‘No contradiction’: CHR stands firm in anti-abortion stance

Years after expressing their support toward decriminalizing abortion, the Commission on Human Rights clarifies that they only approve of it for certain cases.

Last November 15, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) addressed a letter to Sen. Koko Pimentel clarifying its stance on induced abortion, opposing its decriminalization except for “extreme circumstances,” specifically “termination for medical reasons.” 

The letter came a day after the CHR received criticism and budget-cut threats from several senators during the Senate’s plenary debate on the commission’s proposed 2024 budget, as Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia, the commission’s executive director, previously released an official statement in 2022 mentioning the “decriminalization of abortion” as a key women’s rights bill they were pushing for.

While the public has become wary of the CHR’s change of stance, the commission believes that there is “no contradiction to start with.”

The Commission on Human Rights affirms their stand against the decriminalization of abortion except for “extreme circumstances.”

Revisiting CHR’s stance 

CHR Spokesperson Marc Siapno, in an interview with The LaSallian, clarifies that they were merely asking the government to review its current laws and policies on abortion and post-abortion care during its initial statement. 

“The position has been very clear from the start. We are against abortion…What we’re trying to say is that the reality on the ground needs to match the recent laws that we have,” Siapno notes, referencing the contrast between the Reproductive Health (RH) Law and the Revised Penal Code when it comes to post-abortion care provisions.

While the controversy-ridden RH Law provides the government to “ensure that all women needing care for post-abortion complications shall be treated and counseled in a humane, non-judgmental and compassionate manner,” the Revised Penal Code still punishes those involved in induced abortions. This, according to Siapno, makes post-abortion care inaccessible to women and unclear to healthcare providers.

The CHR’s call for a review of anti-abortion laws also encompasses the belief that current legislations in place “clash against international treaties and obligations” that are more supportive of abortion and post-abortion care as an integral part of reproductive health and women’s rights. These rights are outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and safeguarded by numerous international treaties, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention Against Torture, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Michelle Engbino (III, BS-LGL) is bothered by the CHR’s letter following the Senate’s criticism, expressing, “It’s concerning that CHR faced budget threats over their stance, as this issue should be approached with a focus on human rights and women’s well-being, rather than political pressures.”

The commission, however, assures that they were not pressured into making a decision and were acting as an independent body. 

“To think that the commission was forced into the position, I think, is incorrect and inaccurate because it rests upon certain realities in positions that the public also need to understand,” the CHR explains. “We’ve also had the national inquiry on reproductive health [and] one of the conclusions was to review the provisions on abortion and the need to take into consideration the studies forwarded by civil society organizations.”

Continuous fight

Even with overwhelming pressure from opposing groups, women’s rights groups and advocates continue to stand their ground and fight for the decriminalization of abortion. 

In 2020, Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network (PINSAN) Spokesperson Claire Padilla spearheaded the drafting of a house bill calling to decriminalize induced abortion to “save women’s lives.” The bill is PINSAN’s call for Congress to heed women’s concerns and allow for its passage into law to provide “access to safe abortion” and address maternal deaths caused by  “unsafe abortion complications.”

In an interview with VERA Files, Padilla emphasized that abortion is part of talking about reproductive health, “‘Pag pinag-usapan ang reproductive health, kasama [riyan] ‘yung safe pregnancy.” 

(When talking about reproductive health, safe pregnancy is included.)

“‘Yung karapatan ng kababaihan, dapat may recognition tayo na ito ay personal decision niya, dapat talaga walang control [at] walang subdivision,” she furthered.

(Women’s rights should have a recognition that it is a personal decision, there should be no control
or subdivision.)

Bella* (III, BS-APC) is among the many Lasallians who advocate to destigmatize the decriminalization of abortion. “Some people think that decriminalizing abortion means ‘normalizing’ [abortion] when it’s meant to provide women a choice and a safer alternative to protect their autonomy and reduce maternal mortality,” she establishes.

She also adds that the decriminalization of abortion would also provide underprivileged women with better healthcare opportunities. “Healthcare assistance should be accessible regardless of anyone’s circumstances. It gives women living in poverty or marginalized communities a choice and most importantly in cases of sexual assault and incest.”

A study by the University of the Philippines Population Institute in 2020 noted that about 1.1 million women resort to induced abortion every year before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Without access to safe abortion, these women—poor, married, younger than 25 or rape survivors—put their lives and health at risk just to discontinue their unintended or unwanted pregnancies,” Padilla highlights in a separate statement by PINSAN in 2022.

However, there remains little to no progress on moves to decriminalize abortion over the years, as counterarguments rooted in religious beliefs continue to arise. The Senate plenary for the CHR’s 2024 budget is a testament to this, with senators Juan Miguel Zubiri, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Jinggoy Estrada expressing their direct opposition to abortion because it is “against the teachings of the Catholic Church” and its decriminalization means “essentially ending a human life.”

*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.

This article was published in The LaSallian‘s March 2024 issue. To read more, visit

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