In the Philippines, there’s a national policy on the prevention and management of abortion complications (PMAC) aimed at providing post-abortion care. If it’s no secret that many Filipinos who deal with unwanted pregnancies are forced to undergo risky procedures, what’s keeping us from legalizing abortion?
According to a study published by the Guttmacher Institute in 2013, the country has a high maternal mortality ratio with 1,000 Filipinos dying each year from abortion complications while tens of thousands are hospitalized yearly for complications from unsafe abortion.
I sat down with Arya, chairperson of the youth-led initiative advocating for sexual and reproductive healthcare called Amarela Philippines, to talk abortion procedures, why abortion’s legalization is a human right issue and the local reproductive health organizations advocating for it.
How’s Amarela Philippines and its members been doing these past months? Were you busier under quarantine?
Arya: So far, Amarela’s been doing well. We’ve been quite busy despite quarantine. We’ve recently finished our second webinar, “Amarela Talks 2: Legalizing Abortion in the Philippines” and launched our sexual and reproductive healthcare community called Kanlungan. Our members are usually very busy but we make it a point for all of us to have a balance and rest every once in a while.
What is Amarela and what’s the story behind its founding?
Arya: Amarela Philippines is a sector-based non-government and non-profit organization. We aim to promote reproductive healthcare and education, as well as women empowerment and gender inclusivity. By extension, we also protest against gender-based violence and sexual harassment.
We originally started when our founder, Nina Co, and her colleagues wanted to raise funds for Likhaan Center for Women’s Health Inc., an organization that provides free reproductive healthcare and services to Filipinos. They realized there was a need for Filipinos to be educated and to start talking about topics such as sex, birth control and reproductive health to destigmatize the topic.
Since its conception in June 2019, our group has been able to facilitate discussions and educate Filipinos both online and offline about sex and issues that are included in our advocacies.
What is the state of sexual and reproductive healthcare in the Philippines?
Arya: Sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) in the Philippines is developing. However, there are barriers that we have to tackle to make sure SRH is inclusive. The stigma of sex prevents it from being accessible to everyone. A lot of people are still uncomfortable with the idea of sex being discussed in school or with anyone outside the family. Contraceptives and other forms of sexual healthcare are still considered to be unnatural or foreign to most and the long-standing societal and religious view of sex has affected how people feel about sex, having sex and even learning about anything related to reproductive health.
There are many SRH resources available online. There are many organizations, businesses and even individuals that promote it online. These resources are only available to those who can afford it—mostly middle or upper-middle-class individuals. However, it should be considered an essential right for all.
From translating factual resources to providing basic SRH healthcare at lower discounted rates, it’s still very much a work in progress.
While abortion remains illegal in the Philippines, the country has a policy created to provide post-abortion care services. What are local services and resources available for women who struggle with unwanted pregnancies?
Arya: The local services and resources available for women are often related to psychological counseling and support for mothers as well as adoption services for those who are unable to care for a child.
Can you share with us an account of someone who has gone through the procedure or was looking to get that procedure? If we have a friend or a family member who is in that situation, how do we provide them support?
When you have a friend or family member in the same situation, what is important is to support and listen to them. This stigma around those who have had abortions could cause discrimination, ostracization and even exclusion [from communities]. Another [way to lend a hand] is by redirecting individuals to services and organizations that could further provide support for them through informative resources and professional help.
What the biggest misconception about abortion?
Arya: Whenever people think of abortions, they think of it as the removal of a baby. There are circulations of false procedures, with extremely graphic descriptions being called abortions. In reality, safe abortions happen before the 24th week, with only special cases being allowed past it. There are two procedures for abortion, depending on how far along the woman is.
Abortion is a form of healthcare that allows women to gain control over their bodies and make decisions that could affect their lives long term. The lack of safe abortions [forces] women [to choose] unsafe and unsanitary [alternatives] that could lead to illness, injuries and even death.
Regardless of whether abortions are legal or not, the procedure will continue to happen. Regardless of the reason, everyone has a right to bodily autonomy and healthcare which is why abortions should be legalized in the Philippines.