Women who resort to unsafe abortion in RP mostly married and poor

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 November) –  At 39, Lenny, a mother of nine,  has had three induced abortion, the last of  which she did alone at home when she was two months pregnant, using a psycho-active drug whose abortifacient qualities have been discovered by women in recent years.

Her husbands’ income was barely enough to answer the entire family’s needs.

Heidi (not her real name), 36, was working as a factory worker in Korea when she had her first abortion. Since abortion was legal in Korea, she and her husband decided to stop her third pregnancy because their two children were still very young and they were working without working visas in Korea.

She said they feared that pushing through with the baby will terminate their overseas jobs.

But back in the Philippines and working as an English tutor to Korean nationals years later, she had a life threatening pregnancy which forced her to resort to abortion.

Unlike the abortion performed in Korea, where abortion was safe and legal, her experience with unsafe abortion in the Philippines almost scarred her for life.

Lenny and Heidi were among the 353 women in six major cities in the country whose stories were included in the book, “The Realities and Experiences of Women on Unsafe Abortion in the Philippines,” written by Rowena V. Banes and Virgilio R. Aguilar, associate professors of the University of La Salle in Bacolod.

The book, recently launched in Davao City by the women’s group Gabriela, put a face to the increasing statistics of women who accessed unsafe abortion methods in the Philippines as a means of birth control.

Funded by the Safe Abortion Action Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF), the book lends a face to the overwhelming statistics of women who clandestinely access abortion in the country despite a law that deemed it illegal and the campaign waged by the Church and the government against it.

According to the book, majority of the women interviewed considered abortion as “evil” but were still forced into it as a solution to their economic difficulties.

The study also showed that women would oftentimes spend their meager savings or borrow money from friends and relatives just to pay for the high cost of these unsafe abortions. It also showed that eight of the 10 women interviewed had resorted to the anti-ulcer drug called Cytotec or misoprostol before it was phased out in the market.  Other women, however, used other “daring physical methods,” such as the insertion of intra-vaginal catheter and rubber hoses, considered extremely dangerous, or taking in plants and herbs identified for their abortifacient qualities.

Key interviewees for the project came from the cities of Manila and Baguio in Luzon, Bacolod and Cebu in the Visayas and Davao and Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao.

Most of the women covered by the study were in the prime reproductive age and married, although the book authors tried to cover women across all sectors. The book, however, refuted the commonly-held belief that only women who are single and in the early pregnancies resort to abortion.

Most of the 50 cases in Davao mainly included urban poor women, said researchers Kenneth Jean Milliondaga and Wilmelyn Gambong of the Women Studies and Resource Center in Davao City.

According to the authors, the worsening poverty situation and the poor access to reproductive health services have forced women to risk their lives through unsafe abortions.

The book took up on the early comprehensive studies done by the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) in 1994, which pegged at 300,000 to 500,000 the total number of women who had induced abortions annually in the Philippines. The UPPI study entitled, “Clandestine Abortion: A Philippine Reality” already challenged previous “stereotypes of young single women getting an abortion,” because abortion, “cut across class, age, marital status, and occur both in the urban and rural areas,” the authors cited.

In a follow up study in 2000, UPPI pointed the alarming trend that 473,000 women between the ages of 15 to 44 years old have an abortion per year, with 78,000 of them hospitalized for post abortion care.

The book also mentioned previous studies, including the World Health Organization’s report in 2006 which showed that “36 per cent of Filipino women become pregnant before marriage and 45 per cent of all pregnancies were either unwanted or ill-timed.”

“Despite the severity of the law, abortion appears to be widely practiced in the Philippines as a means of birth control,” the authors pointed out in Chapter 3, entitled, “The Incidence of Unsafe Abortion in the Philippines. “Surveys indicated that women resorting to abortion often come from economically disadvantaged groups and take this step because they are unable to provide for another child.”

The study also cited the state of the Philippine Population Report (SPPR) of the Population Commission in 2000, which declared abortion as the fourth leading cause of maternal deaths in the country.

“In a context of poor health conditions and widespread malnutrition, and where some 76 per cent of deliveries occurred at home and only 21 per cent are attended to by physicians, induced abortions are poorly performed and resulted to high maternal mortality and morbidity,” said part of the chapter 3, “the incidence of unsafe abortion in the Philippines.

Researchers said the study, the first in the country’s six key cities where incidence of unsafe abortion is high, will provide an initial baseline data on women and unsafe abortion in the Philippines.  Among the recommendations raised by the authors are the strengthening of women’s organizations to improve access to public health services and prevent unsafe abortion, training and education of nurses and health care providers to handle post abortion complications and a review of existing laws and policies for a more humane legislations and reproductive health rights.

The authors also supported the reproductive health bill currently being endorsed by the women’s group Gabriela in Congress. (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)