LAHORE: Though debates on the issue of abortion have continued unabated in the US since the 1973 Supreme Court (SC) verdict in “Roe versus Wade” case that legalized the termination of pregnancy nationwide, the subject has been reignited following a recently leaked draft opinion, according to which, the apex court is gearing up to roll back the laws in this context.
If the court strikes down “Roe versus Wade” Case decision after 49 years, as we are hearing, abortion may no longer remain a constitutional right in the US. The reversal may turn out to be another watershed moment in the country's history!
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned that restricting access to abortions “drives women and girls towards unsafe ones”. Tedros tweeted the comment, but he did not specifically refer to the leak or Roe v Wade.
It goes without saying that discussions on this issue have also been going on in many other countries for decades, whereby activists for and against abortion have been giving their viewpoints on whether it should generally be illegal in all cases, illegal in most cases, legal in most cases, or legal in all cases.
While pro-abortion rights’ activists in a good number of countries have succeeded in pushing for less restrictive laws as part of a broader fight for women’s rights, their rivals have been striving since long to get strict anti-abortion regulations enacted and expanded with full vigour.
Research shows that over the years, pro-life movements in various countries like Poland and the US have successfully lobbied to get these reproductive rights repealed. And many other nations are also making strides towards greater freedom for the womenfolk. The fact, however, remains unchanged that maternal deaths during pregnancy are three times higher in countries with stricter abortion laws.
Globally, 73 million abortions take place annually with six out of every 10 unintended pregnancies culminate in abortions. In Asia, 65 per cent of annual 58.3 million unintended pregnancies are aborted.
Of all abortions, 45 per cent are unsafe with half of them carried out in Asia. However, in the case of United States, abortion laws vary from state to state.
For example, Texas had passed a law in 2021 allowing residents to sue clinics and doctors for carrying out an abortion after six weeks. In Mississippi, most abortions are banned after 15 weeks. The prestigious “Time” magazine has come out with relevant numbers and statistics in one of its recent reports on the subject.
It views: “Abortion laws vary considerably between jurisdictions, ranging from outright prohibition of the procedure to public funding of abortion. The availability of safe abortion also varies across the world. According to the Centre for Reproductive Rights, a global legal advocacy organization, there are 24 countries in the world where abortion is completely prohibited. These include Andorra and Malta in Europe, El Salvador and Honduras in Central America, Senegal and Egypt in Africa, and the Philippines and Laos in Asia. Some 90 million or five per cent women of reproductive age live in countries that prohibit abortion altogether.”
The 99-year-old American journal maintains: “More than 50 countries and regions permit abortions only when the woman’s health is at risk. These include Libya, Iran, Indonesia, Venezuela and Nigeria. Others have exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or fetal abnormality. In Brazil, for example, abortion is illegal except in cases of rape, risks to the life of the mother, or when the fetus has anencephaly—missing part of the brain or skull.”
The “Time” magazine further reports: “According to the Centre for Productive Rights, in countries from Japan to India to Canada, as well as most of Europe and the U.S., more than half of women of reproductive age can safely access abortion either on request or based on broad social or economic grounds.
Some 72 countries, including France and Germany, allow for abortion subject to gestational time limits—the most common being 12 weeks. In United Kingdom, there is a 24-week limit on abortion, but if the fetus has any disability such as ‘Down’s Syndrome,’ the pregnancy can be terminated right up until birth.” Research conducted by the “Jang Group and Geo Television Network” shows that as of February 2022, some 65 countries have legalized or decriminalized abortion on request in at least some initial part of the pregnancy, or that have fully decriminalized abortion.
According to the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs, during 2013, over 82 per cent of Governments in developed regions permitted abortion for economic or social reasons and 71 per cent allowed abortion on request.
In contrast, only 20 per cent of governments in developing regions permitted abortion for economic or social reasons and only 16 per cent allowed it on request.
In United Nations’ opinion, out of 172 countries, 152 Governments had implemented concrete measures by 2012 to increase women’s access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, regardless of marital status and age.
A Pew Research Center survey, conducted between March 7 and 13, 2022, reveals that nearly one-in-five American adults (19%) say that abortion should be legal in all cases, with no exceptions. Fewer (8%) say abortion should be illegal in every case, without exception. By contrast, 71% either say it should be mostly legal or mostly illegal, or say there are exceptions to their blanket support for, or opposition to, legal abortion.
According to this Washington DC-based think tank, broad public agreement that abortion should be legal if pregnancy endangers a woman’s health or is the result of rape.
The survey concludes: “While most Americans do not have absolutist views about abortion – desiring neither to see it completely outlawed nor permitted without exception – there are certain situations in which there is clear consensus abortion should be legal.”
In many Islamic states like Pakistan, most Muslim jurists think of abortion as the murder of an unborn child, which is, therefore, forbidden.
A Mach 22, 2022 report prepared by the London School of Economics states: “The perception is based on Quranic teachings that encourage procreation within matrimony. For example, Verse 32 of Surah ‘Al Ma'idah’ holds: “We decreed upon the children of Israel that whosoever kills a soul for other than manslaughter or corruption in the land; it shall be as if he killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he saved the life of mankind.” Similarly, Verse 31 of Surah ‘Al-Isra’ propounds: “Kill not your children for fear of want. We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin.”
According to Sections 338 and 338(B) of Pakistan Penal Code, termination of a pregnancy is a punishable crime, unless it is caused under ‘good faith,’ or to save the life of the woman through the ‘necessary treatment’ to her. In any cases otherwise, abortion can lead to imprisonment for three or more years, dependent upon whether it was caused with or without the consent of the woman.”
The New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that works to study and advance sexual and reproductive rights, had also shed light on pregnancies and abortions in Pakistan.
According to its findings, the proportion of pregnancies in Pakistan, which were unintended rose from 38% in 2002 to 46% in 2012, which indicates that increases in contraceptive use have not kept pace with the growing desire for smaller families.
It says: “In 2012, there were approximately nine million pregnancies in Pakistan, of which 4.2 million were unintended. Of these unintended pregnancies, 54% resulted in induced abortions and 34% in unplanned births. There were an estimated 2.25 million induced abortions in Pakistan in 2012. The majority of these abortions were clandestine, and placed women’s health and lives at risk.”
In India, abortion has been legal under various circumstances since 1971. Laws were also passed in 2021 to allow all women seek safe abortion services on grounds of contraceptive failure, increase in gestation limit to 24 weeks for special categories of women, and opinion of one provider required up to 20 weeks of gestation.
Abortion in India is now covered 100 per cent by the government's public national health insurance funds.
It is imperative to note that unsafe abortions are among the most common causes of maternal deaths in India. In 2015, 15.6 million abortions were accessed annually in India, according to the UK-based “Lancet,” which is ranked among the world's oldest medical journals.
Of these, 78% or 12.3 million were conducted outside health facilities.
A 2015 report by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had revealed more than half or 56 per cent abortions in India were unsafe and 10 Indian women died daily due to unsafe abortion.
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