Abortion remains largely restricted in the Philippines, with prison sentences up to six years for an individual providing an abortion or assisting someone in obtaining one—and even for the woman herself for having an abortion.
Those restrictive abortion laws fail to meet international law and policies standards—and fail to adhere to the new Abortion Care Guideline released by the World Health Organization (“WHO”) in March 2022.
The Guideline puts forth a framework for ensuring effective, accessible and safe abortion care that is rooted in an evidence- and human rights-based approach. Moreover, the Guideline provides for a concrete set of legal and policy recommendations for ensuring equal access to comprehensive abortion care.
In this context, Jihan Jacob, Senior Legal Advisor for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights, wrote an editorial titled “New WHO abortion guideline makes clear: Quality abortion care must be accessible” that was published in Rappler.
“For Filipinos to fully exercise their human rights, they must be able to make free and informed decisions and have access to abortion care,” says Jacob in the op-ed.
Abortion as a Necessary Health Intervention
The WHO Guideline supported the demand of Filipino activists that abortion is an indispensable health intervention which requires “provision of information, abortion management and post-abortion care” weaved into the healthcare system. The Guideline calls for the complete decriminalization of abortion and promotes law and policy reform to remove penalties associated with it. This demand—which the Filipino SRHR movement has been echoing for a long time—is currently gaining traction in the country.
Making Abortion Access a Reality
The WHO Guideline strongly opposes laws and policies that restrict access to abortion on specific grounds or provide an exception under penal laws. Instead, abortion must be unconditionally accessible. Notwithstanding this, WHO recommended that any grounds-based abortion must still be human rights compliant by ensuring access to abortion in circumstances including non-viable pregnancies, pregnancies resulting from rape and incest, and pregnancies that pose life and health risks to pregnant persons.
The Philippine Government, despite acknowledging that abortion done to “protect the life and health” of the pregnant person can be considered a valid exception to the existing abortion laws, has done little to make this a reality.
“The government cannot continue to be complicit in violating Filipinos’ fundamental rights by restricting access to an evidence- and human-rights based health intervention,” added Jacob. With the latest WHO Guideline, Jacob argues that the Philippine government cannot reasonably defend its highly restrictive approach to abortion.
Read the Jacob’s op-ed here: “New WHO abortion guideline makes clear: Quality abortion care must be accessible”