Clandestine abortion in the Philippines

Philippines has a population of around 103 million people. It is a country with the highest fertility rate in Asia, some of the most densely populated slums on the continent and according to the results of National Demographic and Health Survey, constantly growing rates of teenage pregnancies. Abortion under any circumstances is forbidden, ostracised and considered a crime. At the same time, any access to modern contraceptives or family planning methods is strongly restricted and more than 65% of women in the country rely only on natural methods of contraception, like calendar or withdrawal.

Despite such tight legislations, on average one in five women undergo a clandestine abortion procedure, often more than once in their life. According to the Guttmacher Institute research, more that 610 thousands women in the Philippines have abortion every year. Complications of unsafe procedures, such as heavy and long-lasting bleeding, genital infection, perforation of the uterus or overall sepsa infections are among ten most common reasons of women hospitalization. About 3 to 5 women die every day due to the consequences of unsafe abortion, sometimes already after arriving to a hospital where medical personnel happen to refuse treatment and ostracize patients who come with signs of self induced abortions.

The situation is especially complicated in poor communities where women are unable to financially support another child and opt for unsafe or extremely painful procedures. Traditional healers called “hilots” serve herbal mixtures of plants and perform very profound abdominal massages, which apart from causing miscarriages can also injure internal organs. Illegal abortive medications are also available on a black market and some women are able to find clandestine clinics, where the procedure of curettage or vacuum manual absorption is performed by nurses or para-medical staff without anesthesia or any medical help.

In the Philippines the question of abortion is not a question of a free choice, but often of survival. Women will always find ways to resolve a problem of an unwanted pregnancy, no matter how unsafe it will be. Various studies have shown that restrictive abortion laws do not prevent abortion itself, but rather prevent access to safe procedures and endanger especially poor women who are already extremely vulnerable.

Some names and locations in the report have been changed.