Abortion in the Philippines: what the law says

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By ELENA MASILUNGAN. Originally published on Newsbreak.
Newsbreak’s Maggie de Pano Fellow

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is one of a few countries in the world where abortion is a criminal act, with no legal exception.

Since 1930, abortion has been a crime under Philippine law. The 1987 Philippine Constitution further underlines this when it stated that the State “shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

The Penal Code punishes both intentional and unintentional abortion. Acts of violence committed against a pregnant woman that resulted in an abortion is a key element of the crime, even if there is no intention on the part of the offender to end the pregnancy. (Link: The World’s Abortion Laws)

Aside from the woman who commits abortion “to conceal her dishonor,” the law also holds either or both of her parents accountable when, with their daughter’s consent, they caused the abortion.

Doctors and midwives “who take advantage of their scientific knowledge or skill” to carry out an abortion, are also answerable to the law. So are pharmacists who give out “any abortive” with no “proper prescription from a physician.”

Penalties for those found guilty of committing abortion range from arresto mayor, or imprisonment of one month and one day to six months, in the case of pharmacists to reclusion temporal, or imprisonment of 12 years and one day to 20 years, to those who caused intentional abortion through violence.

Doctors and midwives are penalized with a six-year imprisonment. The woman and either or both her parents can also get prison sentences of up to six years.

No exception

Some legal experts contend that a provision in the Constitution— “equally protect the life of the mother”— allows therapeutic abortion or intentionally terminating a pregnancy for medical reasons, especially when the life or health of the mother is at stake.

In practice, however, many doctors are not willing to risk doing it since there is nothing definite in the existing law nor is there any policy or regulation that justifies such an exception.

For countries that allow therapeutic abortion, the following instances justify terminating a pregnancy:

  • Medical condition or illness of the mother where continuing the pregnancy may threaten her life or her health, such as hypertension, eclampsia, diabetes, and various forms of cancer, including those affecting the breast, the ovary and the cervix;
  • Fetal impairment where the pregnancy is likely to result in the birth of a baby with significant mental or physical defects, or where the baby will eventually die soon after birth; and
  • When the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

The ban even on therapeutic abortion in the Philippines is one of the reasons why women undergo unsafe abortion, according to the World Health Organization, which said that the legality of abortion is a key determinant of maternal mortality and morbidity. – Newsbreak

The series was produced under the Maggie de Pano Fund for Investigative Reporting on Health. The Fund, which is managed by Newsbreak, is made possible through a grant from Macare Medicals, Inc.

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