Will Abortion Be an Available Choice for Women in Egypt?

Wednesday 14 March 201808:06 pm
Egypt's parliament is discussing a draft law regulating abortion under certain conditions: when the life of a pregnant woman is jeopardized or her fetus suffers deformities in the first four months after conception. Other than that, an Egyptian woman is not entitled to an abortion. The proposal, submitted by MP Ayman Aboul-Ela, is considered to be the first law on abortion, which is currently banned in Egypt. Individuals involved in an abortion would be handed prison terms ranging between one day and three years, according to articles 260, 261 and 262 in the penal code. The proposal, which is still being studied at the parliament, should cast light on the excessive penalty for women who opt for abortion as well as individuals involved in the operation, to apply the "right to life" principle. There was no exceptions in the previous bill, yet the doctors' code of ethics allows abortion in case a pregnant woman's life or health is in danger. But if she secretly (illegally) resorted to a doctor for abortion, she would be handed a punishment that amounts to incarceration in a maximum-security facility. The proposed law does not at all legalize abortion in safe hospitals in the case of an unwanted pregnancy, whether the pregnant woman was married or a rape survivor. In the same context, lawyer and human rights activist Ahmed Aboul-Magd believes that abortion is a right that every woman is entitled to, because it is related to her body. This does not prevent deliberation with her husband, he says, but the woman has the final say. Speaking to Raseef22, Aboul-Magd said the state criminalization of abortion is a violation of the social contract and individual and personal freedoms. It also consolidates the mental image that women are vessels of reproduction, which creates the problem of undesired children and all involved parties suffer as a result.

Limiting Abortion to Unofficial Relationships

Permitting abortion when neither the pregnant woman's life is at risk nor her fetus suffers deformity is considered to be tricky and difficult to discuss. Religion overhangs the issue, from the moment a baby is conceived till there is a reason for abortion. Also, the majority would put a woman's desire to abort a baby down to an illegitimate relationship, and that she would want to end her pregnancy out of fear of a "scandal". Aboul-Magd thinks the legislator regards nothing except for an "unofficial sexual relationship" as a reason for safe abortion, whereas there are multiple causes that could urge women to abort babies. In November 2016, the Egyptian government floated its local currency, which caused the scarcity of contraceptives in both the (subsidized) governmental and private markets. The crisis lasted for weeks as prices quintupled in the black market until the Ministry of Health contained the situation. Aboul-Magd said abortion could be fuelled by a desire to alleviate the pregnancy's financial burdens on a family that is incapable of affording such costs. Or, to prevent the birth of a disfigured baby or one that suffers a terminal disease, yet beyond the abortion legal timeframe. Another case is when a woman is suffering fatigue for reasons other than what is stated by the law. Protecting honor or conceiving a baby as a result of incest or rape could also be a motivate, the lawyer said.

Around 12% of Women Would Like to Postpone Pregnancy

So far, there have been no accurate statistics of unsafe abortions because they take place in secrecy. Most of the figures are derived from consultation or cases of women who headed to rights centers. However, there are bodies and institutions that have recorded some cases of abortion. According to a report based on official records by the US Agency for International Development, 15 women in every 1000 between the age of 15 and 44 have gone to hospitals over health complications caused by unsafe abortions. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health said abortions resulted in 1.9 percent of the deaths related to maternity care in 2006. This is according to a study conducted by the Population Council in cooperation with the Egyptian Fertility and Sterility Society. In a statement released early 2017, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics said that 12.6 percent of women are not able to obtain contraceptives either because of personal or social reasons, or due to supply shortages. In fact, these women want to postpone a second delivery or prevent it altogether. In light of the above, many women are secretly subjected to abortions in unsafe facilities, out of fear of the society and the law. Consequently, they are prone to psychological, financial and sometimes sexual harassment, which causes physical complications such as sustaining infection and damaging reproductive organs, to name a few.

Does Safe Abortion Preempt Crimes?

In the same context, the head of the Women's Center for Legal Guidance and Awareness, Reda El-Danbouki, told Raseef22 that calling for the right of "safe abortion" aims at giving the mother the right to self-determination, and deterring the deaths and secrete abortion facilities which operate without supervision. He thinks that if the state introduces legislation allowing safe abortion under governmental supervision, it will preempt numerous crimes committed secretly as a result of abortions taking place in an unsafe clinic "Unsafe abortion takes place almost on a daily basis and will always take place, and thus we need to think about alternatives," El-Danbouki said. "The state ought to provide safe hospitals pursuant to the constitution and the law." El-Danbouki is convinced that the community and the law hold the woman -- not the man -- responsible for many mistakes; from having sex with a man out of wedlock, to conceiving with her husband because of inability to purchase contraceptives or forgetting to use them.

Women Post Abortion

Although the reasons for abortion vary, they cause complications and lead to depression. Professor of psychiatry at Ain Shams University, Heba El-Essawi, explained that this is because most women would suffer psychological problems after abortion, whether they wanted it or were forced into it. She says that abortion happens for two reasons: the first is that the pregnancy results from an illegal relation – be it consensual sex outside marriage, rape or incest. Before the abortion the woman would try to hide her mixed emotions. It is like committing a crime and hiding the traces. After the abortion, her mixed feelings would range from grief and stress to relief over solving a big problem. The second is when the pregnancy is within a marriage and the mother wants to keep the child, yet the husband insists on aborting the baby. The woman would feel the highest degrees of oppression and experiences a sense of betrayal. This causes psychological pain over a long period of time. In many cases, the mother would have to satisfy the father and reach an agreement with him to abort the baby. The psychiatry professor has explained to Raseef22 that after an abortion, the mother becomes nervous and gets irritated at her husband for the most insignificant reasons. She holds him responsible for losing the child while the husband does not understand or realize the significance of her attitude, from accepting abortion to holding him responsible later.

Intensifying the Penalty or Allowing Self-Determination?

The state has not enacted the law thus far, but what if it legalizes safe abortion? Aboul-Magd said: "For sure at the beginning it would be met with the community's refusal, and then there would be excesses. But with a law the right would prevail, and with persistent effort by the relevant state institutions to reveal practice errors, the woman would get her right in safe abortion." He thinks that the law quite often acts as a locomotive that drags societies towards development, because legislators are from the elite. For instance, when the female circumcision has been criminalized there were infringements, yet by time and observation everyone has abided by the law. The same will happen when safe abortion is legalized and regulated. Developed countries have managed to limit abortions by allowing it in safe facilities and not intensifying penalties. It appeared that its percentage dropped from 46 percent to 27 percent. In the developing world countries, however, the situation remains the same, unaffected by intensified penalties. There is only one safe abortion in every four cases, which causes many complications not to mention the lack of requisite medical care after ending a pregnancy. As for the countries where abortions are legal, the safe abortion rate is as high as 9 out of 10 cases, according to the World Health Organization.
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