Women and abortion in Middle East
Most Middle Eastern countries there are laws that forbid abortion or, in some cases, don’t provide for any regulatory discipline in this regard. Some of the countries that allow interruption of pregnancy reduce to two the cases in which this is legal: in cases where the life of the woman is at risk and the case in which the same is necessary in order to safeguard the mental and physical health of the mother.
Due to cultural and social heritage spread all over the world, abortion is still the subject of many controversies, especially in countries with an Islamic majority, where it is considered as an unjustified interference in the will of Allah.
In Saudi Arabia, for example, abortion is legal when the woman’s mental and physical health is at risk and in pregnancies caused by incest or rape. Similarly, laws on abortion in other countries with an Islamic majority (Kuwait, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and UAE) allow the interruption of the pregnancy in hypothesis of rape, incest, fetal impairments or risk to the mental and physical health of the mother. However, in the case of fetal impairment, very often the clinical examination capable of diagnosing this type of disease must be carried out after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. At that point, in many Middle Eastern countries, there is no longer the possibility of access to a legal abortion procedure.
In Turkey abortion is legal if it is done during the first trimester of pregnancy: the national law establishes that, if there isn’t any risk to the mother’s health, abortion is permitted up to the 20th week of pregnancy, for any reason. Therefore, there isn’t any regulatory restriction that contemplates specific reasons in order to have an abortion.
In other cases, instead, it is necessary to prove the mother’s life, her physical and mental health are put in danger in order to interrupt the pregnancy (or also fetal impairments). Despite Turkey being the most guarantor country in this domain, there are continuous political and religious attacks to the national law. Indeed, in 2012 thousands of women protested on the streets against the reform launched by the President Erdogan, aimed at introducing restrictions to abortion. After defining abortion as a “murder”, the head of the Turkish state declared that women should be relegated to the domestic sphere.
In Iran too, abortion is legal only in cases where there is a risk to the life of the mother (and in any case no later than the 19th week), but in order to proceed to the termination of pregnancy, in addition to the written consent of the woman, the consent of three specialist doctors is also necessary. In any case, in the Region, in recent years, there has been an increase in legal abortion procedures, together with a greater awareness and more information on the subject.
In Palestine, the Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association is responsible for providing health care to women in the country, trying to influence the local government to reform the excessively restrictive regulations on abortion.
The latter practice is legal in the country, but only in cases where there is a risk to the life of the mother and, however, the concept of "risk to life" is open to different interpretations. In fact, many doctors refuse to provide for the termination of a pregnancy, adopting a restrictive interpretation of the concept mentioned above.
Nor is there a clear legal framework for this case, since there is no law establishing the period within which the interruption of a pregnancy can be considered legal.
The direct and tragic consequence of this socio-cultural condition is an increasing use of clandestine and harmful abortion procedures, which unfortunately too often lead to the death of the woman. In fact, every year there are about 50,000 deaths due to complications resulting from dangerous methods of interruption of pregnancy, with a greater incidence in the Middle East region.
It should also be borne in mind that national regulations, restricting cases of legal abortion to the hypothesis of danger to the health of the mother, inevitably affect the weaker social classes. This is because those who have economic opportunities are often forced to travel to other countries in order to proceed to the termination of an unwanted pregnancy, while for the poorest the only alternative is the so-called "black market" (in Iran, for example, the cost of a surgical intervention to terminate the pregnancy can reach up to 40,000,000 Rials, which corresponds to about 800 euros).
Moreover, where there is the possibility of being able to access legal and permitted techniques of abortion, there is still little information and total isolation for women who undertake this type of decision (which should necessarily require psychological support).
To this day, therefore, the abortion issue is an uncomfortable theme from the social and cultural point of view. It is a problem that has inevitable consequences for women, in relation to their ability to make free decisions about their lives and their most intimate and delicate sphere, that of motherhood, which should be free from any external interference.
Translated by Francesca Cioffi
Original version by Simona Maria Destrocastaniti
The sources used to edit this article can be freely consulted:
Ephrat Livni, “Saudi Arabia’s abortion laws are more forgiving than Alabama’s”, in “Quartz”, 25 maggio 2019
Hazal Atay, “When abortion is Haram, women find strategies to claim their rights”, in “SciencesPo”
International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion, “TURKEY – Health professionals slam government demand for names of women who have had abortions as part of “terror investigations”
International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion, “Palestine – Stories from Palestine”
International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion, “TURKEY – De facto abortion ban means women face dangerous conditions to obtain abortion”
International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion, “IRAN – Women’s bodies have become a battleground in the fight for Iran’s future”
International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion, “IRAN: Rise in abortion rates”
Safe Abortion, “Calls for legal reform to allow abortions after 120 days of pregnancy for fetal anomaly in the United Arab Emirates”, in International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion