Abortion in Pakistan, legal and religious perspective

By: Maida Shahid

Abortion is known as the forced termination of a pregnancy by removing the fetus with surgery or medication. It is also called an “induced abortion” or an induced miscarriage (Oxford English Dictionary). Abortions are one of the safest procedures when they are done properly but when done unprofessionally or in an unsafe manner, it becomes a great cause for deaths of women, mostly in developing countries (Preventing unsafe abortion, 2019).

Legal and safely done procedures, on willing women, reduce health risks as well as mental trauma for the women on the other hand unsafe procedures done by unskilled people in hazardous environments causes 47,000 deaths and 5 million women to be admitted in the hospital each year (Shah, 2009). 56 million abortion procedures are performed each year, out of which 45% are done unsafely. Only 37% of women worldwide, can legally have an abortion without reason but different countries have different criteria for abortions (KR, Vekemans, de Silva U, & Hurwitz M, 2010).

Abortion laws and practices mostly comes from cultures and religion; therefore, every country have their own laws, there is a profound debate all over the world of its legal, ethical, and moral perspective. Those who oppose abortion say that the fetus have a right to live and abortion is murder, other argue that it’s the right of a women to decide if she wants to carry the fetus or not, her body her right. They say that abortion should be a part of a public health measure (Swett, 2007).

In 2002 the abortion rate in Pakistan was about 890,000 per years which roughly accounts to 29 per 1,000 women. In a survey conducted in 2012, Pakistan showed to have an annual abortion rate of 50 per 1,000 women which was estimated to be the highest in South Asia and one of the highest in the world (Population Council, 2014).

In 1990 the law regarding abortion was revised, the revision was made to conform better to the Islamic teachings with respect to the human body and human rights. The law permits abortion with respect to the development stage of the fetus- abortion is made legal before the limbs and organs of the fetus are formed. After which the abortion is only permitted to save the life of a women (United Nations Population Division, 2002).

The figures from different studies show that Pakistani women are opting for abortion, but the practitioners are reluctant in performing it due to a stigma around it being a murder. Due to which women opt for unsafe and harmful procedures performed by unskilled people, leading to deaths as well as emotional and physical trauma.

The Islamic perspective regarding abortion is mostly taken from Hadith because the Quran does not directly address the issue of abortion, therefore individual countries have their own law regarding it. No Muslim state has banned abortion, it is always permissible in few cases. Mostly Muslims believe that the fetus is not a living being before 120 days (al-Bukhari, 324AH), therefore, abortion can be done and after this period it can only be done to save the life of the mother. Muslims have different opinions on the time after which abortion is illegal, that depends on the development of the fetus. There are a minority of Muslims believe that abortion is illegal even in the first trimester but there are countries like Turkey and Tunisia that have made abortion legal on request. However, many countries differ on the reasons for abortion (Shapiro, 2014).

The four Sunni Islam schools of thought- Hanafi, Shafi’i, Hanbali and Maliki- have their own opinions regarding abortion. The Maliki are the strictest, they oppose abortion even in extreme cases or any other means of contraception. The Hanafi school of thought is more lenient about abortion up to 120 days of conception, few of which also say its permissible without the permission of the husband (al-Kâsâni, al-Muntaqâ Sharh al-Muwatta, & Ibn Hubayra., 1200).

The Hanbalis permit abortion for up to 40-120 days, or more in case of rape or fetal deformity leading to a difficult life of the child (al-Kâsâni, al-Muntaqâ Sharh al-Muwatta, & Ibn Hubayra., 1200).

In Pakistan, although the law states that abortion is legal in specific conditions, this is not a well-known fact by doctors and parents. Even if doctors are aware about it, their own stigma around it apprehends them for performing the procedures. Although Islam allows for abortion in case of it being harmful to the mother, still most doctors and people shames the mother for thinking about it, they impose their opinion on the women and in extreme cases they can also harm the mothers seeing abortion.

There is a need to talk about this taboo topic openly, especially to aware the women of their rights, and the duty of the doctors towards women. If abortion is performed properly and not be considered a taboo, then lives of women can be saved. The stigma around it should be removed so that the health care system can be improved, this will reduce the black market of clinics and women will be brave enough to speak up about it.

In cases of rape, the women should be allowed to have a choice to abort the unwanted pregnancy safely. In cases of dangers to health, and if the child is pre-mature or will lead a life of difficulty, a safe procedure should be allowed to abort the child.

The writer is graduate of Public Policy from National Defence University, Islamabad. She can be reached at [email protected]