#OPINION | One-Option Choice

“Karen”. Art by Maxine Marqueses

Imagine being punished just because you put your needs first. Imagine having to choose between your future or risking your life in an unsafe procedure. Imagine having no choice but to raise a child you’re not ready for.

That’s what it’s like to have an unwanted pregnancy in the Philippines.

According to the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), 16% of births in the Philippines are unwanted and another 20% are mistimed. In that same year, there were 1.9 million unintended pregnancies. And despite the high percentage of unwanted and mistimed births, many of these pregnancies are not carried to term, thanks to illegal abortive services.

The consequences for having an abortion for any reason, sadly, meets punishment — when it shouldn’t have one in the first place. As stated by the Revised Spanish Penal Code, any physician or midwife that practices an abortion can be imprisoned for 6 years. If a woman practices an abortion on herself, she can be imprisoned for 6 months.

The Revised Penal Code took effect in 1932, and no revisions have been made to it since. You would think that our country’s laws and beliefs would change with time, but they didn’t. And as you would expect, not much has changed for our country.

If sticking to traditions hasn’t worked for us before, why not try updating our laws to fit the national issues that need to be solved?

We, as a society, can’t progress without the legalization of abortion.

Women have various reasons for wanting an abortion, and until abortion is made legal, these reasons will keep creating more and more problems like lower graduation rates, higher maternal mortality rates, overpopulation, and more.

The most common reason is not being financially ready to raise a child. According to imoney.ph, a pregnancy in the Philippines can cost from P26,750 to P194,700, depending on the kind of delivery, the number of tests, checkups and health supplements done and used. And that’s just the pregnancy, there’s still the rest of the baby’s life to account for.

How are they supposed to find a way to pay for all that, when many of these women are teenagers who have to give up or pause their education to care for their child? DepEd reports a 61.9% dropout rate due to teenage pregnancies, forced marriage, or family matters. This makes it harder for them to provide for the child they’re raising, especially since many of them are single mothers. In 2008, the Philippine Statistics Authority reports that 38% of the 1.8 million babies born in the country were born to unmarried mothers. It’s also difficult for them to find work since employers are unwilling to hire people who haven’t graduated high school.

How are they supposed to live a proper life, if many of them already have other children to raise? If they didn’t want a child at all? Married or not, it’s still a struggle. Most families can’t handle an unwanted child — in many cases, these children can be what pushes their families into poverty.

A second motive is that the child was conceived from rape. Here in the Philippines, rape is so common that someone is raped every hour — so common that there are many rape cases that result in unintended pregnancies. In the Zamboanga Peninsula alone, five girls aged 10–14 gave birth each day in 2018, with many of these cases resulting from rape, especially incest rape. The youngest mother in Philippine history was raped by her father at age 8, and gave birth at 10. And despite this, the Revised Penal Code still doesn’t allow abortion, not even for cases like these.

Furthermore, since the age of consent in the Philippines is 12 years old, rape done at this age and above isn’t considered child rape. So not only do the victims have to push through with a pregnancy they don’t want, they also have to relive the trauma and defend themselves by recounting the incident in court. How are these women supposed to raise a child they associate with traumatic events? How, when many of them are too young to even know how to take care of themselves? When many of them are still relying on their parents? When many of them still haven’t figured out what they want to do with their lives?

Another cause for wanting an abortion is high-risk pregnancies: where the lives of both the mother and child are at risk. Women who have pregnancies in their teenage years or at 35 years old or older are high risk, as well as those with medical conditions and pregnancy-related issues.

To prevent pregnancy complications like stillbirth, miscarriage and maternal death, more money will have to be spent during the pregnancy on treatments, immunizations, medicines, and more. This money could be spent on other things that would benefit these women and their families, such as food, water, electricity, education, housing, and much more. However, many of these women don’t have that money to spare. With their families, themselves, and their other children to take care of, they can’t afford to push through with a pregnancy and purchase these treatments without it negatively affecting the wellbeing of their loved ones. But it’s either they do that or risk their health and potentially, their lives. Both options have terrible consequences they can’t afford to experience.

What they can afford to, however, is an unsafe abortion.

It is because of these reasons that Filipino women continue to want and need abortions despite their illegality — so much they will go to any extent just to have one. The only thing the illegality of abortion is doing is making it unnecessarily dangerous.

You could say that abstinence, contraceptive methods, and proper sex education could prevent this, and in a way, they do. Since the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act was passed in 2012, more Filipino women are voluntarily using modern contraceptive methods. From July 2017 to 2018, 2,549,000 unwanted pregnancies were prevented.

But while this is good, it’s not good enough. 30.9% of women still have an unmet need for contraceptive methods. These methods also aren’t 100% effective, and aren’t an option in some cases, like rape.

Because of the stigma against abortion, most doctors are unwilling to practice it for fear of being imprisoned, leaving women to resort to methods recommended in popular online fora to find a way to have an abortion.

In these fora, backstreet abortionists and abortion pill substitutes are promoted by Filipinas and spam robots alike. Thanks to a lack of education on safe abortive methods and how expensive these methods can be, Filipino women in these forums have no choice but to trust in whatever they feel is right.

Even if underground doctors that perform WHO-recommended abortive services are promoted heavily on these forums, Filipino women still end up going for more dangerous methods because of how much cheaper they are than the safer methods.

