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U.N. Committee Finds Women in the Philippines Face Reproductive Rights Violations and Discrimination

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Calls on the Filipino Government to Guarantee Universal Access to Modern Contraceptives and Decriminalize Abortion

(PRESS RELEASE) The Filipino government has violated women’s human rights by denying the full range of reproductive health services for thousands of women—including universal and affordable modern contraceptives—according to a report released this week from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (U.N. CEDAW)

The U.N. CEDAW report holds the Philippines government accountable for failing to ensure women’s access to contraceptive information and services and putting their health and lives at risk. The Committee specifically criticizes the government for failing to prioritize women’s human rights over religious ideology and cultural stereotypes, which has led to widespread discrimination against women and hindered access to sexual and reproductive health information and services.   It expressed concern about current funding restrictions on modern contraceptives in Manila City and called for the decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape, incest, when the health or life of the woman is at risk, and in cases of severe fetal impairments.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Religious ideology and gender stereotypes should play no role in whether a woman can get the reproductive health care and information she needs.

“For decades, the Filipino government has denied millions of women the ability to control their fertility, health, and lives, and this report makes clear that this is a gross violation of women’s fundamental human rights.

“The Filipino government must immediately work to enforce policies that guarantee women’s access to reproductive health services and recognize their right to safe and legal abortion.”

Despite passing the Reproductive Health Law in 2012, the Filipino government’s long-standing hostility towards modern contraception contributed to an estimated 610,000 illegal abortions in 2012, according to the Guttmacher Institute. In November 2012, designated members from U.N. CEDAW traveled to the Philippines to conduct the inquiry after the Center for Reproductive Rights and other NGOs raised concerns over the human rights violations women in the country were facing mainly due to Executive Order 003, which effectively banned women’s access to modern contraceptives in Manila City.

In 2007, the Center for Reproductive Rights released Imposing Misery, a report documenting the human rights violations associated with Executive Order 003. This report was the basis for the Center’s request for a U.N. CEDAW Special Inquiry—the first one for the Asia region and on contraceptive access.

The U.N. CEDAW report recognizes the far reaching consequences of denial of access to contraception, stating that Executive Order 003 and a subsequent order banning funding for contraceptives resulted in unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions and unnecessary and preventable maternal deaths, as well as particularly harmed economically disadvantaged women, adolescent girls, and women in abusive relationships. The report calls on the Filipino government to enact measures to guarantee 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.  And although post abortion care is legal in the Philippines, U.N. CEDAW notes the government must prevent the abuse of women seeking post-abortion care and establish effective reporting procedures to handle complaints. Furthermore, the committee strongly recommends the decriminalization of abortion.

“Women in the Philippines deserve to live with dignity and this can only be achieved by ensuring their sexual and reproductive rights, which includes the right to contraceptive information and services, said Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “President Aquino has shown political will towards ensuring women’s reproductive rights. We hope that the findings of the U.N. CEDAW report will hasten the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law and influence the current penal law reform process to amend the criminal ban on abortion.”    

U.N. CEDAW provided a broad and robust set of recommendations to the Philippines that includes:

  • Addressing the unmet need for contraception, and ensuring universal and affordable access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, commodities and related information, including by legalizing access to emergency contraception
  • Establishing health care protocols and procedures by both local and state governments  to prevent abuse and discrimination against women seeking reproductive health services
  • Ensuring that local governments set effective legal remedies for women seeking redress for violations of their right to access sexual and reproductive health services—removing barriers that women are facing in accessing justice
  • Prioritizing the protection of women’s health rights, including the development of strategizes to “sensitize members of parliament, government officials, political parties, as well as local government’s executive and legislative…to eliminate all ideological barriers limiting women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services, commodities and information.”

The Center has worked on reproductive health issues throughout Asia, with major initiatives addressing issues ranging from maternal mortality in India to access to modern contraception in the Philippines. Residents of Manila City filed a case against the government in 2008 challenging the constitutionality of Executive Order 003 and demanding its revocation. It was quietly dismissed in 2014 after a judge determined that the case is “a moot point,” given the passage of the 2012 Reproductive Health Law. To date, women in Manila City do not have access to a full range of modern contraceptives and related information and services.