchy plays a completely inappropriate role opposing any changes to existing laws on abortion and family planning and, as we see from this important report, women die as a result," said Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. "In our work in the Philippines, we have seen and heard from Catholics who reject the influence of the bishops and support access to more comprehensive reproductive health services."

Northup added, "It's time to break the silence around abortion in the Philippines and for the human rights community to put pressure on the government to decriminalize abortion and immediately improve the medical care that women receive."