Abortion still taboo in Pakistan

Islamabad, Jan 16 (IANS) Even though abortion is legal in Pakistan and Islamic scholars agree on its permissibility in certain conditions, many medical professionals term it an “un-Islamic act” and refuse treatment to women, compelling them to seek help from untrained people and risk their lives, experts have said.

According to estimates, about 890,000 induced abortions are carried out every year in the country, Dawn News reported.
Leading doctors have said the procedure — contrary to the general perception that it is sought by unmarried women — is wanted by married women with four to five children, who consider abortion an “easier family planning tool” rather than using contraceptives.
A seminar titled “The politics of abortion” was organised by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Pakistan (SOGP) where doctors discussed the issue at length.
Shershah Syed, a senior gynaecologist, said most “victims” of the ailing social mindset were poor women because the rich could pay huge amounts to get the procedure done by trained professionals.
He said 30,000 women died every year in Pakistan because of pregnancy-related complications. The maternal mortality rate was about 276 per 100,000 live births.
Complications of miscarriages and abortions accounted for 10 to 12 percent of maternal deaths, while one out of six pregnancies was terminated by induced abortion through a risky method.
About 37 percent of all abortions in the country were conducted by unskilled traditional
birth attendants, he said.
Referring to a report in a foreign publication, he said that around 75,000 women who tried to abort pregnancies by inserting different objects into their bodies died every year worldwide.
Most of them, he said, belonged to South Asian and African countries.
A Pakistani-American doctor, Huma Farid — clinical fellow in obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive biology at the Brigham Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts — said the abortion issue had been politicised in US and it was no longer viewed as a health subject.
Though abortion was legal in the US, a number of states under the strong influence of conservative Christians had started passing anti-abortion laws, she said.
“The US is perceived as a liberal country, but what is happening there on the abortion issue could have dangerous repercussions in the coming years,” she said.
The US has a high rate of unplanned pregnancies — 49 percent. Of those, 42 percent ended in abortion, 19 percent of abortions were among teenagers, 67 percent of women who sought abortions were unmarried and almost half of American women had terminated at least one pregnancy.
Nighat Shah, representing the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Pakistan, said abortion was purely a health issue and must not be confused with religion and culture.
Imtiaz Kamal, president of the Midwifery Association of Pakistan, said the country’s laws permitted that abortion could be done to save a life, but that Islamic scholars permit the procedure to be carried out within 120 days of pregnancy.