MANILA, Philippines - Maricel, an 18-year-old mother, attempted to induce an abortion on fears of losing her employment opportunity in a foreign land.
She tried several means to this end. First, Maricel took Cyotec (the local brand name for a drug containing misoprostol normally used for treatment of gastric ulcer) to induce uterine contractions. She then went to a traditional midwife for a painful abdominal massage, and had a catheter inserted into her uterus.
Two weeks after her "catheterization," Maricel experienced vaginal bleeding, and felt feverish. Afraid of what will happen to her if doctors find out that she illegally induced an abortion, the mother initially refused to seek medical treatment.
Eventually, she gave in and went to the hospital. But it was too late. As doctors tried to perform a dilation and curettage (D&C) to complete the abortion, Maricel died on the operating table as a result of the sepsis caused by the unsafe abortion.
Maricel is one of the women featured in a report titled Forsaken Lives: The Harmful Impact of Philippine Criminal Abortion by New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.
The rights group noted that the criminalization of abortion in the country has led to health complications and untimely deaths of pregnant women.
It has not prevented the procedure in any way -- in 2008 alone, some 560,000 women in the country attempted to induce an abortion. Of the number, 90,000 sought treatment for complications and 1,000 of them died.
"The Philippines is one of the few countries in the world to criminalize abortion in all circumstances with no clear exceptions," the group said in its report.
It added, "As a consequence, women in the Philippines continue to die or suffer grave complications from unsafe abortion procedures, producing a massive and unnecessary public health crisis and violating the fundamental human rights of Filipino women."
The lack of access to a full range of family planning services and information, as well as effective modern contraceptives, didn't help.
According to the rights group, about 54% of all pregnancies in the Philippines were unplanned, which led to more induced abortions.
"If women had greater control over their fertility through effective methods of family planning and access to unbiased, truthful medical information, there would be far fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer women who would be compelled to resort to unsafe abortions," the Center for Reproductive Rights said.
So what should be done to address this problem?
The Center for Reproductive Rights, in the report, asked Congress to amend the Revised Penal Code to lift criminal sanctions on abortion at a minimum in the following circumstances:
- when the life and health (physical and mental) of the woman are in jeopardy
- when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest
- when there is a case of fetal impairment
The group also called for a law that would allow abortion in certain circumstances and more funding for women's reproductive health programs, particularly post-abortion care and contraceptive access.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), meanwhile, was asked to "demonstrate respect for the nation's constitution" by supporting women's reproductive health needs and choices.
Abortion is a practice that is highly condemned by the Catholic Church in the country. CBCP legal counsel Josephine Imbong defended their stand by saying that a higher number of abortions is not enough reason to legalize the procedure.
"I could also give figures on how many drug addicts there are in the country. Does that mean we should also make drug use legal?" Imbong said in an interview with Agence France-Presse.
She added that from the moment of conception, a baby's life should be protected. -- abs-cbnNEWS.com, with a report from Agence France-Presse