By Eric Genilo
Last April 8, 2014, the Philippine Supreme Court declared as “not unconstitutional” the “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012,” clearing the way for its implementation. Some in the Church bemoaned the passage of the law, which would provide universal access to reproductive health services such as contraception and sterilization. Barely mentioned by church leaders is a crucial provision in the law that ensures much needed protection for an extremely vulnerable and threatened group of persons: women seeking emergency treatment for post-abortion complications.
The provision states that “while this Act recognizes that abortion is illegal and punishable by law, the government shall ensure that all women needing care for post-abortive complications and all other complications arising from pregnancy, labor and delivery and related issues shall be treated and counseled in a humane, non-judgmental and compassionate manner in accordance with law and medical ethics.”
This provision was deemed necessary by the drafters of the law because of the appalling treatment suffered by women with post-abortion complications in some hospital emergency rooms. There are reported cases where such women suffered verbal abuse, endured prolonged pain due to deliberately delayed treatment, received emergency procedures without anaesthesia, and publicly shamed when they awake in their hospital beds wearing a sign that identified them as having had an abortion. These acts of abuse are done by some hospital personnel who believed that severe punishment should be meted out to those who have committed the sin of abortion.
Such acts of abuse are reinforced by the harsh anti-abortion rhetoric used by some conservative religious and lay groups. Some of these groups appear to be replicating in the Philippines the culture wars that have divided other countries. Unfortunately, some church leaders have begun to adopt this form of rhetoric.
The law’s requirement of humane, non-judgmental, and compassionate treatment of women who have had abortions is consistent with the sensitive pastoral approach of Pope Francis toward persons who are in difficult moral situations. His symbolic act of washing the feet of prisoners during the first Holy Thursday of his pontificate reminds the Church of the primacy of mercy as the proper Christian response to persons affected by sinful choices and structures.
It is ironic that the same legislators that were criticized by some Church leaders for being “anti-life” because of their support for the reproductive health law are the same legislators that sought compassionate treatment for a group of persons who are in a life-threatening situation. Despite serious differences between the hierarchy and legislators over various aspects of the reproductive health law, church leaders need to stand with these legislators in opposing all forms of abuse directed at women, especially those who seek emergency medical treatment after an abortion.