LB: Santoro died after an illegal abortion

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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19 replies on “THE CRIMINAL was a woman. They are always women.”

  1. We use words when we talk about abortion. We argue about the pros and cons.

    But if you look at the pictures to know what happens during that procedure, and how an innocent child is torn apart, you'd think twice about being a proponent of abortion.

    I looked at 2 pix and I could not take it any more.….

    In some cultures, it is believed that a fetus is as much a person as the child outside the womb. That spirit of the child is alive the moment conception takes place and that child hears either a father complaining about yet another pregnancy,or its parents' conversations about an abortion etc. Ever wonder why some children feel depressed or rejected at the very start of their lives? Because its spirit knows it was never welcomed.

    Here's something to ponder about regarding when life begins:

    The alternative to abortion is adoption, institutionalised support in the form of sex education, free medical care, rehabilitation, healing of memories, state care and help in moving forward.

  2. pro-lifers. really?

    they sound like a bunch of sanctimonious know-all on their high horses. how pro-life are you, really, you who think women should have no right over their own body? the fetus, the baby must live, you shout out loud in very public displays.

    what have you done lately for the living? do you help the poor to feed their children? do you go to the orphanages to care for children who have been forsaken for some reason or other? do you oppose the death sentence because all life is sacred? do you strive to ensure as best as you can that every underprivileged child — or at least those who you come into contact with — does not go astray because he or she is so deprived. do you even care about what happens to the baby who must be carried to term once they have been brought into this world?

    what would you do if your 17-year-old daughter became pregnant out of wedlock? would you insist that she carry the fetus to term, the hell with finishing school and setting herself up in the world? would you have her ruin her life because of a mistake?

    it's easy to judge and to impose your values on others when you have nothing at stake other than an opinion and a dogma. personally, i am against abortion but that's my own conviction. i would and i couldn't do it. but that doesn't mean that everyone else should think and act as i would. there are circumstances beyond our doing and imagining. we each have to make our own difficult choices in life when they stare us hard in the face.

    they say the world doesn't owe you a living, and isn't that the truth? so why should the world impose itself on how you are to make of your life and how you are to make a living? to insist that you saddle yourself with a baby you do not want and cannot afford to want?

    at the end of the day, whatever difficult decision you make in whatever distressing situation you may be confronted with, it is you yourself who are accountable for it. it is you who must answer to your own conscience. everybody else buzz off.

  3. Dear Kind Folks,

    Its crucial to commence engaging many folks from different sectors to have a major exercise to help these unfortunate teenage girls and boys… they are crying for help… Death penalty is the easy way out but will never solve the underlying problem.. more babies will die as we speak…

    The ANSWER is Effective Education in stopping this horrific trend of baby dumping. It is through proper Education taught by Medically Trained Professionals targeting at both Girls and Boys with proper syllabus starting with something like these —

    (1) the biological process of having a baby.

    (2) the responsibilities of raising a child.

    (3) the effects of teenage pregnancies … for instance … putting aside their dreams of becoming a Teacher or Astronaut or even a Judge… or a Surgeon or Soccer Player… etc OR getting a College Degree or a Masters or a PhD…because they have to be mothers and fathers 1st.

    (4) the opportunity loss and may have to forsake their dreams to be whatever they aspire to be after finishing school/college… etc

    These social issues are inevitable, and we cannot deny that it is on the increase. I believe the last 3 or 4 cases or more dead babies were dumped outside a factory in Malacca, on the edge of the coast in Johor, somewhere in Tampin, Kelantan & Kuala Lumpur. What do these dead babies tell us?

    I believe its 'shouting' at our faces to WAKE UP…. wake up to the cries of their teenage mothers & fathers who didn't know the outcome of their actions, and whom were too afraid to come forth to ask for help badly…

    Why are these teenage parents too afraid to come forth .. why?

