By Kathreen Kaye Dacanay

One of the highly stigmatized issues Filipino people have faced and continually face mainly revolves around the freedom of their own body – especially for women.

Conservatism in the Philippines

In 2000, the City of Manila, under former Mayor Jose “Lito” Atienza, imposed a ban on contraception. In hopes that this ban would favor the traditional way of family planning, it has just caused an onslaught of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, which not only took a toll on women’s mental state and future, but has also been the reason for a life masked in poverty. Data from the Guttmacher Institute said that in 2008, the Philippines recorded around 1.9 million unintended pregnancies, 37% of the numbers are mistimed, and 54% are unintended.

Instead of the City promoting responsible parenthood that adheres to the standards of what society thinks, this decision has just deprived women – especially those who can only opt for affordable planning supplies to minimize the risk of pregnancy.  In 2015, the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted 51 female hormonal contraceptives after determining they do not induce abortion.

Last 2017, 17% of married Filipinas have unmet need for family planning services, and 49% of sexually active and unmarried women, according to the Philippine National Demographic and Health Survey. This number of married Filipina women was lower than 30% in 1993.

Since the year 1930, abortion has been illegalized in the Philippines. Performing abortion is a committed crime, regardless of whether it was done on purpose or accidentally. Women who perform abortions may be imprisoned for up to six years in jail under the Revised Penal Code. The Medical Act, Midwifery Act, and the Pharmaceutical Act state that practitioners can also get their licenses revoked or suspended once caught engaging in the process of abortion. 

Sex Education in the Philippines

The Commission on Population and Development (PopCom) beseeched former President Rodrigo Duterte to declare adolescent pregnancy a national emergency as 504 teenage mothers were giving birth every day during the year 2020.

In the country, an existing bill already allows sex education to be integrated into students ages 10-19. It is called the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Act of 2012. This bill aims to inform, educate and help young people become aware of sex, physical development, and sexuality. Through this, they would be able to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and decrease the chances of unwanted pregnancies. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), 1 in 10 Filipino women aged 15-19 had already begun childbearing.

Despite the implementation of the Act and even when former President Rodrigo Duterte provided access to free contraceptives in 2017, family planning needs were still unmet. This showcases relatively low levels of contraception use, which also adds to the slow progress of sex education in the Philippines.

Is abstinence the solution?

Abstinence or the “wait until marriage” is the only birth control method to be guaranteed 100% in avoiding unwanted pregnancies. This form of contraception could be done by having outercourse, wherein a couple enjoys sex plays. Some partners may also prefer having periodical abstinence; this is when a woman rejects sexual intercourse during periods that she could most likely be pregnant. Other partners, however, choose not to have any sexual practices.

Abstinence, however, could be difficult for partners to practice considering the pressures and influence surrounding them. For instance, 2002 data from the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey said 80.6% of married and cohabiting adolescent couples (17 to 19 years of age) in Metro Cebu had engaged in premarital sex. 17.0% of 89.7% of unmarried adolescents have already experienced sexual intercourse.

“I don’t want kids,” said Samantha Isabel Coronado, a wife, in her opinion piece for In today’s time, many young Filipina women have already come to terms with how they know they won’t have kids in the future. This is often linked to who they want to be and the goals they want to achieve in life. Survey data indicates an ion of Filipino women have reached their childbearing goals and do not want to have any more kids. 51% of currently married women report not wanting to have any more children, 12% are sterilized, 19% want to delay the birth of their next child by at least two years, and alike wish to have another child within two years. 

Opposition from the Catholic Church

Abortion remains illegal in the Philippines as it is usually unsupported by large, influential groups. Religion plays a crucial part in how society acts the way it is. As of 2003, 81.04% of people in the country are Roman Catholic, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. The Church does not only condemn abortion but also prohibits the use of contraception. In the Philippines, no explicit provisions allow abortion in case of rape, incest, or fetal impairment. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), for example, has been one of the most significant oppositions to the Aquino Administration in passing the RH Bill into law.

Despite the influence held by Catholic bishops that ousted the then-dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. and actor-turned-politician Joseph E. Estrada, a national survey from 2004 said around 90% of Filipinos that induce abortion are Catholics. An interview by the Social Weather Station (SWS) in November 2020 also noted that the number of Filipinos that believe "religion is very important” had decreased to 73%, 10 points lower than the 83% in December 2019.

Abortion as the Solution 

There are several reasons why reproductive healthcare in the Philippines should be improved. In these changing times, the needs and wants of young Filipina women are also ever-changing. Abortion is done for different reasons, whether from wanting a smaller family, age, or unplanned pregnancies.

Post-abortion complications care was introduced in the country in 2000 to address unsafe abortions that lead to maternal deaths. However, several reports of discrimination by healthcare workers surfaced against women who had undergone abortions illegally. In 2009, the right to post-abortion care was codified in the national law but still mistreated and abused as it contradicts medical ethics. 

Abortions are generally safe, especially when done correctly and attended by professionals in the medical field. However, the criminalization of abortion in the Philippines has caused barriers in the reproductive healthcare system specially made for abortion cases. At present, women risk their health and lives and resulting in unsafe abortions that could impose severe threats to one’s life. Common physical complications from using such crude and dangerous methods include hemorrhage, sepsis, peritonitis, and trauma to the cervix, vagina, uterus, and abdominal organs. (Center for Reproductive Rights, 2010, para. 4)

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the casualty of unsafe abortion in the Philippines reaches around 1,000 every year, and tens of thousands are hospitalized due to complications. In spite of calls for legalizing abortion through the years, restrictions on women are still viewed as "morally permissible" rather than torture. Meanwhile, abortion and contraceptives are considered taboo subjects even with the rise of women's empowerment in the country.