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Writer’s Recap: Open house—Truer Stories III

Ako si Lisa. Taga-Maynila at may tatlong anak. Nagpunta ako sa health center para magpaturo [ng] family planning. Sinabi ng mga tao roon na pinagbabawal raw ang pagtuturo ng family planning sa health centers. Kaya wala akong makuhanan ng contraceptives. Sa edad ng disinwebe ay nabuntis ako. Pangatlo ko na.” 

(My name is Lisa. I live in Manila and I have three children. I went to a health center to learn about family planning, but the people there told me that it was forbidden. I had nowhere to get contraceptives. At the age of 19, I was pregnant. It was my third child.)

The woman reading Lisa’s story spoke in a hushed tone. It was slow and tentative, as if any moment now someone would stop the live reading. After all, how often are abortion stories spoken out loud in the light of day?

She drank brandy, an alcoholic drink she’d heard would abort her unborn child. After a week of fevers and bleeding, she was rushed to the hospital. The doctors and nurses quickly became suspicious of her condition, saying, “Gusto mo bang isumbong ka namin sa pulis? Alam mo bang masama ang ginagawa mo?”

(Do you want us to report you to the police? Do you know that what you did is wrong?)

The woman’s voice hitched now—despair palpable despite the distance between speaker and audience. If this were held in an actual room, you would have heard a pin drop. Such was the nature of the stories told in Open House: Truer Stories III, held in commemoration of International Safe Abortion Day, last September 28. Shedding light on Filipino women’s experiences with abortion, the online event involved live readings and artist renderings of three stories. The event was spearheaded by SheDecides Philippines, in partnership with Filipino Freethinkers, Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), Young Advocates for SRHR (YAS!), and The Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network (PINSAN).

Paint a picture

Made to wait in the hospital, Lisa could feel the blood drying between her legs. She had heard that many women were giving birth that day. She didn’t miss the irony in that.

Holding up her tablet to the camera, Christine Silva showed the audience her interpretation of Lisa’s story—a short animated clip of a girl bound to a narrow bed, with “abortion” written in bold letters across the bedspread. 

Ana Maria Nemenzo, National Coordinator of WomanHealth Philippines, affirmed that discriminatory post-abortion care occurs more often than we think, despite access to humane post-abortion services being mandated by the Reproductive Health Act of 2012 and the Magna Carta for women. “Lalo na para sa mga women coming from the poor sectors, iba ang treatment sa kanila. There’s class dicrimination, [and] they’d rather not go to a health center than experience abuse,” she added.

(Women from poor sectors especially are treated differently.)

Natakot ako nang may dalawang linyang lumabas [sa pregnancy test],” wrote Cielo, who found herself in a similar dilemma as Lisa when she discovered she was pregnant at 16 years old after she was sexually assaulted. She dropped out of school and ran away from home, knowing that her family would never have understood. After taking Cytotec, a drug known to induce abortion, she was rushed to the hospital because of heavy bleeding. Not only was Cielo subjected to discriminatory questions, but the hospital also refused to admit her as she did not have enough money for a down payment.

(I was scared when the pregnancy test turned out to be positive.)

Artist Isobel Francisco revealed her sketch of an empty school armchair to symbolize Cielo’s story, while Claudine Delfin chose to depict a long-haired girl weeping at the sight of two lines. 

Don’t look back

“Everyone else was doing it so I did too,” shared Candice on engaging in unprotected sex. Asking her parents about sex would mean receiving a scolding so she kept it a secret. Shortly after, she began suspecting she was pregnant. Her friend bought pregnancy tests for her, and she recalled wasting the first one because she didn’t know what to do. It was a few months before her 18th birthday, and she was three months pregnant. “I wanted this thing out of my body,” she shared. 

Confiding in her aunt, they traveled to nearby Valenzuela to meet with a known abortionist. In a small, dirty apartment disguised as a travel agency, Candice sat beside another pregnant woman writhing in pain. She was told that unlike her, the woman took the lower cost package—which did not include anesthetic. 

The day after her abortion, Candace woke up hopeful. “It felt like being born again. I waited for the nightmares, the guilt, [and] the sadness, but they never came,” she said. Eighteen years have passed, and she now has a 14-year-old daughter who can talk to her about anything and everything. For Candace, there are no regrets. 

The long haul

“In [the Philippines alone] in 2012, 610,000 women induced abortion, 100,000 women were hospitalized, and 1,000 women died,” said Atty. Clara Padilla of PINSAN. It is estimated that three Filipino women die every day from unsafe abortions. And yet, the reality of abortion in the country has long been taboo—relegated to backstreet conversations and Quiapo stalls. Nemenzo posed, “[Abortion is] an intimate part of women’s reality. So why can’t women speak out?” 

A big part of the problem is that women are being robbed of their agency—culture and legislation dictate what a woman should do with her body. For Padilla, it is high time to fight for the ability to choose. Along with other sexual reproductive health rights groups, she has drafted a bill titled, An Act Decriminalizing Induced Abortion to Save the Lives of Women, Girls, and Persons of Diverse Gender Identities, which aims to repeal articles 256 to 259 of the Revised Penal Code that criminalizes abortion, and instead provide proper support services to Filipino women.

Atty. Jihan Jacob of the Center for Reproductive Rights asserted, “We are not just saying that abortion should be provided, pero abortion should not be treated as a crime. Women do not deserve to be in jail for making decisions for themselves.”

It may be a long road ahead before the bill is passed, but Padilla is confident that with strong on-ground support and persistent efforts to persuade legislators, the future could be brighter for the Filipino woman.

By Glenielle Geraldo Nanglihan

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