From secondary school up until college, there was always at least one girl in my high school batch that would end up pregnant by the end of the year.
The school administration would do its best to keep things secret, but people talk. Rumors circulate among students regarding how it happened, gossip is spread among teachers who pity the young girl, and piercing stares are given the moment they step inside the campus. She, or any girl in the same circumstance, would experience this and more until she forcefully drops out.
In every single story, I was cautioned to never be like those girls who “couldn’t keep their legs shut.” However, this cautionary tale would always make me wonder what life for these girls could have been like if only abortion was an available option. While these girls are forced to carry their pregnancy to term, the boys are often left unaffected and not held accountable.
In America, abortion was recognized to fall under constitutional rights of privacy after the 1973 Roe v. Wade lawsuit, challenging conservative thoughts of that time. It was the case that made abortion legal—a step toward acknowledging women’s rights. But because of what happened this year, it will no longer be the case. Last June, Roe v. Wade was officially overturned. America’s Supreme Court ruling now gives states the power to set their abortion laws, which quickly led to numerous states banning this medical procedure. But to criminalize abortion is a blatant attack on human rights and its consequences are severe.
Not only does this decision further the stigma against safe sex or intercourse in general, but it also limits the granting of healthcare to women, girls, and pregnant patients. The unclear provisions set by each state make healthcare providers fearful of being penalized for conducting this procedure or even giving contraceptives. This drastically puts those with health conditions, such as ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, at high risk.
A common narrative is that women who choose to get abortions are irresponsible and heartless, but no situation is simply black and white. Victims of incest, rape, forced pregnancy, mischance, those who have practiced safe sex but still got pregnant, mothers whose kids were born with life-threatening diseases or severe congenital disabilities, and mothers who could lose their lives during birth—they all belong to the gray area. They have the right to choose what to do with their body as they see fit.
By banning abortion, the line between law and religion blurs. Most Christians are pro-life for they believe in protecting the unborn child, but what about the mother? You cannot forcefully impose these laws based on religious belief alone because in doing so, you disrespect the rights of those who do not identify with your religion. How can we, as a world, progress if women continuously get the short end of the stick while men live with no consequence? To quote Gloria Steinem, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” There is no better way to tell a woman that they are less than a man than to strip her of the rights to her uterus.
The Philippines is no better. We have one of the strictest laws when it comes to abortion. It’s to be expected that in a predominantly Catholic country, abortion is illegal. There are no exceptions, even in cases of incest, rape, or fetal impairment. While one could argue that we have the Reproductive Health Law to counter this, it is not enough. The law itself was delayed numerous times and was opposed by the Church despite general support from the Philippine masses.
I find it mind-boggling that despite Article II Section 12 of our Constitution says that the lives of the mother and the unborn child must be protected, the reality is far from it. How can the state protect their lives if government officials don’t have their best interests at heart? Why penalize a medical procedure instead of helping those mothers who have to resort to illegal abortion to solve their problems and difficulties? Women deserve accessible and affordable education, healthcare, counseling, financial help, and livelihood programs—not two to six years in prison.
In September of 2020, the first-ever bill to decriminalize abortion was drafted by Filipino reproductive rights advocates. But given our culture and traditions, the possibility of abortion ever becoming legal in this country is nothing more than a shot in pitch darkness. The Philippines continuously criminalizes abortion and America’s overturn of the practice may just undo all the years of hard work that people fought and continue to fight for.
If you think America’s decision to ban abortion won’t affect us, think again. They have set a terrifying precedent that other countries may soon follow. Banning abortion won’t lead to fewer abortions; it only leads to more unsafe abortions. I won’t be surprised if orphaned and abandoned children, mortality, and poverty rates spike up. This decision represents an astonishing step backward in the protection of fundamental human rights. It violates our rights to life, health, privacy, equality, and freedom from torture. It enforces the idea that a woman’s role is nothing more than to give birth. It truly is saddening to know that we don’t have a choice when it comes to our bodies, even after it has been violated.
We have just scratched the surface of providing adequate healthcare to women; we should not stop now. Even in the face of the abortion ban, there are many ways for our lawmakers to go around that by addressing the causes of why people get abortions in the first place. The Church as well can aid them if they forgo their aggressive and biased stance against this. While it’s okay to disagree with the practice, what isn’t okay is to harass, to shame, and to shun women who choose to get abortions. And we, normal citizens, should also be held accountable. Stop the shame and gossip. In what could be their most vulnerable moment, women need to know that they aren’t alone. We should support them because making this decision isn’t easy. No one needs to have an extreme reason to choose for their body. And these reasons need not be coursed through anyone else.
Abortion is a complex problem that requires various complex solutions. Until society recognizes that women deserve at least the bare minimum, we will only regress.