September, 08 2015
On Abortion, The Pope, Priests Should Not Dictate on Women

Calling abortion a sin does not help solve anything, and most definitely, giving priests the power to 'absolve' women does absolutely nothing.

by Fritzie Rodriguez
Issues // Politics and Society
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Pope Francis, dearly beloved by many, welcomed September with seemingly liberating news: He asked priests to pardon women who had abortions.

The Pope also shed some holy light on the "sin" that is abortion:

"One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe they they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision."

Strong words coming from someone described by many as a compassionate Pope. Such awareness, however, is not always "superficial", as many of these women are well aware of their reproductive rights as women, as humans. Their body, their health, their choice. No man, priest, or pope could interfere with that right.

Abortion does not bring extreme harm, it is the stigma against abortion that does.



Due to the stigma, several Filipino women do not receive post-abortion care in hospitals, resulting in deaths by the thousands. In 2008 alone, around 1,000 maternal deaths were “attributable to abortion complications,” the Guttmacher Institute reported. 

Abortion in itself does not cause death. Why do women die? Because they do not receive safe medical abortions. Why? Because it is illegal in the Philippines.

The shame attached to abortion may also bring women closer to death. After undergoing a botched secret abortion, the woman might feel too ashamed to seek medical attention.

Making it illegal doesn't mean women would stop getting abortions. What such policing only does is push women to getting unsafe ones.
 
Projections based on the 2000 national abortion rate: PH Abortions
(Source: Guttmacher Instititute)
2008
2012
560,000
610,000
 
Let's admit it. Abortion does happen even in a country of over 80 million Roman Catholics. Calling it a sin does not help solve anything, and most definitely, giving priests the "power" to "absolve" women does absolutely nothing.

The answer is not found in the confession booth, the pews, or the cross. The answer lies in policy changes within the Philippine government.

Women, sin

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) then explained that abortion is a “reserved sin” that can only be "absolved" by the bishop, but with the Pope's new statement, all priests are now allowed to do so.

"This does not make the sin less grievous. What it does is make the mercy of God more tangible through the ministry of the Church," Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, also CBCP president, added.

Both the Pope's and the CBCP's messages were peppered with the words "women" and "sin," putting emphasis on how such sinful women could only be acquitted with the help of men, the priests. Then later on, by the big man himself, God.

There is something odd, if not ironic, with how a patriarchal institution like the Catholic Church is dictating women to ask for forgiveness for deciding to take control over their own bodies.

These men do not know why these "sinful women" had abortions. Perhaps they were raped by a stranger, a friend, or even a relative. Some were sold into the sex industry, some were intimidated by a partner, and some were mired in so much poverty that they could not bring it upon themselves to introduce a child into a life of suffering.

Irony

Not all Filipinos are aware of how babies are made, as many grew up with no sexuality education at school and at home. Ignorance, however, does not stop them from having sex.

With the Catholic Church going against sexuality education, how do you expect the number of teenage pregnancies to go down?
 
Filipino women aged 15-24 who begin childbearing
(Source: 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey)
2008
2013
Age 15-19
Age 20-24
Age 15-19
Age 20-24
9.9% 46.8% 10.1%
46.2%

 

And with the Catholic Church exclusively supporting the natural family planning method and abstinence, while also actively opposing modern contraception, it is no wonder the number of unwanted pregnancies remains high.
 
Percentage of births in the Philippines from 2003-2008
(Source: Guttmacher Institute)
Unplanned 37%
Mistimed 20%
Unwanted 16%

There are currently over a hundred million Filipinos, with some baby-faced parents raising more babies than their fingers could count. Some have the skills and maturity to raise a family, others cannot even take care of themselves.

Richer parts of the Metro boast skyscrapers; meanwhile, some local governments try their best in concealing the country’s underbellies — where violence against women like rape happen and where women are shamed for quietly getting abortions.
 
Rape cases reported to the Philippine National Police
(Source: Philippine Commission on Women)
1997 832
2013 1,285

In countries where abortion is legal, women are provided with properly trained doctors, quality service and facilities, support and understanding. These are some of the grounds for abortion rights around the world:
  • To save a woman's life
  • If she is a victim of rape or incest
  • If her physical or mental health becomes a hindrance
  • If there is fetal impairment
  • Socio-economic reasons
  • By the woman's request
Of course, there are medical standards followed, a woman can only safely get an abortion within a certain timeframe. Beyond that period, doctors will advise whether it would already be too dangerous to do the procedure.

In fact, in April 2015, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women published a report advising the Philippine government to amend its Criminal Code to "legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life and/or health of the mother, or serious malformation of the fetus and decriminalize all other cases where women undergo abortion."

Of all the things said about abortion these past days, here's a line from Villegas which perfectly captures how the Philippines wrongly views abortion vis-a-vis women's rights:

"Choosing to terminate innocent, unborn life is not among a woman’s options because her right to privacy and to make decisions about herself do not extend to the life in her womb over which she enjoys no dominion at all.Dependent on her, yes, but entrusted to her stewardship, not handed over to her power!"

Women have autonomy over their anatomy. Operative words in this argument are choice and access. 

This story was first published in Rappler.com, a Manila-based social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change.