The Center’s Work in the Philippines

The Center has been working actively in the Philippines for more than a decade. It has conducted advocacy before United Nations human rights bodies and conducted fact-finding missions and outreach to local advocates and law and policymakers.

The Center started its work in the Philippines by addressing the issue of women’s access to contraceptives in Manila City, the country’s capital, where a de facto ban on modern contraceptives was put into effect in 2000. Our work with local partners led to the filing of a case before the local court challenging the constitutionality of the ban and eventually of a special inquiry request before the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Since then, we have expanded our work to include challenging the country’s restrictive laws on abortion and women’s access to respectful and quality post-abortion care services.

Abortion Law Reform

Access to abortion remains restricted under the country’s penal code, with no clear exceptions even in cases of pregnancies endangering the life or health of the woman, those resulting from rape or incest, and those involving fetal impairment.

Although the Philippine government has reported to the Human Rights Committee in 2019 that abortion when necessary “to protect the life and health” of a pregnant woman may be justified under the current penal laws, this recognized exception has neither translated to improved access to safe and legal abortion nor reduced clandestine harmful abortions in the country. Independent studies reported that 610,000 illegal and unsafe abortions took place in the country in 2012—an increase from 560,000 in 2008.

In 2014, the Center co-founded the Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network (PINSAN)—the first network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) openly and publicly advocating for the decriminalization of abortion in the country. In 2020, the Center worked with the Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network to draft and launch a proposed bill to decriminalize abortion—the first ever bill initiated and fully drafted by Filipino reproductive rights advocates.

Post-Abortion Care

The Center is working with a range of stakeholders to strengthen the legal framework and ensure women’s and girls’ access to post-abortion care in the Philippines. Under several domestic laws and policies, women have the right to post-abortion care. However, because of the country’s restrictive laws on abortion, the right to quality, humane, compassionate, and nonjudgmental post-abortion care has been continuously violated.

As a result of these laws, women seeking post-abortion care are routinely abused, harassed, threatened, intimidated, and stigmatized by health care providers while others delay seeking post-abortion care or decide not to seek post-abortion care at all because of fears that they will be subjected to the same abuse.

It is difficult for women to seek legal accountability for such abuse because there are no redress mechanisms and attempting to do so would expose them to the risk of prosecution for having induced an abortion, which is illegal.

Child Marriage

The Center’s Asia team has been advocating for stronger laws to strengthen protection and respect the reproductive autonomy for the rights of children, including adolescents, in the Philippines. The team’s advocacy included: submitting reports on the status of adolescents’ reproductive rights to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (March 2020October 2020); participating in several consultations on the then-pending bill organized by local organizations and legislators; and sharing comparative research on child marriage including from IndiaNepaland South Asia with policymakers and NGOs to help inform the legislation and the impact on sexual and reproductive health and rights of children.

In a victory for the health, safety and human rights of children, in December 2021 the Philippines enacted a new law that criminalizes child marriage. Although the country’s previous law recognized the legal age of marriage as 18, child marriage has been commonly practiced in certain religions and cultures in the Philippines. The Center for Reproductive Rights supported the development of the new law, which makes child marriage a public offense and adds a series of penalties for violating the law ranging from fines to up to 12 years of imprisonment.  

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