And when complications arise because of these methods, the same stigma prevents women from getting treated.

Doctors have gone so far as to threaten to report women who have had an abortion, delay care, and even physically and verbally abuse them. Because of this, about 1000 Filipino women die each year from abortion complications such as hemorrhage, sepsis, peritonitis, and trauma to the cervix, vagina, uterus, and abdominal organs.

Like it or not, it is a necessity; it’s something big enough to change lives. If getting an abortion has that big of an effect on a woman’s life, shouldn’t she have a choice on the matter? Why are women being forced to choose between raising a child, dying, or being imprisoned?

For what reason? To protect the baby’s life?

If it really was about the baby’s life, women wouldn’t be told to just give up their child for adoption, because at least “they’ll be alive and have better parents to care for them”, making it seem like the best option when it isn’t. There’s no guarantee your child will get adopted because of how strict, slow, and demanding the Philippine adoption process is.

Getting cleared for adoption is nearly impossible for some; what with the hard to acquire documents the government requires, such as the child’s birth certificate and their parents’ death certificates. Once they get cleared, it could take years to find willing adoptive parents — it could take long enough for them to not find parents in time and to be declared too old to be adopted.

If it really was about the baby’s life, what happens to the baby after they are born would matter too. Pro-lifers can say they think it matters all they want, but where is the proof?

The real reason behind the illegality of abortion is to control women, though we are unwilling to admit it

Since the beginning of time, men have declared women as nothing more than homemakers, incapable of anything else beyond that. When abortion was first made illegal, Filipino women still hadn’t been given the right to vote — their voices and opinions were seen as invalid just because they were women.

Even now, some men are still trying to have some sort of control over women, ages after it was taken away from them. Every waking moment of a Filipino woman’s life, she’s told what she should look like, what to wear, how to act, what she should believe in, and more, in conflicting statements made just to place the blame on women for things that are out of their control, like sexual harassment and unintended pregnancies.

By focusing so much on the baby’s wellbeing, the Filipino woman’s life is treated like something insignificant. When she gets an abortion, she is scorned for being selfish — for not considering the life that could’ve lived because of her. She is blamed and hated for not sticking to the one-option choice that power-hungry men have given her; for not giving in to their controlling hands.

When a woman is forced to push through with an unwanted pregnancy, consent is thrown out the window. She must go through nine months of physical pain and spend plenty of time and money just to give birth to a child just because a law told her to. Her body is reduced to nothing more than a vessel for a life- she who owns it and her right to self-autonomy is ignored.

It can even be said that a dead person has more rights than a pregnant woman in the Philippines. Corpses cannot be used for medical studies or organ transplants without consent, even for saving a life. If they have these rights, why can’t living, breathing women have them? Does our consent not matter? Does a baby’s life and rights matter more than a woman’s?

To this pro-lifers say that they support women’s rights and don’t want to take them away — as long as these rights don’t involve murdering anybody.

But what exactly is murder? Merriam-Webster defines murder as the unlawful killing or taking away of a person’s life. Life, in pro-lifers’ perspective, begins when the heart starts beating at 5 ½ to 6 weeks after gestation and ends when it stops.

In medical professionals’ perspective, a person is considered dead when their brain completely stops functioning, even if their heart is still beating. So one can argue that life begins when a fetus’s brain demonstrates regular wave patterns at 25 weeks, far after most abortions are performed. And when they are done at this point, they are done because of life-or-death situations — not because the mother wanted to. In fact, if a woman is still pregnant as this point, she must’ve chosen to stay pregnant.

This means that keeping abortion illegal isn’t saving any lives, because majority of times, the proper process of abortion doesn’t actually kill anybody. If anything, keeping it illegal is ruining lives and even killing people- the exact opposite of its perceived goal.

However, we must remember that no one actually knows when life begins- scientists themselves are still debating upon it. And who knows, pro-lifers might actually be right when they say that life begins at conception. If such is true and if this law really was about the baby’s life and nothing else, there at least would be exceptions — and the woman’s life would be considered, too.

But there aren’t any — all there is is punishment for not following the twisted standards of abstinence and child-bearing that Filipino society has set for them by taking away their rights to self-autonomy and healthcare.

But it doesn’t have to stay this way.

If we keep pushing to make abortion legal in the Philippines, it will happen eventually. We are the people of the Philippines, and what is right and wrong is decided by us and us alone through popular demand.

If we get enough people to support our cause, soon we will see the change we want to see.

You might think we’re too young to be worrying about this, but the future is coming sooner than you think. Soon enough, we will be the adults dealing with the consequences of the problems the illegality of abortion causes.

So why not begin fighting to make abortion legal while we’re still young?

As the youth of the Philippines, we must educate the people about the benefits of abortion and contraceptive methods to eliminate the stigma against them. We must advocate and encourage others to advocate for the legalization of abortion and better accessibility for contraceptives, abortive services, and post-abortion care.

Why should we keep letting the Revised Penal Code have a claim over our bodies? We must reclaim Filipino women’s rights to self-autonomy. Baby or no baby, our bodies are ours, and what happens to them should be up to us.

Why are we still accepting the one-option choice they’ve given us when we have a right to more?

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The Science Scholar

The Science Scholar

The official English publication of the Philippine Science High School–Main Campus. Views are representative of the entire paper.