The topic of women’s control over their bodies has always been up for debate (I know, it sounds f*cked up). I’m sure you’ve noticed, the conversation around it has become louder again. In the US particularly, abortion has been a recurring issue these days. We can attribute this mainly to the passing of Georgia’s Fetal Heartbeat Law, and Alabama’s even more restrictive, near-blanket ban on abortion.
Many are up in arms over what they believe is a breach on women’s rights. Celebrities have also spoken up against these laws. Among them is Busy Philipps, who’s credited for the viral #YouKnowMe hashtag. In response to the laws, she shared her own painful experience and asked women to share their stories online too. “[One] in [four] women have had an abortion. Many people think they don’t know someone who has, but #youknowme,” she wrote on Twitter. “So let’s do this: if you are also the one in four, let’s share it and start to end the shame.
1 in 4 women have had an abortion. Many people think they don't know someone who has, but #youknowme. So let's do this: if you are also the 1 in 4, let's share it and start to end the shame. Use #youknowme and share your truth.
She shared that after opening up about her own painful abortion story last week on Busy Tonight, producer Tina Fey encouraged her to start the hashtag. She admitted to The New York Times, that she felt “overwhelmed” by the idea of doing it right after sharing her story. “It makes it very personal,” she said. But we praise her for being brave enough to start the discussion. From the amount of responses she got, it seems pretty clear that this is a conversation we as a society need to be having.
Even celebrities like Jameela Jamil and Minka Kelly supported Busy and shared their experiences.
Reading through women’s responses, it’s impossible to not be moved. Heartbreaking is the only word to describe it.
I was 20, in a relationship with a man I didn’t love anymore. I was suicidal. Taking care of my mother. Had just stopped taking bc; switched to condoms I took the abortion pill(s) I was ridiculously hard on myself, cause I was so careful. I was supposed to be perfect. #YouKnowMe
More than 100 years ago, my great-grandmother bled to death after an illegal, back alley abortion. It changed our family forever. I will do whatever I can to prevent that from happening to another family. #YouKnowMe
— Masked Mark Masek 🇺🇸🇮🇪🏳️🌈⚾️🍕 (@CemeteryGuide) May 17, 2019
Hopefully, this will open the eyes of people who shame women who had to undergo the procedure. Society has taught us that they’re basically evil because they have no regard for life. But the truth is, no one wants to have an abortion. The viral hashtag shows that most women are just victims of circumstances that make raising a child extremely difficult, and to some, impossible even. To most women, it’s the hardest thing to do. Making and pushing through with that impossible choice is already emotionally, mentally, and physically scarring. To most, the act follows them throughout their lives. To be labelled a criminal on top of all that ordeal is just another thing women have to deal with.
Here in the Philippines, legalizing abortion seems like an impossible dream. Since we are a largely conservative country, abortion is seen as more than a crime: it’s a mortal sin. The Catholic Church, which has a deep and heavy hold on our society, simply won’t allow it. Center for Reproductive Rights notes, “The strength of the Catholic hierarchy’s influence in the Philippines was evident in 1987, when Catholic bishops and leaders succeeded in making the 1987 Constitution the first Philippines constitution ever to recognize a government obligation to protect ‘the life of the unborn from conception.’” Adding, “The Government of the Philippines continues to permit the CBCP to undermine women’s health even today by conceding to its demands to deprive women of a range of reproductive health services, including access to contraception for poor women, comprehensive family planning counseling, and sex education.”
The ban on abortion here in our country has actually stood for more than a century—during Spanish colonial rule. CRR reports that the Penal Code of 1870 was “incorporated into the Revised Penal Code passed in 1930 under US occupation of the Philippines.” According to Women on Waves, under the provisions of the Penal Code, a person who intentionally causes an abortion is subject to a penalty of prison correctional to as long as six years. Meanwhile, “A physician or midwife who causes or assists in the performance of an abortion is subject to the maximum period of this penalty, as well as suspension from the right to follow a profession.” It’s important to note that the Penal Code does not list any specific exceptions to the general prohibition on abortion.
Obviously, the intention of the law is to prevent any type of abortion—which is too simplistic. Also, like Emma Watson wrote on Instagram, “These laws won’t stop women and pregnant people from having abortions, or from making the best decision for their bodies and families, it will just mean they are forced to do so unsafely and with stigma.”
True enough, CRR reports, “The criminalization of abortion has not prevented abortion, but instead has made the procedure unsafe and potentially deadly for the over half a million women each year who try to terminate their pregnancies. In 2008 alone, the Philippines’ criminal abortion ban was estimated to result in the deaths of at least 1,000 women and complications for 90,000 more.” Let that sink in.
“Because of the lack of access to safe abortion, Filipino women with life threatening pregnancies have no choice but to risk their lives, either through unsafe abortion or through continuation of high-risk pregnancies,” CRR further explains.
Moreover, it’s important to stress that with this law, poor women are most vulnerable. On top of their lack of access to reproductive health services, and extremely limited knowledge about abortion, they are pushed to terminate their pregnancy by resorting to extremely unsafe practices.
Another reported effect of the criminalization of abortion here is that women become subjected to abuse by healthcare workers who not only delay or deny care or treatment, but also physically and verbally harass the women who come to them.
While we know the fight to legalize abortion is a hard one, we’re not giving up just yet. #YouKnowMe has not yet reached our shores but if it ever does, we hope our politicians will open their minds and actually take the time to understand women’s experiences.
Art by Tricia Guevara
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