    Because —

    For fear of punishment, embarassment or even alienation from their family and friends and even their community because they were taught that it was a 'bad' thing to have babies out of wedlock, and they would be severely punished for it… and would also embarassed their families…. and its possible that no one will understand their predicament and may chase them out of their houses… and so on…

    Babies can't speak for their uneducated parents but YOU CAN… and DO SOMETHING quickly.. I also believe as I write my comments on this thread… we may already have cases of some teenage pregnancies or waiting for an opportunity to dump their babies in some dark alley, monsoon drain or rubbish dump … etc…

    The way I see it is — We need to work from both angles of this issue for a start, that is to day —

    (1) Create a safe place for them to talk about it before dumping their babies… they can remain anonymous on the telephone…

    (2) Effective Gender (Sex) Education taught by professionals and NOT Teachers.. Teachers are to concentrate on the regular school curriculum, and

    (3) Most important and vital for the well being of these Youth is this —

    Compassion from Parents and the Community.

    I think we should confront these issues before us, and engage with immediate action to be taken before more babies are dumped unnecessarily.

    How many more babies need to die before Malaysians WAKE UP…

    Please help them.


    Today Article on this issue on point for reading —

  4. Spot on, Life. Can't say it any better than that. And please don't apologize for not writing "elegantly". Just because most of us are lawyers here doesn't mean that we can identify the issues in the article which you've highlighted. So much privileges and entitlement going around this part of the web.

  5. This article is disturbing on so many levels. I cannot believe that anyone, much less health care workers can just stand by and watch a woman bleed to death. To interrogate her in such a state is even worse. It is also not the health care workers' place to decide if they should be punished in the hospital. They should treat her and let the police deal with the matter.

    While I do not support abortion, I appreciate that these women have very little choice. No sane woman would put herself through such a procedure in the back-alleys if there was another way.

    “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.”

    Who can dispute this statement? How can they possibly support that many children? Will the government give them money to help raise these children if they were kept? Would adoption agencies accept them if they mother cannot afford to keep them? Food, education and health care costs a lot, I cannot blame the adoption agencies if they themselves cannot afford to keep the child until someone willing comes along. What would be the difference in abortion the fetuses and letting the children die of hunger?

    And who makes the policies? Surely not these uneducated women. Has anyone of these policy-makers ever humbled themselves enough to go out to the streets and spend time talking to these women? Find out why they chose this path? Or were these women just a number on the statistics chart, carelessly labeled as sluts and whores?

    More disturbingly, there was no mention whatsoever of the men who impregnated these women. Did both parents make the decision to abort? Either way, more than one person should be prosecuted. In this day and age, DNA testing makes it simple to know who skipped out on their responsibility.

    I can think of many possible reasons why these women kept getting pregnant, and I think that by just making abortion a criminal offense, someone is taking the easy way out. In my opinion, making family planning measures available to all would be a good start. Second would be to reach out to the poor and educate them. There is no way that this problem will go away overnight.

    Lastly, my sincerest apology that my reply is not as elegantly written as those the preceeded mine. I am not a lawyer, just someone who appreciates all forms of life and would love to see a change for the better.

  6. Thanks for info, Hak. Will read up on that. However I just want to stress that I'm not asking women who abort to be charged with murder. I don't think that's a solution either. It just makes a frightened woman feel even worse and is counter-productive. I'm just saying, even without the benefit of any new, latest laws, findings on abortion, my instinct is to preserve the life-form and help the mother (yes, she's officially a mother) but by preventive measures. I often ask myself what happens if the woman was raped. The ordeal is horrible enough, we surely can't make her keep the baby which reminds her of her ordeal. However, let's not forget even as we sympathise with the primary victim, we also have another victim – the baby. While I would not be self-righteous by suggesting she keeps the baby, I feel a solution that answers to both woman and child is to give the baby up for adoption at birth. Look, a LOT of people think pro-lifers are a bunch of conservative wankers, but life is life. We can't mess around with it.

