Why decriminalizing abortion is not possible in the Philippines
Before the last national elections, as I was going through the platforms of senatorial and congressional candidates, I noticed that some of them said they will work for the “decriminalization of abortion.”
With the June 24, 2022 landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court on the case of Dobbs v. Jackson, which ruled that there is no such thing as a “constitutional right to abortion,” those intended moves on the part of these now elected lawmakers would seem to be passé. Now, the trend in the United States is to protect the life of the unborn by enacting state laws that will prohibit abortion.
The majority opinion of the US Supreme Court was written by Justice Samuel Alito. It is a masterpiece of philosophical and legal reasoning, and research on the history of the criminal nature of abortion in English and American jurisprudence. We can say that it is common sense which tells us that abortion is the killing of an innocent person who does not even have the capacity to defend himself. In our own language, we call a pregnant woman “nagdadalang-tao” (someone who is carrying within herself another human being). We naturally think she has inside her another person.
Decriminalizing abortion means removing the status of abortion as a crime. Laws have a role to play in the moral education of a society. When the laws remove the criminal status of a crime like abortion, it is teaching society that you may commit abortion and the state will not punish you. Go ahead. You can do it. The act is not banned.
In the context of the Philippines, the decriminalization of abortion is not possible because of our basic law, the Constitution. In Article II Section 12 it says, “[The state] shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.” How else can the state protect the life of the unborn except by banning abortion and imposing penalties on those who take away the life of the unborn? In the same way that Justice Alito repeated several times in his piece that there is no such thing as a right to abortion, it might be worth repeating that it is not possible to decriminalize abortion in the Philippines given our Constitution and given our culture and traditions.
Because abortion is prohibited in the Philippines, it is very difficult to get accurate data on the number of abortions performed in the country. There are only estimates that range from 600,000 to even over a million for the last year. This is not a small number to say the least. This is a real problem for our society. But decriminalizing abortion is not the solution. As the experience of the US shows, decriminalizing it made the problem worse.
Like poverty, abortion is a complex problem that will require a complex and manifold solution. It is above all a moral problem. The Catholic Church has always advocated the moral education of people so that their mores might conform to right reasoning about their sexuality and morality. At the root of the problem about unwanted pregnancies and abortions is difficulty about virtues related to human sexuality. Chastity is the virtue that is at stake here. It is grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted as meaning “don’t do this or that” or “being a killjoy.” Understood well, it means love, affirmation, and happiness in life.
The Church has also fought for the defense of the dignity of each human person. In the case of abortion, she has fought for respecting the dignity of both the mother and the unborn child. What happens in an abortion is that both the mother and the baby are reduced to and manipulated as commodities. Their personhoods are destroyed and eliminated. The existence of the post abortion stress syndrome attests to the destruction of the person of the women who committed abortion. They find it very difficult to live with the thought, “I killed my own baby!”
It might be better for our lawmakers to think about how to help those mothers who are contemplating having an abortion solve their problems and difficulties. They need counseling, financial help, moral support, livelihood, education. They don’t need the decriminalization of abortion.
FR. CECILIO L. MAGSINO
MORE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Your daily dose of fearless views
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.