Abortion in the Philippines: A True Story

Abortion in the Philippines: A True Story. Written by Sophia Balod for SubSelfie.com

10:30pm. Three girls were about to meet in a fast food chain. A girl in a jacket arrived with her boyfriend, planted a peck on the boy’s cheek and wished him a safe ride home. The other girl was carrying a box of blueberry cheesecakes with a note: “It gets worse before it gets better.” The two girls chatted like avid gossip mongers and from afar you’d know easily they were close friends, best friends even.

A few minutes later, the last girl arrived. She was carrying a backpack. She was also carrying something else. It would have been the perfect reunion — except this was no reunion. The girl in jacket exclaimed: “Hoy, ang taba mo! (You got fatter!).”

She may have gained weight but she looked rather pale, her eyes tired and swollen. She wore a pair of small silver hoop earrings and judging by the way she looked, you’d know she paid no attention to her appearance. Her mind was set on other things — things one could only hope to achieve in this ungodly hour.

11:00PM

The three girls left the restaurant with their tummies full but with a sinking feeling at the pit of their stomachs. They headed to the nearest motel. The last girl who arrived, the one with a backpack, thought to herself: “I hope I brought enough money to last me an entire night in the motel.”

12:00AM

They took the elevator to the third floor and settled in a small room. They were silent at first, unsure of what to say. Then the girl with the backpack started talking about her misery at work — how she couldn’t concentrate on anything; how she had missed a lot of deadlines in the past few weeks.

But she had a deadline of her own. And tonight was the night to finish the task. Tonight she will let go of the child she’s been carrying for 10 weeks. “Pagod na akong magmukmok, mag-secret at umiyak. Gusto ko na matapos lahat. (I was tired of being depressed, of all the secrets and all the tears.) I could have killed myself a few weeks before that.”

Blueberry cheesecakes: a doughnut for each girl
Blueberry cheesecakes: a doughnut for each girl

12:30AM

The girl unpacked her bag filled with water, biscuits, sealed fruits and ten packs of sanitary napkins. She knew that there was no justification or excuse for the crime she was about to commit — but she did it anyway.

The baby was conceived out of wedlock. The father guy who impregnated her abandoned her to deal with this alone: no phone calls, no messages, just a recent photo of him and his wife uploaded on Facebook. The message was clear: “Stay away from me and my family.”

Of course she thought of a way out. Abortion, clearly, wasn’t the first choice. Maybe adoption? She said she could not live to give her child away to a stranger. Raise the baby with her beki friends? Possible. Tell her parents? Not a chance. Her parents would literally have a heart attack on the spot. Her father would lose his position in the church, their family ostracized and detested by their religious community.

She said she could handle the pregnancy, even maybe keep the baby for good if her life was the only thing at stake here. But she thought of her parents — surely she would break not only their hearts but their trusts as well. She knew that she could never, ever, go back.

The thought of losing her family only strengthened her decision. She used to be a strong-willed girl: hard-headed and unafraid to commit mistakes. But on that night, she was weak and vulnerable. “I hate the word regret. For the longest time, I stand by my decisions however stupid they are. Live and let live. Live and learn. But at that time, I felt remorse at regret. I know I could have made a better decision not to have sex with that guy.”

12:45AM

“Where is the pill?” The girl with the cheesecakes asked the question. The girl with the backpack showed a tiny bottle with a sign that read: “Gluta with Vitamin C and Lipoic Acid. No therapeutic claims.” Trust Filipinos to conceive a clever way to store abortifacients.

“Noong mapansin kong gluta ang lalagyan, medyo naginhawaan ako at ‘di lantaran na abortifacient. Tinext ko ang supplier. Sabi ko, ang clever ng gluta container. Sabi ng supplier: We just want to protect our clients. (I felt relieved after seeing the glutathione container. At least the abortifacients were not exposed. I told the suppliers it was a clever idea. The supplier said: We just want to protect our clients. )

The Gluta Bottle
The Gluta Bottle

1:00AM

The girl with the backpack took the pills and laid her head back against the pillows. The other two girls watched the TV. They had to stay awake in case an emergency happened, such as an infection or incessant bleeding. Then they waited. Waited for something to happen. Waited for relief. Waited for salvation.

