Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Abortion Tragedy in the Philippines

I'm so tired of the gaggle of "Pro-Life" politicians in the Philippines.  You've seen them and unfortunately heard them:  Golez, Pacquiao, Enrile, and our favorite dork of the month, Sotto, harping on about the grave dangers of condoms, pills, and IUDs.  All, of course, propped up by the Philippine Mini-Popes, i.e. the CBCP.

Look, I'm a progressive liberal.  I'm about as liberal as a person can get.  When I say liberal I mean liberal in every way:  an economic liberal, a military liberal ("a dove"), and a social liberal.  I grew up in a liberal family, in a liberal culture, in a liberal country called Norway.

In my country, RH isn't an issue.  It hasn't been an issue's never really been an issue.  This is because the Catholic Church holds absolutely no sway in Norway.  None.  The pope never visits us because we honestly don't want him to.  (We think he's a bigot, to be quite honest with you.)  In my country the government's been giving out free condoms and birth control pills since the 1960s,  and the state doesn't interfere in a woman's right to choose what to do with her own body.

In other words, abortion is legal.  More than that, it's free.  Abortion is included in the national health care system, and women have the right to have an abortion (during the first 12 weeks of gestation) at any hospital across the land.  I'm proud of this fact.  Damn proud.  I wouldn't want it any other way, nor would the vast majority of my fellow countrymen.  In other words, yes, I'm pro-choice.  (If you'd like to read my own take on the issue, and why I'm pro-choice, you can read my post 'When Does Life Begin?')

I get irritated when I hear "pro-lifers" in the Philippines (or wherever) claiming to be God's defenders of the unborn; claiming to know beyond a doubt that life begins the nanosecond a lone sperm brushes up against an ovum; shouting that abortion is "murder" and a danger to women.

Well duh.  Obviously it's a danger when it's illegal.  Obviously it's dangerous when women have no legal access to it and are forced to go to quack doctors, drink herbal concoctions, or attempt at-home abortions with barbeque sticks and clothes hangers.

Pro-lifers aren't pro-life at all.  What they are is pro-birth.  How the hell can someone call themself pro-life when they clearly don't really care what happens to children once they're born?  If they were pro-life they'd do everything within their power to cut down the incidence of abortion, not simply outlaw it.  And one of the best, cheapest, most effective ways to do just that, is contraception.

Being truly pro-life would include making it state policy to distribute condoms and other contraceptives to all women, including teens.

It would include a blitz of reproductive health education, from the school hall to the barangay hall.  It would include being a defender of life - of all life, especially the lives of the living - not just a defender of zygotes and embryos.

It would include a massive push to get street kids off the streets and into safe, decent, stable homes; encouraging adoption, making it easier and less costly to adopt, and treating same-sex adoptive couples the same as opposite-sex adoptive couples.

I scoff at that claim of Senator Vicente "Tito" Sotto, who said on the floor of the Senate: "I stand up for life."

No, sir, what you stand up for is birth.  If you stood up for life, you'd do something to help the tens of thousands of already living children on the streets of Manila, rather than simply drive by them on your way to and from work each day in the backseat of your tinted-window SUV.  And by the way, handing out 500-peso bills at election time doesn't count as 'standing up for life'.

Pro-life?  Sure, you go right ahead and keep telling yourself that.

The same goes for the celibate, pro-birth bishops and cardinals, who get chauffered from their cathedrals to their cushy, air conditioned residences in their private SUVs.  That vow of poverty makes life pretty rough, doesn't it, gentlemen?

Abortion is an intensely touchy topic, that much is true, and it likely always will be.  The RH Bill does not give a thumbs up to abortion, seek to legalize abortion, or even create a path to potentially legalizing abortion.  So while the RH Bill has nothing at all to do with abortion, abortion is nevertheless tied in with the broader topic of reproductive health, because one affects the other.

Even though abortion is very much illegal in the Philippines, there is a very real abortion tragedy taking place every day across its 7,100+ islands.  This tragedy affects women, especially lower-income women, who are caught between a rock and a hard place:  unable to access effective, affordable contraception and the proper, medically-acurate information that goes along with it, while at the same time legally unable to make weighty decisions on their own in the event that they do experience an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, which is partly the fault of not having full contraceptive choice in the first place. 

This is nothing short of a slap in the face to women's rights.  In 2012, Filipina women deserve so much better than this.

In 2010, the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights put out a scathing report on the status of abortion in the Philippines, titled Forsaken Lives: The Harmful Impact of the Philippine Criminal Abortion Ban.  In it were cited tragic and shameful statistics backed up by the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of State, and the European Union, among others, and I highly recommend you read it.

Because abortion is illegal under any circumstance in the Philippines, this means that abortion is non-existent.  Correct?  Far from it.  The Philippines has a disproportionately high abortion rate, ranging from at least 560,000 to as many as 800,000 abortions per year, according to the World Health Organization.  That's a ratio ranging from at least 25:1000 to 37:1000.  Nobody really knows how high the figures go because, being illegal, secret abortions aren't exactly tallied and reported.

