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U.N. Committee: Philippines Must Provide Access to Modern Contraceptives, Legalize Abortion in Certain Circumstances

(PRESS RELEASE) The Philippine government must ensure access to modern contraceptives and legalize abortion in certain circumstances, according to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (U.N. CEDAW).

In its recommendations, the U.N. CEDAW expressed concern about the inconsistent implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RPRHA), which was enacted in 2012 and guarantees universal access to modern contraceptives. The U.N. CEDAW further expressed concern about the absence of an effective mechanism to monitor implementation of the RPRHA, as well as the increasing number of unsafe abortions among adolescent girls in the Philippines.

The Philippines has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, imposing a criminal ban on abortion with no 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. Under the RPRHA, abortion remains illegal and punishable as a crime. Proposed amendments to the current penal code aim to increase the penalties for abortion.

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

“Women in the Philippines have a legal right to modern contraceptives, yet they continue to be barred from getting the reproductive health services they need.

“We commend the U.N. Committee for once again urging the government to fully ensure women’s reproductive health and end discrimination against women by providing access to modern contraceptives and legalizing abortion.

“The Reproductive Health Act was a historic victory for women in the Philippines, but it’s time the government make this law a reality for women who deserve to make their own reproductive health choices and live with dignity.”

The Center, Catholics for Reproductive Health, EnGendeRights, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, Population Services Pilipinas Inc., WomanHealth Philippines Inc. and Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights submitted a joint letter to the U.N. CEDAW emphasizing how the failure to ensure humane and nonjudgmental post-abortion care and provide effective access to justice for reproductive rights violations discriminates against women and girls and egregiously violates their fundamental human rights.

The U.N. CEDAW recommendations also highlight the committee’s concerns regarding bans on modern contraceptives that still exist in part because the Philippine government has not formally declared Executive Orders 003 and 030 of Manila City unlawful—leading to confusion among local health care providers and denials of reproductive health services for women and adolescent girls. In February 2015, the U.N CEDAW also expressed concerns about Executive Order 3 issued by Sorsogon City, which has similarly resulted in the withdrawal of modern contraceptives from local health facilities. An order issued by the Supreme Court in 2015 barring government agencies from approving certain contraceptives has further compounded lack of access to modern contraceptives throughout the country.

In May 2015, U.N. CEDAW released a report criticizing the government for failing to prioritize women’s human rights over religious ideology and cultural stereotypes. U.N. CEDAW experts traveled to the Philippines in November 2012 to conduct a special inquiry under article 8 of the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women – the first ever in Asia and the first on sexual and reproductive health and rights - after the Center and other NGOs submitted evidence of human rights violations women were facing mainly due to Executive Order 003, which effectively banned women’s access to modern contraceptives in Manila City. The inquiry request was based on the Center and Likhaan’s report Imposing Misery.

The U.N. CEDAW unequivocally reiterated its call for the Philippine government to immediately and fully implement all of the recommendations resulting from the special inquiry, including:

  • Improve access to contraception and other sexual and reproductive health services and information
  • Provide access to quality post-abortion care in all public health facilities
  • Review and repeal discriminatory laws, including Manila City’s EOs 003 and 030, to clarify that women have a right to contraceptive information and services as guaranteed in the RPRHA and the Magna Carta of Women;
  • Repeal articles 256–259 of the country’s penal code in order to decriminalize abortion and legalize it on grounds of rape, incest, serious threats to the life or health of the mother and fetal impairment.
  • Ensure access to justice for women whose rights are violated

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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