Reuters Examines Abortion, Family Planning In Philippines

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Reuters on Wednesday examined abortion in the Philippines and how the phase out of a USAID-fundedprogram that provides contraceptives to women in the country mightaffect rates of illegal abortions nationwide (Crimmins, Reuters,9/5). Women who abort their fetuses in the Philippines risk going toprison for up to six years, while anyone assisting such a procedurefaces an equal sentence, as well as the loss of any medical license.Although abortion is illegal in the country except to save the life ofa pregnant women, there were an estimated 473,000 induced abortions inthe Philippines in 2000, or about 27 abortions per 1,000 women (Reuters AlertNet, 9/5).

According to a survey by the Guttmacher Institute,about 25% of women seeking abortions have a surgical procedure, whichcan cost 4,000 to 15,000 pesos, or about $86 to $321. More than 30% ofabortions are conducted by ingesting either cytotec, an anti-ulcertreatment available at pharmacies, or herbal mixtures. About 20% ofwomen take hormonal drugs or aspirin, as well as other medications andalcohol. Some women stop eating or throw themselves down stairs, andmost women only terminate their pregnancies after several attempts, Reutersreports. Among low-income women seeking abortions, more than 20% insertcatheters into their vaginas or receive so-called "massages" from ahilot, or local midwife, which involves pounding on the lower abdomenof the woman to trigger a miscarriage.

Nearly 80,000 women inthe Philippines are treated in hospitals annually for complicationsfrom induced abortion, and at least 800 women are estimated to dieevery year from complications, according to health reports (Reuters, 9/5).


Family Planning Programs

USAID has been the largest supplier of contraceptives in thePhilippines for the past three decades, but the agency has decreasedits donations and plans to terminate its contraceptive program by theend of 2008. According to USAID, the phase out is in line with thePhilippines' goal of achieving self-reliance in family planning.

Governmentofficials in the predominately Roman Catholic country have beenreluctant to approve funding for contraceptives and birth controlinformation to be taught in schools because of the potential reactionof Catholic bishops. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who isCatholic, since taking office in 2001 consistently has promoted naturalfamily planning methods over contraceptives. Government booklets onresponsible parenting do not mention birth control pills, condoms orintrauterine devices (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 8/16).

"Thenatural family planning method is a good option, not only a good onebut an effective one," Melvin Castro, executive secretary of theEpiscopal Commission on Family and Life, said. Some officials have saidthe Philippine government's reluctance to continue USAID's program willincrease the country's rate of abortion, Reuters reports."Supplies (of contraceptives) have already run out in many towns andcities, so the situation is rather desperate," Alberto Romualdez, aformer health secretary under deposed President Joseph Estrada, said.

Accordingto the Guttmacher survey, more than half of the women who have had anabortion in the country were not using any family planning methods, andof those who were, three-quarters were using natural methods advocatedby the government, such as rhythm or withdrawal (Reuters, 9/5).

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