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Human Rights Committee Calls for Liberalizing Contraceptive and Abortion Policies in the Philippines

In early November, the Human Rights Committee issued its Concluding Observations on two harmful reproductive health policies in the Philippines: the country's criminal ban on abortion without any clear exceptions and the prohibition of funding for modern contraceptives in Manila City.

The Committee noted that the ban on abortion has led women to seek out unsafe abortion services throughout the country. It suggested new legislation that provides for exceptions to the ban, specifically when the life or health of the mother is endangered, and in cases of rape and incest.

The Concluding Observations also addressed Manila City's ban on government funding of contraception. In 2000, Manila City's mayor enacted Executive Order 003, eliminating modern contraception throughout the city. Executive Order 30, issued in 2011, goes even further to prohibit the Manila City government from funding any modern contraceptives. The harms experienced under the EOs are ongoing and to date, women have received no remedy for the denial of their right to contraceptive information and services. One consequence of this can be seen in the dramatic surge in the maternal mortality rate since the passage of the EOs.

The Center, along with two Philippines-based partners, has been battling Executive Order 003 for years now through a lawsuit. The case—Lourdes Osil et al. v. Office of the Mayor of the City of Manila—has met countless  procedural obstacle after another since it was filed in 2008.

So we were pleased to offer the Committee input prior to and during their session, and we commend its Concluding Observations, which reflect our concerns.

Specifically, the Committee asked the Philippine government to:

lift Executive Order 30 for Manila City in so far as it prohibits the disbursement of funds for the purchase of materials and medicines for artificial birth control.

Among other issues, the Center asked the Committee to consider whether the Philippine government was taking appropriate steps to:

  • remove all legal barriers to contraception, including Executive Order 30,
  • make available emergency contraception in both private and public hospitals as well as in pharmacies, and
  • facilitate the legal remedy of the Center's Osil case. While Executive Order 30 does, in theory, allow for contraceptive access, the practical reality is that women in Manila can't get birth control. The successful litigation of Osil could change that, setting in motion the steps to establish widespread access to contraception.

Committee members sharply questioned the government, recognizing that the surge in unplanned pregnancies and the worsening maternal mortality rate appear to stem from the issuance of the original Executive Order and stand to be reinforced by the current EO.

The Center will continue to apply pressure on the Philippine government to enable the court to rule in the Osil case, to remove all obstacles to contraceptive access, and to decriminalize abortion in order to improve the reproductive health of women.

Read the Center for Reproductive Rights' Shadow Letter here >

Download the HRC Concluding Observations below.