Update: Pine City College responded to the criticism with a Facebook post saying it was standing by its policy of making female students take pregnancy tests and face expulsion if they are pregnant or get an abortion.
Around the world, there are countless factors that stand in the way between women and their education. Some girls can’t go to school because of lack of access, poverty, menstruation, or war. And, in the Philippines, one college is putting up yet another barrier—the expulsion of female students who are pregnant.
Pines City Colleges, located in the college town of Baguio about 260 kilometers north of Manila, recently issued a letter to its faculty saying that all female students would need to report to the school's clinic and undergo a pregnancy test, according to a copy of the letter making the rounds on Twitter. To make matter worse, these students, who have no choice in the matter, will also have to cover the costs of the pregnancy tests themselves.
The college argued that the pregnancy tests were part of its "pursuit of education and social responsibility.”
The letter triggered immediate backlash in the Philippines. Not only are such tests against the law—they're considered a form of gender discrimination under the Magna Carta of Women, a woman's protection law—news later broke that this has been happening in the college for a long time. A similar letter sent all the way back in 2014, explained that students who take the test and show that they are pregnant cannot retake the test with their own doctor to double check if it's accurate or not.
It continues to state that if a woman discovers she's pregnant and terminates the pregnancy before the test, then she still can be expelled because “intentional abortion is not tolerated by the College." It's a catch-22 that leaves their enrollment, and future, hanging in the balance.
College graduates in the Philippines earn, on average, 86 percent more than Filipinos with only a high school diploma, according to data compiled by Entrepreneur. So kicking pregnant women out of school not only affects their own future earnings, but the well-being and success of their child as well.
It turns out this problem might be far more widespread than people realized too. Jennifer Jose, a professor in the sociology and anthropology department of the University of the Philippines-Baguio, discovered that pregnancy tests were shockingly common in the nation's medical schools.
“My gut reaction was this was offensive but I tried to research on the memo, and the information I got was this is standard operating testing in many colleges and universities with medicine, nursing, and other health-aligned courses,” Jose told the local press.
The college stood by its policy, defending the practice in a Facebook post Tuesday night, writing:
"Pines City Colleges abides by its policy of pregnancy tests for female students who are enrolling in any subject that would endanger both mother and child. It is a policy agreed to by our students upon their enrollment in this institution. We believe it is a policy protective of our students while they are in our care and are deployed to internship programs in hospitals and to clinical practice.”
This isn't just a problem in the Philippines. Private and religious colleges and high schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, Uganda, and Tanzania have come under fire for similar practices in the past. It's not even the first time this issue hit the national scene in the Philippines either. Last year, the Department of Education had to release a statement promising not to expel pregnant students from public schools. Private schools, though, were beyond their control, education officials added.
It creates a situation where pregnant young women are forced to either face expulsion or pay for illegal, and highly stigmatized, abortions. It makes you wonder, when a school argues that it is only trying to provide a "safe" learning environment for its students, whose safety, exactly, they have in mind.
“I think the school administration of this university and other colleges should sit down and find a way on how to go about this, not violating the rights of the students and finding ways to make it voluntary and make the students divulge the information if they are pregnant so that they will be protected as well as the fetus,” Jose explained.
In a press release on Wednesday, Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) Chairperson Rhodora M. Bucoy said:
The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) welcomes the move of the Commission
on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the practice of Pines City Colleges of subjecting
female students to mandatory pregnancy testing.
We are equally alarmed of the school memorandum which has gone viral. We question
the true intent of the school requirement in the context of the Magna Carta of Women
(MCW) which prohibits the expulsion or non-readmission of female students due to
We will coordinate with CHR, the designated Gender Ombud under the MCW regarding
the outcomes of their investigation and make necessary steps to address the situation.
The Commission on Higher Education said it will investigate the matter.
This story was updated on Wednesday, 6:40 PM Jakarta time to include a statement from Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) Chairperson Rhodora M. Bucoy.