Two United Nations treaty bodies recently called on the Philippines to improve sexual and reproductive rights (SRHR) in the country. These actions were made following years of advocacy by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its national partners, including the Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network (PINSAN).
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child made recommendations in September to enhance adolescent SRHR education and access to abortion care. The UN Human Rights Committee followed in November, making law and policy recommendations to decriminalize abortion.
Concluding observations released by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) included two concrete recommendations:
- To “adopt a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health policy for adolescents and ensure sexual and reproductive health education at school, with special attention to preventing early pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS and on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
- To “legalise abortion and ensure access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services for adolescent girls, making sure that their views are always heard and given due consideration as a part of the decision-making process, and develop and implement a policy to protect the rights of pregnant teenagers.”
“This is a positive development and the first time that the CRC has categorically called for the legalization of abortion in the Philippines,” said Jihan Jacob, the Center’s senior legal adviser for Asia. “It reflects the success of the advocacy efforts by the Center and its partners and serves as an additional impetus to our campaign to fully decriminalize abortion at the national level.”
The recommendations are in line with the Supplementary NGO Alternative Reports that the Center and its partners submitted to the CRC in March 2020, October 2020, and August 2022 on the status of adolescents’ reproductive rights in the Philippines.
These recommendations were echoed by the UN Human Rights Committee (“HRC”) when it called for the Philippines to decriminalize abortion. The HRC noted that the criminalization of abortion has forced women and girls to seek dangerous clandestine abortion services that put their lives at risk. Moreover, the lack of a primary health care infrastructure in the country has resulted in rising indirect obstetrical deaths, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this context, the HRC made recommendations to:
- Amend the law to ensure that safe, legal and effective access to abortion is ensured.
- Repeal the criminal provisions that penalize women and girls who undergo abortions and service providers who assist them.
- Build safeguards and provisions to ensure sexual and reproductive health services including that post-abortion care adheres to the principle of confidentiality, especially for women and girls from marginalized backgrounds and communities.
- Develop comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education programs to prevent unintended pregnancies and remove the stigma around abortion.
“These concerns and recommendations reiterate those previously expressed by the HRC in its review of the Philippines, most notably in 2012,” said Jacob. “The government has failed to take significant steps to advance abortion access and fully realize SRHR. People from vulnerable groups and communities are disproportionately suffering due to this lack of progress.”
“We will continue to work with our partners to ensure that the Philippines government takes action on these issues,” added Jacob.