Philippine Commission on Human Rights Report: Criminalization of Abortion Stigmatizes Women

(PRESS RELEASE) The criminal ban on abortion in the Philippines stigmatizes women and has led to many poor women resorting to unsafe abortion—according to a national inquiry report from the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

In its report formally launched today, the CHR identified the ban on abortion as a legal and policy barrier to the full implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RPRHA), noting how the criminalization of abortion leads to unsafe abortions and to stigma in the access and availability of post-abortion care. The commission calls on the Philippine Congress to review the penal provisions on abortion and take into consideration recommendations to decriminalize and legalize abortion from the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) as a result of a special inquiry in 2012.

Between March-May 2016, the CHR, in its role as a national human rights institution and Gender and Development Ombud under the Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act 9710), conducted its first ever national inquiry on reproductive health and rights, hosting regional consultations, fact-finding missions and public hearings throughout the country. Civil society groups, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, submitted reports to CHR as part of the inquiry.

Said Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Women in the Philippines should be able to make personal reproductive health choices without stigma and the risk of criminal prosecution.

“We commend the Commission on Human Rights for calling on Congress to amend its restrictive abortion law and expand access to reproductive health services.  

“The Philippine government must stop delaying the implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act. It’s time to lift the criminal ban on abortion so women can get the reproductive health services they deserve with dignity.”

The Philippines has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, imposing a criminal ban on abortion without any clear exceptions. Despite this ban, abortion is common and estimates by the Guttmacher Institute show an increase in its incidence—from approximately 560,000 in 2008 to 610,000 in 2012.

While the RPRHA excludes abortion from the definition of reproductive health rights, the law passed in 2012 guarantees access to humane, nonjudgmental and compassionate post-abortion care. The CHR inquiry report found that there is “uneven” implementation of the law as a result of varying levels of support from local governments, and the presence of religious and cultural barriers and “discriminatory” laws and policies that negatively impact women.

The Center for Reproductive Rights participated in the CHR national inquiry, submitting a report documenting stories of women who suffered from unsafe abortions and were unable to access quality post-abortion care. The commission also used findings from the Center report Forsaken Lives, which examines and exposes human rights violations resulting from the criminal ban on abortion in the Philippines.

This year, the Philippines was reviewed by three U.N. Committees – the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Committee against Torture and the CEDAW Committee – which all urged the government to review its abortion ban and provide access to the full range of contraceptive information and services. The Center made submissions to all of these Committees highlighting the harmful impact of the ban and the need for law reform.

In November 2012, members from the CEDAW Committee traveled to the Philippines to conduct a special inquiry after the Center for Reproductive Rights and partner NGOs reported human rights violations women in the country were facing mainly due to Executive Order 003, which effectively bans women’s access to modern contraceptives in Manila City. In its inquiry report released in May 2015, the CEDAW Committee recognized the far reaching consequences of denial of access to contraception as well as the impact of the abortion ban. The report called on the Philippine government to enact measures to ensure universal access to modern contraceptives including related information and services and revoke the executive orders that have denied women such access for over a decade.  It also called for the legalization of abortion on specific grounds and the decriminalization of abortion. In addition, it recommended that the government take measures to prevent the abuse of women seeking post-abortion care and establish effective reporting procedures to handle complaints.

The Philippine Commission on Human Rights conducted its national inquiry on reproductive health in part because of the CEDAW Committee’s findings. The CHR’s report reinforces the findings and recommendations of the CEDAW Committee which must be heeded by the government to ensure the protection of women’s reproductive rights.

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