“I heard a nurse say ‘If you die, it’s all your own fault.’ Ana, a 35-year old Filipino, looks down as she recalls the day she was brought to the hospital in a pool of her own blood. She had tried to induce an abortion.
The mother of seven, a survivor of domestic abuse, conceived most of her children by force. Poor and unable to care for them, she did not want more children. But the government of the Philippines – a deeply Catholic state – imposes a blanket ban on abortion, even in cases of incest, rape or to save the mother’s life. It is one of the most restrictive laws in the world. This does not stop women, like Ana, from undergoing over half a million procedures each year. Instead they take place underground, in murky backstreets, without professional oversight or sanitised equipment. One in six women who obtain illegal procedures in the Philippines suffer complications. Many of them die. While legal, even post-abortion services are limited and women often face prejudice and abuse by medical staff. But because abortion is criminalised, a culture of stigma and impunity prevails. According to research by the Center for Reproductive Rights, restrictive abortion laws lead to systematic abuses of women’s human rights – including the rights to life, health and equality. ‘These are rights that are guaranteed very clearly under international treaty law,’ says Melissa Upreti, the Center’s Regional Director for Asia. ‘So when a government denies access to safe and legal abortion they are essentially violating women’s rights.’ The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has called on several countries, including the Philippines and Ireland, to liberalize their abortion laws. The UN Committee Against Torture described the blanket ban on abortion, reinstated in Nicaragua in 2006, as tantamount to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Amnesty International described it as ‘a disgrace’.”