Since the Philippines' population is only increasing, and economic hardships on families certainly aren't decreasing, the 800,000 figure is likely much closer to reality.

I want to do a quick comparison of stats between the Philippines, where abortion is illegal under any circumstances, and my country, Norway, where abortion is legal.

The Philippines

Reproductive health services
Severly limited, especially to the poor
Sex education
Very basic and abstinence-based
Legality of abortion
Illegal, unsafe, criminally punishable
Annual abortion rate
25-37 per 1,000 women
Women hospitalized/year due to unsafe abortions
ca. 90,000+
Women who die/year due to unsafe abortions
ca. 1,000+*
Influence of conservative religious lobbies


Reproductive health services
Comprehensive and free of charge
Sex education
Comprehensive; contraceptive-based
Legality of abortion
Legal, safe, free of charge
Annual abortion rate
12.7 per 1,000 women
Women hospitalized/year due to unsafe abortions
Women who die/year due to unsafe abortions
Influence of conservative religious lobbies

Notice anything in there?  There are several key points.  Feel free to go back and read over them again 'til they sink it.

It's not just Norway that has such statistics.  The developed countries of Western Europe (all with comprehensive RH and the majority with legal abortion on demand) have the lowest rates of abortion in the worldThe Western European average is 12:1000, with the lowest being Switzerland at 7:1000, and the highest being France at 17:1000.  (See also here.)

Which countries have the highest abortion rates?:  developing countries where abortion is typically (and ironically) illegal.  As American journalist and pro-choice advocate Will Saletan puts it, "In other words, when you outlaw abortion and limit contraception, you get more abortion, because more women who don't want to have babies get pregnant. ...[A]nd they find ways to get abortions, whether you like it or not."

My point is this:  My country is secular and non-religious; abortion is legal; teens get condoms and birth control pills for free in school; and we have same-sex marriage.  And you know what?  We're doing pretty damn well.  Our abortion rate is lower than countries where abortion is illegal, not to mention the fact that, because abortion is legal, it's also safe.  We have no women dying from botched abortions or self-administered abortion drugs or birth control use, or from infections rising from either of the three.

Seems to me that someone who truly stands up for life would make an attempt to care (at least just a little) that 90,000 Filipina women suffer each year in hospitals due to hemorrhaging, sepsis, and punctured internal organs caused by clandestine abortions, many of whom have treatment delayed or are openly scolded, lectured, and threatened with criminal charges by hospital staff for their "sin."

Seems to me that someone who truly stands up for life would make an attempt to care (at least just a little) that a minimum of 1,000 Filipina women are dying each and every year due to dangerous back-alley abortions. 

That is an unacceptable, preventable national tragedy.

Instead, what happened in the Senate on September 5th?  Sotto's dubious fears succeeded in deleting an entire subsection of the Senate version of the RH Bill because of concerns that it might be used to legalize abortion 'some day.'

Sotto and his pro-birth amigos and amigas removed the following provision:  "While this Act does not amend the penal law on abortion, the government shall ensure that all women needing care for postabortion complications shall be treated and counseled in a humane, nonjudgmental and compassionate manner."

How scandalous.

The RH Bill doesn't contain a provision for abortion.  None.  Never has, never will.  Anyone who has basic reading and English comprehension skills can figure that out by the very wording of the Bill.  The zygotes will be safe if the Bill passes, don't worry.

If you're anti-abortion you should at the very least be pro-contraception.  Nothing cuts abortion rates more than easily-accessable, low cost, reliable contraception and medically accurate (not religiously inaccurate) reproductive education.  If someone is anti-abortion, anti-contraception, and anti-sex education, they're anti-women as well.

The above deleted provision would have been a nice first step in the right direction.  But pro-birth senators didn't like the idea of low-income women without options being treated humanely, nonjudgmentally and compassionately by medical professionals.  For sure, nothing says "pro-life" like looking away while 1,000 women needlessly lose their lives.  But it's okay; after all, they're doing it to protect the "lives" of zygotes.

Obvioulsy just making abortion illegal doesn't work; neither does it make a country "pro-life."  The statistics make this fact abundantly clear, as "pro-life countries" have higher abortion rates than those that are pro-choice.

I wonder how Sotto would try to counter-argue this fact.  He'd likely discredit my point because I'm just another European who wants nothing more than to depopulate the Philippines in order to exploit it.  Sure.

And then he'd plagiarize and fact-twist my article the very next day.

"I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life.  In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed.  And why would I think that you don’t?  Because you don’t want any tax money to go there.  That’s not pro-life.  That’s pro-birth.  We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is." 
- Sister Joan Chittister, Roman Catholic Nun, USA

*This number in reality is likely much higher, as reported in Forsaken Lives, because it relies solely on the reports of hospitals.  Many hospitals do not list cause of death as "infection due to abortion."  There are also likely many Filipina women who die at home, too afraid to seek medical treatment for fear of criminal prosecution.


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