U.N. Committee: Philippines Should Liberalize Its Abortion Law and Guarantee Access to All Modern Contraceptives

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(PRESS RELEASE) The absolute ban on abortion in the Philippines should be repealed and access to sexual and reproductive health services should be addressed, according to the United Nations Committee against Torture (U.N. CAT). Specifically, the committee called on the government to provide universal access to modern contraception and expressed concern about misinformation on contraception, particularly in Manila.

During the U.N. CAT review in April, the committee expressed to Philippine government officials their deep concerns over abortion being banned in the country and the widespread mistreatment of women seeking post-abortion care in the Philippines.

In its recommendations, the U.N. CAT urges the Philippine government to consider legalizing abortion in a number of circumstances. The committee further calls on the state to develop a confidential complaints mechanism for women subjected to discrimination, harassment or ill-treatment while seeking post-abortion or post-pregnancy treatment, and to investigate, prevent and punish all incidences of abuse towards these women.

The committee specifically noted that the ban on contraceptives imposed under Executive Orders 003 and 030 in Manila City “caused damage to women’s mental and physical health.” The U.N. CAT also recognized that the lack of access to emergency contraceptives for survivors of sexual assault survivors can amount to torture or ill treatment, calling for immediate steps by the government to reinstate its availability.

Although the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RPRHA) passed in 2012 guarantees universal and free access to nearly all modern contraceptives and women's right to humane, compassionate and nonjudgmental post-abortion care, the Philippine government has yet to fully implement the law.

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

“Women in the Philippines deserve to live with dignity and this can only be achieved by ensuring their sexual and reproductive rights, including post-abortion care and modern contraceptives.

“We commend the U.N. Committee for acknowledging how bans on modern contraceptives and the stigma surrounding post-abortion care are causing mental and physical anguish for women.

“Women can no longer wait for the reproductive health services and information they need and deserve. The government must once and for all fully implement the RPRHA.”

The Center and the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at the City University of New York School of Law submitted a letter to the U.N. CAT emphasizing how the criminal abortion ban, the failure to ensure post-abortion care and the failure to revoke and prevent modern contraceptives bans by local government units in the Philippines violate women’s rights to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Prior to the review in April, another letter was submitted to the committee by the Center and the Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network (PINSAN) raising similar issues.

The U.N. CAT recommendations include calls for the Philippine government to:

  • Revoke Manila Executive Orders 003 and 030
  • Review the abortion ban to allow exceptions when the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the woman, when it is the result of rape or incest, and in cases of fetal impairment
  • Provide universal access to a “full range of the safest and most technologically advanced methods of contraception” and “rights-based counselling and information on reproductive health services to all women and adolescents”
  • Restore access to emergency contraception for victims of sexual violence
  • Develop a “confidential complaints mechanism for women subjected to discrimination, harassment or ill-treatment” while seeking reproductive health services, including post-abortion care or post-pregnancy treatment
  • Investigate, prevent and punish of all incidences of ill-treatment of women seeking post-pregnancy care in government hospitals and provide effective legal remedies to the victims.

During the review of the Philippines, U.N. CAT also asked about the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (U.N. CEDAW) Special Inquiry and the concerns it raised about women being reported to police when seeking post abortion care in hospitals.

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, which has led to widespread discrimination against women and hindered access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. For the report, designated members from U.N. CEDAW traveled to the Philippines in November 2012 to conduct the inquiry after the Center 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.

The Center has worked on reproductive health issues in the Philippines for over a decade, with major initiatives addressing issues ranging from access to modern contraception to post-abortion care. With the Center’s support, 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 RPRHA. To date, women in Manila City have limited access to modern contraceptives and related information and services.

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