“Naunang sumakit ang puson ko tapos chills na nakakapagod kasi ‘di humihinto. (At first I felt abdominal pain, then I had continuous chills. It was tiring.) And I can only sigh in regret, frustration and every bad feeling the world knows.” Even as the pain subsided a few hours later, the girl with the backpack felt no relief, and certainly, no salvation.

These are only props for a mock reality show.
These are only props for a mock reality show.

The Law on Abortion

Such is the fate of many Filipinas today.

Abortion is a reality for many women in the Philippines. But many consider it a taboo and the Church regards it as a mortal sin. It is a criminal and punishable offense, with no exceptions even on cases such as fetal malformation and rape. Anyone proved to have undergone abortion will spend six months to six years in prison. This law is a direct translation of the Spanish Penal Code of 1870 and has not been changed since pre-colonial times.

However, the 1987 constitution states that the law shall “equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.” Some legal experts contend that this should allow for medical or therapeutic abortion to save the life of a mother.

In practice, however, many doctors are still quite adamant to risk their licenses over a vague policy with no concrete exceptions to the rule. Even the controversial Reproductive Health Bill covers only limited policies regarding abortion. Pro-life groups have regarded the “contraceptive mentality” as the path leading to legalized abortion.

Meanwhile, global statistics have painted a different scenario. According to data from the United Nations (World Abortion Policies), abortion is allowed in most countries in order to save a woman’s life (97% of countries). Abortion in the case of rape or incest is accepted in about half of all countries (49%). In most European countries and North America, performing abortion only on the basis of a woman’s request is allowed (29%). Other predominantly Catholic countries that allow abortion are Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, and Hungary. These countries allow abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation.

The Reality of Abortion

Abortion may be illegal in our country but it doesn’t mean it is not happening here. In fact, one out of three women aged 15 to 44 chooses to terminate their pregnancy through abortion. The lack of access to medical abortion forced some women to undergo unsafe and risky methods — sometimes even administering abortion themselves (like the girl with the backpack).

Some consider women who commit abortion as godless and uneducated. Some would even go as far as saying these women are living and walking sins that should be stoned and nailed on the cross. But in the face of a looming unintended pregnancy, religion and educational attainment seem to play little part in the decision-making department. Instead, desperation takes over values and principles.

In fact, research shows that 90% of the women who commit abortions are Catholic, and that 70% have some high school education. When asked why they sought an abortion, 72% of women cite the economic cost of raising a child; 54% say they have enough children; and 57% report that the pregnancy occurred too soon after their last one.

"Pamparegla" sold in Quiapo (Courtesy: Jervis Manahan)
“Pamparegla” sold in Quiapo (Courtesy: Jervis Manahan)

Post-Abortion Care

Two years ago, I produced a story on self-administered abortion for Saksi. During an ocular, I met a woman who committed abortion because of poverty. After drinking all sorts of medicinal herbs, she used a catheter to complete the abortion. A few hours later, she had an infection. She was rushed to the hospital, delirious and bleeding incessantly. Her husband told the doctor: “Nalaglagan po siya, (She had a miscarriage).”

But the doctor did not immediately attend to her because “she was a criminal.” She waited many hours before she was treated. By then she was extremely weak. She almost died but made it through the night. The doctors are compelled to heal the sick. But even some doctors have their own biases when treating abortion-related complications.

Based on a study from the Guttmacher Institute, 800 to 1,000 Filipino women die of abortion-related complications. Poor women from provinces often lack access to safe methods and services; they have higher exposures to risks and complications compared to their wealthier urban counterparts.

Temporary Insanity

No woman would ever truly want to harm her own baby. It’s mother’s instinct, I guess.

But an unintended pregnancy is a whole new issue altogether. In an interview, a psychologist told me women who experience unintended pregnancy “temporarily go insane.” Without proper guidance and counseling, they are left helpless and desperate. Abortion is one of the results of unintended pregnancy. Tackling the root of the matter is the best way to go about this issue. Every couple should be well-informed about health care, family planning and the risks of abortion.

In this society, abortion can never be justified or reasoned. Neither should it be condoned.