  7. 1994 Intl Conference on Population and Devt (ICPD), Cairo.

    Most sites will have the ICPD statement. Check relevant paras on abortion (health, repro rts, mortality for eg) and check NGO statements/analysis. There is a f/up meetimg Sept 2010.

  8. How to avoid abortion?

    1.)Safe Sex education for our youth.

    2.)Make contraceptives more easily available.

    Criminalizing abortion will only harm the poor. The rich always find ways to do it overseas.


  9. I believe the article above is promoting abortion and it is not the solution.

    Please consider the implication of legalizing abortion. Everone who is pro-life is not necessary equated to being a religous fanatic. I believe abortion encroaches into a bigger picture of human rights for the unborn. Pro-lfer gives voice for the ones who can't speak or has no voice in society. They are merely labeled as a fetus and that's the end of it.

    I was also believe abortion was alright however after reading and witnessing an actual abortion procedure, I vowed that no one should be subject to that disgusting procedure.

    I should not digress, we should not find solution to end pregnancies rather find the root cause of all the unwanted pregnancies. The irony is that there are couples who want to have child and they can't on one divede whilst there are couples who want to terminate their pregnacies on another divide.

    Let us find out these root causes and then find solution to deter such causes.

  10. I feel very disturbed reading this article.

    I am a pro-lifer. I do not condone abortions. However, I do believe in circumstances where an abortion is, by moral and ethical grounds should be allowed.

    Examples of these are where it is medically urgent, where the pregnancy is endangering the life of the mother, where the mother has cancer and is going for chemotherapy, or where the subsequent child born shall be terminally disabled in such a manner that death would be a mercy, or for victims of rape in consideration for their delicate psychological condition.

    I think the issues raised above can be efficiently address with education and the availability of contraceptives.

  11. It might be instructive to read the ICCPD. Cairo documents? Google and read the analysis on abortions for women. Stay with the times people.

  12. If abortion is not legalized what choices do women have when they got pregnant as a result of rape? What choice does a woman have, if there were no legal and proper channel for her to abort an unwanted pregnancy due to various reasons like deformity or just plain poverty where the family can barely survive without the baby to feed? Will abortion stop if it is not legalized? The article has found that in Philippine, where abortion is illegal, women still abort their pregnancies. These women had to face death to abort their pregnancies because there are no legal and proper channel for them. So, many of these women died. So, is the Pro-lifers really pro-life? Due to their position, they have forced desperate women to use the back alley which often what await them are death. Yes, the fetus is a life, but are the women died of botched abortion not a life lost? Will criminalizing abortion save these women and their babies? This article had shown that it cannot. So “pro-lifer” should called as what they really stand for. They are not pro-life, they are simply anti-abortion.

  13. Agree with Ben. We are human beings. We have our weaknesses. In an age where everything can be made more convenient and easy, we have forgotten to be accountable. We have also forgotten to take care to educate our children the gravity of the sex act, the possible consequences. And the education system doesn’t help.

    If young people understand that with the fun, possibly comes a baby, A LIFEFORM, maybe they’ll think twice. If they are too young to grasp that, then we have to make sure they don’t get duped by opportunistic boy friends. If they know but don’t care, we have to make sure they know the choice they have made – they must keep the baby. Give it up for adoption after birth, fine, but NO ABORTION. The women who panic and try to get rid of their babies opt for illegal, cheap quack doctors but they are panicking because they finally realise what they have in their wombs and they feel unprepared to take care of the baby. Why is it that they must come to this point before they grasp the whole seriousness of things?

    I know the women are usually the victims. But we cannot always blame the men either. We need to empower the women but allowing abortion is counter-empowerment. It’s an easy way out so they don’t learn responsibility from it unless it goes wrong and they’re scarred. We have to teach them that life is precious, not disposable at the committing of one grave mistake.

    We can take things on a case by case scenario but we should never legalise abortion in one blanketting move. Human beings like us will just abuse such an outright allowance.

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