It’s 10:30 PM, and three girls are about to meet up at a fast food chain.

A girl wearing a jacket arrives with her boyfriend, kisses him on the cheek and wishes him a safe ride home. The second girl is carrying a box of blueberry cheesecakes with the note: “It gets worse before it gets better.” A few minutes later, the last girl arrives, carrying a backpack.

“Hoy, ang taba mo!” the girl in the jacket exclaims to the latecomer. Indeed, she seems to have gained weight but she looked rather pale, her eyes tired and swollen. She wore a pair of silver hoop earrings, and it was easy to see she paid no attention to her appearance.

The three girls leave the restaurant and head to the nearest motel at around midnight. They take the elevator to the third floor and settle in a small room.

They were silent at first, unsure of what to say. Then the girl with the backpack started talking about her misery at work — how she couldn’t concentrate on anything, how she had missed a lot of deadlines in the past few weeks.

But tonight she had a deadline of her own. Tonight she would be letting go of the child she’s been carrying for 10 weeks.

At 12:30 AM the girl unpacked her bag filled with water, biscuits, sealed fruits, and ten packs of sanitary napkins.

“Where is the pill?” asked the girl with the cheesecakes. The girl with the backpack produced a tiny bottle with a sign that read: “Gluta with Vitamin C and Lipoic Acid. No therapeutic claims.”

“Noong mapansin kong gluta ang lalagyan, medyo naginhawaan ako at ‘di lantaran na abortifacient. Tinext ko ang supplier. Sabi ko, ang clever ng gluta container. Sabi ng supplier: We just want to protect our clients.”

At 1:00 AM the girl with the backpack took the pills and laid her head back against the pillows.

The two other girls watched TV. They had to stay awake in case an emergency happened, such as an infection or bleeding.

“Naunang sumakit ang puson ko, tapos chills na nakakapagod kasi ‘di humihinto. And I can only sigh in regret, frustration and every bad feeling the world knows.”

The pain subsided a few hours later, but the girl with the backpack felt no relief, and certainly, no salvation after it was all over.

The law on abortion

Such is the fate of many Filipinas today. According to a Guttmacher Institute study in 2006, one out of three women aged 15 to 44 chooses to terminate their pregnancy through abortion.

Abortion is a reality for many women in the Philippines, but many consider it taboo.

The Church regards it as a mortal sin.

The government has made it a criminal and punishable offense, with no exceptions even for cases such as fetal malformation and rape. Anyone who is proven to have undergone abortion will spend six months to six years in prison, according to a law directly translated from the Spanish Penal Code of 1870.

However, the 1987 Constitution also states that the law shall “equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.” Some legal experts contend that this provision allows medical abortion to save the life of a mother, but in practice, many doctors do not want to risk their licenses in the face of such a vague policy.

Even the controversial Reproductive Health Bill covers only limited policies regarding abortion. Pro-life groups have regarded the “contraceptive mentality” as the path leading to legalized abortion.

Where is abortion allowed?

Global statistics paint a different scenario.

Data from the United Nations’ World Abortion Policies show that abortion is allowed in 97% of all countries in order to save a woman’s life. Abortion in the case of rape or incest is accepted in about half of all countries, while 29% of countries —mostly in Europe and North America— allow abortion based solely on the request of the mother.

Predominantly Catholic countries that allow abortion include Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, and Hungary. These countries allow abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation.

Post-abortion care

In the Philippines, lack of access to medical abortion forces many women to undergo unsafe and risky methods.

Two years ago, I produced a story on self-administered abortion for Saksi.

During an ocular visit, I met a woman who told me she aborted her baby because of poverty.

She had taken all sorts of medicinal herbs, then used a catheter to complete the abortion. But she developed an infection and had to be rushed to the hospital, delirious and bleeding incessantly.

Her husband told the doctor: “Nalaglagan po siya.” Doubtful, the doctor did not immediately attend to her because “she was a criminal.”

She waited many hours before she was treated. By then she was extremely weak. She almost died, but she made it through the night.

Even though doctors have taken an oath to heal the sick, some stick to their biases when faced with abortion-related complications.

A study from the Guttmacher Institute and the University of the Philippines in 2009 reported that 800 to 1,000 Filipino women die of abortion-related complications every year. Poor women from the provinces often lack access to safe methods and services, and they have a higher exposure to risks and complications compared to their wealthier urban counterparts.

A woman’s choice

I guess it’s a mother’s instinct not to want to harm her own baby, but an unintended pregnancy is an entirely different issue.

In an interview, a psychologist told me women going through such an experience “temporarily go insane.” Without proper guidance and counseling, they are left helpless and desperate.

Religion and educational attainment seem to play little part in decision-making when it comes to abortion. Instead, desperation takes over values and principles. Research shows that 90% of the women who resort to abortions are Catholic, and that 70% have some high school education.

When asked why they sought an abortion, 72% of women cite the economic cost of raising a child; 54% say they already have many children; and 57% report that the pregnancy occurred too soon after their last one.

Surely there is hope even in moments of insanity. Every woman has a choice and it is critical to study these options before doing anything one would regret later on:

Adoption. Your pregnancy will end when a new life begins. The adoptive family often shoulders pregnancy-related expenses, which include medical and pre-natal care. A mother does not “give up” a baby for adoption. Instead, she chooses a life for her child — a life where the child can grow under the care and support of another family.

Half-way houses. They serve as a temporary refuge for single mothers who are facing unexpected pregnancies. The Nazareth Home for Single Mothers in Quezon City is a shelter for unwed mothers, pregnant teens, and victims of rape and incest. They provide counseling to help pregnant women regain their self-worth until they can come up with a decision on their own. The shelter also provides them with livelihood training.

Keep the baby. This might be the most difficult choice to make. For an unexpected pregnancy, the path to motherhood is a mystery. Can I bear this baby for nine months? Can I support the child? Will I be a good mother?

Second chance at life

The girl with the backpack may have chosen the “easy way out” but it was not an easy call.

“Pagod na akong magmukmok, mag-secret at umiyak. Gusto ko na matapos lahat. I could have killed myself a few weeks before that.”

Some actions can never be reversed and the only way to help them truly heal is to be there for them, whatever it takes to bring their “sanity” back.

“I can not forget. I’m trying but I know I can’t. I look back, from time to time, sometimes kahit hindi intentional. It makes me sad but it also makes me more determined to make this ‘second chance’ a better shot at life.”
The baby was conceived out of wedlock. The  guy who got her pregnant abandoned her: no phone calls, no messages, just a recent photo of him and his wife uploaded on Facebook. The message was clear: “Stay away from me and my family.”

“I hate the word regret. For the longest time, I stand by my decisions however stupid they are. Live and let live. Live and learn. But at that time, I felt remorse and regret. I know I could have made a better decision not to have sex with that guy.”

Of course she thought of a way out, but abortion wasn’t the first choice.

Maybe adoption? She said she could not bear to give her child away to a stranger.

Raise the baby with her beki friends? Possible.

Tell her parents? Not a chance. Her parents would literally have a heart attack on the spot. Her father would lose his position in the church, their family ostracized and detested by their religious community.

She said she could handle the pregnancy, even maybe keep the baby for good if her life was the only thing at stake here. But she thought of her parents — surely she would break not only their hearts but their trust as well. She knew that she could never, ever, go back.

The thought of losing her family only strengthened her decision. She used to be a strong-willed girl: hard-headed and unafraid to commit mistakes. But on that night, she was weak and vulnerable. And that’s when it happened.

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