But I also believe that women who committed abortion are victims themselves. Hate and discrimination will not help them cope with the pain they’ve been through. We can only hope to understand them and know that this was not an easy decision for these women. After all, the greatest punishment for their actions is the pain and guilt they will carry all their lives. The scars may not be visible, but they exist in many places: their memories, their dreams and even in their waking moments.

Image
Cover Page: Forsaken Lives. The Harmful Impact of the Philippine Criminal Abortion Ban. Center for Reproductive Rights.

A Woman’s Choice

Surely there is hope even in moments of insanity. All it takes is to clear one’s mind. There are other options when it comes to an unintended pregnancy. Every woman has a choice and it is critical to study these options before doing anything rash:

Adoption. Your pregnancy will end when a new life begins. The adoptive family often shoulder pregnancy-related expenses which includes medical care and pre-natal expenses. A mother does not “give up” a baby for adoption. Instead, she chooses a life for her child — a life where the child can grow under the care and support of another family.

Half-way houses. They serve as a temporary refuge for single mothers who are facing unexpected pregnancies. The Nazareth Home for Single Mothers in Quezon City is a shelter for unwed mothers, pregnant teens and victims of rape and incest. They provide counseling to help pregnant women regain their self-worth until they can come up with a decision of their own. The shelter also provides them with livelihood training. The Multi-Tasking Mom describes in a blog post how the Nazareth Home celebrated Mother’s Day.

Keep the baby. This might be the most difficult choice to make. For an unexpected pregnancy, the path to motherhood is a mystery. Can I bear this baby for nine months? Can I support the child? Will I be a good mother? These questions may scare you but at the end of the day, the decision is yours to make. If you are keeping the child, remember that it is a lifetime commitment. There is no turning back. No backing out. No second thoughts. Sacrifices have to be made. The only question is: are you brave enough to choose this life for you and for your child?

Safe haven, half-way heaven (Photo by: Multi-tasking Mom)
Safe haven, half-way heaven (Photo by: Multi-tasking Mom)

Second Chances

The girl with the backpack may have chosen the “easy way out” but it was not an easy call. Judge them all you want. Call them sinners. Call them whores. But they are still humans. Some actions can never be reversed and the only way to help them truly heal is to be there for them, whatever it takes to bring their “sanity” back.

“I can not forget. I’m trying but I know I can’t. I look back, from time to time, sometimes kahit hindi intentional. It makes me sad but it also makes me more determined to make this ‘second chance’ a better shot at life.”

Note: The story of the three girls who met at a fast food chain is a true story. Thank you, my friend, for sharing this story. All the best.

Mother and Child. Photo courtesy: The Multi-Tasking Mom
Mother and Child. Photo courtesy: The Multi-Tasking Mom

[Entry 24, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

Hon Sophia Balod

Hon Sophia Balod is a storyteller. She is currently a News Producer of special reports and features for Balitanghali, Saksi, and State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. She is also a media fellow of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism for Basic and Advanced Investigative Reporting. Journalism 2010, UP Diliman. Read more of her articles here.

Data Sources:

  1.  The Revised Penal Code of the Philippines : Book Two, ChanRobles Law Library
  2. World Abortion Policies 2011 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Retrieved June 28, 2014
  3. “Forsaken Lives:The Harmful Impact of the Philippine Criminal Abortion Ban”Center for Reproductive Rights
  4. Susheela Singh; Fatima Juarez; Josefina Cabigon; Haley Ball; Rubina Hussain; Jennifer Nadeau. Unintended Pregnancy And Induced Abortion In the Philippines: Causes and Consequences. Guttmacher Institute.
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7 Comments Add yours

  1. clarydavid says:

    Maraming buhay na ang nawala, dahil sa rason nang pagpapalglag. And its truly disappointing to read this kind of aticle. Gagawa gawa di naman kaya buhayin. Nakaklungkot, nakakadismaya sa sobrang kapusokan madaming inosenteng sangol ang namamatay. Kailan ba magiginsg ang mga kabataan? na ang buhay ay hindi biro. Kaya bago gumawa, kailangang isipin kung kaya bang harapin. SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE IKA NGA.

    Like

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