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U.N. Committee: Philippines Must Allow Legal Abortion, Improve Access to Contraceptives

(PRESS RELEASE) The Philippine government should take measures to legalize abortion in certain circumstances and provide sexual and reproductive health information and services, according to the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR Committee).

In its recommendations, the ESCR Committee called on the government to take all measures necessary to reduce the incidence of unsafe abortion and maternal mortality, including amending the current abortion law and improving access to both contraceptives and emergency contraceptives. The ESCR Committee also recommended that the state “expand and strengthen comprehensive, age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health education” as recommended by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as a result of a special inquiry in 2012.   

Although the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RPRHA) passed in 2012 guarantees universal and free access to modern contraceptives for poor women,  its full implementation has been impeded by several Supreme Court orders and local laws limiting access to modern contraceptives, which the ESCR Committee deemed incompatible with the Philippines’ international obligations.

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

“Women in the Philippines have waited far too long for the reproductive health services they need to live with dignity.

“We commend the Committee for calling on the government to amend its restrictive abortion law and expand access to reproductive health services.  

“It’s time for the Philippine government to implement the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act and amend the criminal ban on abortion so women can make their own reproductive health choices once and for all.”

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.

In August 2016, the Center with local and international partners submitted a full session letter to the ESCR Committee highlighting a range of reproductive rights issues including the high number of unsafe abortions, lack of access to humane, compassionate and nonjudgmental post-abortion care, as well as limited access to the full range of contraceptives including denial of emergency contraceptives.

This year, the Philippines was reviewed by two other U.N. Committees – the Committee against Torture and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) – which similarly urged the government to review its abortion ban and provide access to the full range of contraceptive information and services.

Despite the enactment of the RPRHA, universal access to modern contraceptives is not yet a reality. Bans on modern contraceptives still exist in part because local laws to this effect such as those in the cities of Manila and Sorsogon have not been formally invalidated—leading to confusion among local health care providers and denials of reproductive health services for women and adolescent girls. Furthermore, an order issued by the Supreme Court in 2015 bars government agencies from approving certain contraceptives, significantly exacerbating lack of access to modern contraceptives throughout the country.

The Center has been working across Asia for over a decade, including conducting advocacy with local partners to ensure access to modern contraception and safe abortion in the Philippines. 

 

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