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Women’s rights group calls for legal abortion in the Philippines

Women's rights groups today (Monday) called for the abortion to be partly legalised in the Philippines after reports that an estimated half a million turn to unsafe procedures each year.

The Philippines, a poor, mostly Catholic country, bans all forms of abortion no matter what the details of the case are.

About 560,000 Filipino women turn each year to illegal and unsafe abortions, including inserting catheters into the uterus and ingesting herbs or other concoctions sold in the streets.

The study released today by New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights showed that about 90,000 of those women suffer from complications and about 1,000 die every year.

The centre said the Philippine government was directly responsible for the crisis and accused it of neglecting the rights of these women by not solving the effects of the ban.

Criminalisation of abortion has not prevented abortion in the Philippines, but it has made it extremely unsafe,” the report says.

Nancy Northup, the centre’s president, said in a statement out yesterday that the capital, Manila “has created a dire human rights crisis” with hundreds of thousands of women resorting to unsafe abortion “to protect their health, their families and their livelihood. Yet, the government sits idly by, refusing to tackle the issue or reform the policies that exacerbate it.

Poor women with no way of accessing contraceptive services often resort to illegal and mostly unsafe abortions. Among the abortion methods the study mentions are abdominal massages, taking anti-ulcer drugs like Cytotec to bring on contractions, and taking herbs and potions. These often cause complications like haemorrhage, damage to internal organs, and even death, the study says. And most of the women interviewed for the report “had resorted to abortion more than once, and they had tried more than one risky method each time.

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 “would be compelled to resort to unsafe abortions,” the study says.

The ban doesn’t work to prevent women from ending unwanted pregnancies, said lawyer Clara Rita Padilla, from the women’s rights organisation, EnGendeRights Inc. "The impact of lack of access to safe and legal abortion is a grave public health issue in the Philippines, " she said. "Our Congress should address this issue by passing a law that expressly allows safe and legal abortion.

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