by Karl Allan Barlaan and Christian Cardiente
Ellen is a 26 year-old migrant worker in Europe. Despite a college degree, she chose to work overseas as a domestic to escape both poverty and the memory of a traumatic past.
Three years ago, after three failed attempts at induced abortion, she was injected with an unknown abortifacient. The fourth attempt was, finally, “successful.” The fetus soon found its way out of her body. “It had limbs, it had fingers,” Ellen recalled. It had nearly turned three months.
Now living with a partner with whom she has a one year-old baby, Ellen swears what happened will be a dark secret that she will take to her grave. She still reserves a day every month of May to commemorate what would have been the birthday of her first-born.
Richard just turned 40 this month. He remains unmarried, could not commit to a long-term relationship, and for reasons he could not ascertain, has an aversion to the idea of fathering a child.
Twenty-four years ago, his childhood sweetheart underwent abortion without his consent. The girl died of post-abortion complications two months after.
Ellen’s case, according to a Guttmacher Institute report, The Incidence of Induced Abortion in the Philippines: Current Level and Recent Trends is just one of “approximately 473,000 out of 3.1 million pregnancies, or 27 out of every 1,000 pregnancies occurring each year ... (that) end in blood, pain, physical and psychological trauma, a prison sentence, and in some cases, death.”
According to the same report, “in 2000, an estimated 78,900 women were hospitalized for post abortion care, 473,400 women had abortions and the abortion rate was 27 per 1,000 women aged 15–44 per year."
(This was later updated by another study to an estimated 560,000 abortions in 2008, resulting in 90,000 hospitalizations from abortion-related complications and an eventual 1,000 deaths.)
But while there are case studies that at least document the plight of women such as Ellen, there is an absence of any study on the possible post-abortion trauma, to which their partners – like Richard – are also possibly subjected, often unwittingly. And understandably so as the estimates of more than half-a-million abortions annually do not even account for cases, which are not reported or do not find their way to the hospitals.
A source from the mall industry divulged that it is not uncommon for engineering personnel or contractors to find half-rotting fetuses in mall sewage treatment plants – a well-known secret among insiders, seldom spoken of to outsiders.
The most notorious, he alleges, is a mall at the heart of the university belt in Manila, with more than 70 remains (conservative estimates) discovered every year. He surmises these were either aborted inside bathroom cubicles and flushed down the toilet or aborted elsewhere and brought to the mall for disposal.
Should the “official statistics” reflect these incidents and take into consideration the adverse impact of abortion to both the male and female population, the numbers would possibly be staggering.
Social psychologist Jose Antonio Clemente, who teaches Sikolohiyang Pilipino at the University of the Philippines, acknowledges that it is difficult if not impossible to exhaustively quantify the cases of abortion in the Philippines because these are often done in secret. “There’s a stigma attached to this issue. Abortion is illegal in our country and generally perceived to be unacceptable,” he explains.
According to Clemente, however, the numbers suffice to realize the “need for action” as someone who has gone through the possibly traumatic experience of abortion should not have to go through the same “psychological and emotional torment” in seeking post-abortion care. “Women who have gone through it sometimes become objects of prejudice and discrimination. While our laws and our society do not condone abortion, we should however view women and in some cases, their partners, not as criminals but as victims.”
“Medical assistance and at the very least, counselling should be afforded with compassion and without discrimination. Even as adolescents, there is a need for people to be properly counselled on the changes happening in their bodies; expecting parents also benefit from counselling. There is no reason why people, human beings, should be deprived of medical, emotional, or psychological support during these trying times such as after undergoing abortion regardless of their reasons and motivations for doing so.”
But what seems fundamental – the right to post-abortion care – for Clemente, remains elusive for some abortion “victims.”
This year, New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights released its report entitled, “Forsaken Lives: The Harmful Impact of the Philippine Criminal Abortion Ban.” The report claims that the “criminalization of abortion has marginalized post-abortion care service in the health system.”
The same report narrates in detail how post-abortion patients were treated “inhumanely” even by members of the medical community. In one instance, according to the report, a patient by the name of Lisa who had sought medical attention was repeatedly verbally abused by doctors and nurses in a government-owned hospital. The report wrote that she was asked questions such as “Do you want me to report you to the police? Don’t you know that having an abortion is evil?” She was thereafter “required” to sign a waiver “consenting to being turned over to the authorities if the doctors found any evidence of an induced abortion.”
“After Lisa was given an intravenous anesthetic, the doctor and the nurses tied her hands and feet to the operating table... After the procedure Lisa saw a nurse put a notebook-sized sign on her bed bearing the word ‘abortion’ ... clearly visible to passersby and fellow patients,” the report went on to say.
The same report for its conclusion proposed the qualified legalization of abortion in the Philippines – something social psychologist Clemente feels no need for: “the issue should not even be whether abortion should be legalized or not but the access and right to information so women should not have to go through it, and if for some reason they still do, that they are properly taken care of as everyone is entitled to.”
True enough, abortion may be illegal in the Philippines but post-abortion care is not and is in fact made mandatory in the proposed reproductive health bill.
The challenge however remains – as international reproductive health organization Engenderhealth in its report “Changing Policies and Attitudes: Post-abortion Care in the Philippines (2003)” puts it – “Can a (Department) of Health with no history of supporting post-abortion care services (and some ambivalence about it as well) develop the political will and administrative structure to do so? Can health care providers find a way to square negative personal beliefs about induced abortion with the need to offer compassionate, high-quality medical care to post-abortion clients?”
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