(PRESS RELEASE) More than 50 representatives from human rights organizations, academia, and other civil society groups in the Philippines and abroad, have expressed frustration to Honorable Leila M. de Lima, Secretary at the Department of Justice, about the serious and widespread human rights violations against women resulting from the Philippines’ harsh criminal ban on abortion and the missed opportunity to address it in revisions to the country’s criminal code.
In a joint letter to Honorable Lima, activists and leading advocacy groups voiced their concern over the Department of Justice’s removal of proposed grounds for abortions in a public draft of the criminal code sent to Congress. The Committee, spearheaded by the Philippine Department of Justice, publicized the draft on August 19 which failed to include provisions on justified abortions that were in an earlier version of the proposed code.
The Philippines is one of only 29 countries in the world to completely ban abortion without clear legal exceptions. The criminalization of abortion in the Philippines contributes to the longstanding public health crisis of thousands of preventable maternal deaths each year and one of the highest rates of unsafe abortion in the world. Women who seek medical assistance for complications from unsafe abortion are routinely mistreated and denied proper care. Inclusion of grounds for abortion in the draft code could have given Congress an opportunity to discuss abortion law reform. The criminal code will be debated in Congress this year.
“Hundreds of women are hospitalized every day for complications from unsafe abortion, yet the government continues to turn a blind eye to the dire need for safe and legal abortion services,” said Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Criminalizing abortion puts women’s health and lives at grave risk, and subjects them to further abuse when seeking medical care. The Department of Justice has missed an opportunity to put an end to the human rights violations women are forced to suffer because of the country’s blanket abortion ban.”
The Philippine government’s extreme anti-reproductive health care policies criminalizing abortion and restricting access to modern contraception has contributed to the more than 1,500 women undergoing unsafe abortions every day, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The criminalization of abortion in the country has done nothing to decrease preventable maternal deaths, in fact more women are dying. From 2006-2010, the maternal mortality ratio jumped from 162 to 221 deaths per 100,000 live births. The Department of Justice had an historic opportunity to propose grounds for abortion, but by eliminating them from the draft code have precluded the possibility for a Congressional debate on the need for abortion law reform.
In March 2014, the Philippine Supreme Court upheld the country’s historic Reproductive Health Law that guarantees universal and free access to modern contraceptives for women. The law also mandates reproductive health education in government schools and recognizes a woman’s right to post-abortion care as part of the right to reproductive healthcare.
“While finally making progress on modern contraception, the Philippine government has regressed on abortion—failing to propose legal exceptions and more explicitly making attempted abortion a crime. This piecemeal approach will not result in improvements to women’s reproductive health and well-being in the long-term,” added Upreti.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has built a significant presence throughout Asia, with major campaigns addressing issues ranging from maternal mortality in India to access to modern contraception in the Philippines. In the report Forsaken Lives, the Center has documented the impact of the criminal abortion ban in the Philippines and how unintended pregnancies have affected women’s lives.