Not Just Girls in Trouble


When the acclaimed indie movie "Juno" was shown in the Philippines recently, it was only screened in a few movie houses for a short time. Like many fledgling "indie" movies in a market saturated in big budget Hollywood films, it wasn't exactly a crowd-drawer, noted a local film columnist. But no doubt, the movie and perhaps similar others like it present clear opportunities to get abortion out in the open to be discussed openly and honestly (for once sans fire and brimstone).

In 2006, the Guttmacher Institute, collaborated with the local University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) and released its latest research on the incidence of abortion in the Philippines showing that an annual rate of over 473,400 (27 per 1,000 women). While this study is based on data as far back as 2000-2002, it is the most recent source of data on abortion. Indeed, there have been no other studies on abortion apart from the UPPI and AGI initiatives in 1998 and 2006 respectively.

One of the more interesting findings is that the stereotype of who usually undergoes abortion and why (in the Philippines) doesn't exactly fit the hard data.

Arguably, stereotype of a woman seeking abortion in this country involves "young girls in trouble." Even the age-old criminal statute portrays the stereotype of young women as the primary seekers of abortion, imposing a different and lower set of penalties when young women (their parents included) commit abortion because they are motivated by "concealment of dishonor" (these are the actual words in the law).

While indeed the study noted that over 46% of attempted abortions are still among young women (aged 24 and below) the majority of women actually going through abortions are actually Catholic mothers with already three or more children, married and/or living with a partner. The majority of these women either have a high school or college level education (7 out of 10), but majority are also poor (also 7 out of 10).

Of course an alarming data gap is the actual percentage of maternal deaths and health complications because of botched abortions. We know for a fact that the maternal mortality rate in the Philippines remains alarmingly high (162 as of 2007) Despite the statistically insignificant "decline" (from 172 in 1998), the Philippine government has actually claimed a significant decrease in maternal deaths. To do this, it neglects to mention the 1998 data and compares the current rate of 162 to 1993's closer to "209" maternal mortality rate.

But the "spin" on maternal mortality figures by the national government is hardly the only problem.

Arguably, government's political posturing against abortion and reproductive rights issues has largely been in reaction to the vocal Catholic hierarchy. On the other hand, there are indications that the usual "fire and brimstone" approach isn't doing the job anymore. Noting that recently, a group of Councilors in Quezon City stood firmly behind the passage of a Reproductive Health Ordinance in spite of some Bishops' denunciation of the measure, Philippine Daily Inquirer Columnist, Rina Jimenez David observed:

This tells me many things about the Church's campaign against reproductive health and rights. One is that the name of the game for the Church is intimidation, and only because the bishops know they have already lost the public opinion war on the issue of family planning. Another is that the Church will "win" only when legislators and policymakers allow themselves to be intimidated, or put politics before the greater good. And yet another insight is that despite the Church's incendiary rhetoric, nobody really believes it. The world is not going to end because teenagers are taught to use the condom or because women learn how to pop pills.

Given such a development, one of the surest ways forward would be to challenge conventional avoidance of open discussions about the issue of abortion, and to aim for a dialogue – hopefully one that doesn't end up oversimplifying the issue as a matter of sin, but as a matter of law.

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