THE CRIMINAL was a woman. They are always women.

The government plans to make make baby-dumping a capital punishment offence after the matter along with the topic of sex education received considerable coverage in the news recently. Reproduced below is an article from the Philipine Daily Inquirer on the consequences of criminalising abortion.

By Patricia Evangelista

Philippine Daily Inquirer

On paper, the sentence is imprisonment, up to six years. In the dank back rooms of Manila slums, and in the emergency wards of public hospitals, the sentence can be death. In 2008, at least 500,000 women resorted to abortion. Ninety thousand suffered complications. A thousand died.

LB: Santoro died after an illegal abortion

LB: Gerri Santoro, a mother of 2 died at 27 in 1964 after a botched illegal abortion. She was left to die in the motel room in 1964.

(LB: Read more here)

In the Republic of the Philippines abortion is illegal. There are no exceptions under the law. It does not matter if the woman’s life is at stake on an operating table in the Fabella General Hospital. It does not matter if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, if the expectant mother is a 9 year-old girl in the slums of Tondo, if the foetus is expected to die within the womb and the woman with it.

That the penalty of abortion is often death is not a secret from these women. They know this. They’ve seen it happen. Women who risk death are not concerned with the legality of their actions, they are willing to push the twisted end of a plastic hanger into their uterus; they believe they have no other choice. They may be afraid of God or death or the arm of the law, but they will carry on. The criminal penalty meant to stop abortion has not stopped millions of women; it has only stopped them from seeking help when they are bleeding into the cheap wood floors of their makeshift homes. Criminalisation has pushed them into the streets of Quiapo, outside the Church of the Black Nazarene, where the voices of priests echo in prayer and tablets of Cytotec are sold six for a thousand alongside plaster statues of the Virgin Mary.

Her name is Maricel, she was 18 and already a mother. That year she was granted a visa to work as a domestic worker overseas. And then she discovered she was pregnant. She induced her own abortion for fear of losing her chance to support her family. She failed, and went to a woman who inserted catheters into her uterus. It took two weeks of infection and vaginal bleeding for Maricel to decide to go to the hospital “because she was scared.” Her story ended on the operating table. The doctors said she died of septic shock.

The Republic of the Philippines is one of the last countries in the world that continue to call every instance of termination of pregnancy a criminal act, and because it is, every woman who commits abortion commits it on her own. The Philippines has one of the highest numbers of maternal deaths in the West Pacific Region, 230 dying out of 100,000 live births, as opposed to the regional average of 82. Unsafe abortion is responsible for up to 20 percent of these deaths.

Her name is Josie, 26. She went to an abortionist, pressed down on her abdomen and thrust a fat hose up her vagina. She was in the clinic a long time. She bled. Some of the blood stank. There was blood on the bedpan, on the sheets, gushing in chunks. The blood was very red. At home, she bled for more than a week. In chunks, in gushes. She thought she would die.

Those who condemn these women point to their culpability. Whores and sluts, murderers, should have kept their legs closed if they didn’t want a child. Should have abstained. Should have been good, responsible women, should be good mothers, should take responsibility. That most of these criminal women are Catholic, married, uneducated and desperately poor does not matter to many of their critics from Church and laity. Opponents of the Reproductive Health Bill say they oppose the provision of free contraception because to permit it may lead to permitting abortion and in one stroke denied thousands of women freedom from abortion.

This is Ana from Manila, mother of eight, who induced an abortion after her ninth child. She said she could not use family planning, because it was unavailable. A Guttmacher study says that in Manila, where an executive order was issued banning contraception in public health centers, the incidence of abortion is higher than in any other part of the country. A national government that makes contraception impossible for 90 percent of the population has no right to echo an impossible morality. They call these women criminal – the same government whose buckling under the Catholic lobby in the issue of reproductive health has forced millions of women to face the option of abortion.

This is Aileen, a mother of five, three of whom were still babies. She risked an unsafe abortion when she found out she was pregnant with her sixth.

“Only those who are better off, rich, can talk about abortion as illegal. They have no worries about raising their children… They do not know what it is like to be poor and desperate… Poor women have limited options… Everything I did was for my living children.”

This is the sort of woman they call a bad mother, a criminal who deserves to bleed to death in the corners of hospital rooms. The stigma of abortion coming from its criminalization means that when women who suffer after unsafe abortions find the courage to go to a hospital, medical staff believe they have the right to discriminate against such women. There is no such thing as patient confidentiality; there is no such thing as priority for those who are dying in gushes. The Jason Ivlers of the world can get their confidentiality and medical care after a shootout with the police, but in this country, the bleeding woman is the exception to the Hippocratic Oath.

This is Imelda, 30 years old. She was bleeding when she arrived in the Fabella Hospital. The doctors shouted at her. They said they would call the police. They said they would not allow her to leave the hospital if they discovered she had an abortion. She was allowed to bleed without care for four hours, and was interrogated by nine different health workers while she bled.

This is Lisa, and in Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center, they told her she would be arrested if they proved she had aborted. They made her sign a document in English, a language she could not understand on paper. A nurse put a notebook-size sign at the bottom of her bed with the word “abortion.” There was no chart with her name, only that one word.

This is Gina, and when the staff of Tondo General discovered she had aborted, she was left alone. Her back was soaked in blood. She wished someone would give her a napkin, a diaper, anything. Nobody did.

This is written in support of the decriminalization of abortion, in the hope that safe abortion will be offered for women in cases of rape and incest and risk to life, that women will no longer be ignored in emergency rooms because of who they are, that contraception will be provided so that no woman will be forced to see abortion as a choice, and that the thousands who choose the risk of back alleys and coat hangers will be called victims instead of criminals.

Call it by its name: abortion. In this country, every woman who chooses abortion is a criminal, and the sentence is often death and pain. One thousand women died bleeding in 2008, nobody was held accountable, because for some, these women deserved to die. The state holds them down; the Church watches them bleed. The criminals are not always women. The crimes are not always theirs.

They pray, these women. They believe in God, and some of them believe that God is forgiving. Today, at least three women will die, because they have no reason to have the same faith in their fellow men as they do in God.

(Much of the research for this piece comes from Forsaken Lives, a study by the Center for Reproductive Rights, and from studies by the Guttmacher Institute. Email to pat.evangelista[at]

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