One of the highest in the world and the highest in South Asia, Pakistan has an annual abortion rate of 50 per 1,000 women, according to a 2012 survey. Previously, In 2002, approximately 2.4 million unintended pregnancies occurred among Pakistani women, with nearly 900,000 of these pregnancies ending in abortion. Because abortion is only legal in a few cases, women who seek it must resort to illegal and often dangerous procedures. So if you want to know, is abortion legal in Pakistan? Read this article till the end!
According to (United Nations, 2014), Abortion is defined as the termination of the fetus and its removal from the womb of a pregnant woman. Abortion is carried out for a broad range of purposes, including economical factors and concerns about one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Based on each person’s inherent right to control their own body, abortion has been acknowledged as a human right for women.
Legalizing abortion, though, is still a sensitive and divisive topic in many modern cultures. As this article will show, harsh abortion laws in nations like Pakistan are not always in line with international standards for human rights, highlighting the complicated interplay between laws and human rights.
The United Nations has set 7 conditions under which abortion should be permitted and legalized (United Nations, 2014):
- Pregnant women may get an abortion if it will save their lives.
- To protect a woman’s physical wellbeing, abortion is authorised.
- The preservation of a woman’s mental health justifies abortion.
- If the fetus has a defect, abortion is authorised.
- In circumstances of incest or rape, abortion is allowed.
- Economic or societal justifications for abortion are acceptable.
- When requested, abortions are permitted.
How common is abortion in Pakistan?
According to a nationwide study, 890,000 induced abortions occurred in 2002. This equates to 29 abortions for every 1,000 reproductive-age women. 14 pregnancies out of every 100 resulted in an induced abortion.
Abortion rates appear to be significantly higher in Pakistan’s two more rural provinces. Abortions were performed at a rate of 37 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 49 in the North West Frontier Province, and 38 per 1,000 in Balochistan. In comparison, rates in the two more urban provinces were lower: 25 in Punjab and 31 in Sindh, where contraceptive use is also slightly higher.
Is Abortion Legal in Pakistan?
In Pakistan’s Penal Code, abortion is referred to as ‘Isqat-e-Haml’ and ‘Isqat-e-Janin’ under articles 338, 338A, 338B, and 338C.
- Isqat-e-haml is the phrase used to describe ending a pregnancy before the child’s organs have formed.
- The termination of a pregnancy at the point when parts of the child’s limbs and organs have developed is called Isqat-e-Janin.
- Articles 338 and 338(B) make termination of a pregnancy a punishable offence unless it is done in ‘good faith’ or to save the woman’s life through ‘necessary treatment’.
- Otherwise, depending on whether the abortion was carried out with or without the woman’s agreement, it may result in a three-year or longer sentence in prison.
Abortion laws in Pakistan’s Penal Code are part of the pre-partition laws enacted in 1990 to better align with the Islamic teachings prevalent at the time.
Analysis of Pakistani abortion laws reveals that there is very little compatibility between Pakistan’s abortion policies – a member of the United Nations since 1947 – and the UN’s proposed abortion rights. As previously stated, abortion and the legalization of abortion are unquestionably human rights for women. However, policies in Pakistan favor its illegality, with the exception of cases involving “good faith” or “necessary treatment.”
Only when a woman’s life is in danger or “necessary treatment” must be given early in pregnancy is abortion permissible in Pakistan. Due to ambiguity in how the legislation should be interpreted, it is challenging for women to access legal abortion services; instead, they turn to risky and illegal methods.
What are the ambiguities in Abortion Laws of Pakistan?
Terms like “good faith” and “required treatment” are not defined under the state’s statutes, which are also vague. In light of this, it is unclear what “good faith” and “required therapy” are. Are the terms used to protect a woman’s physical or mental health? or maybe both? Do these terms consider the parents’ socioeconomic situation?
Technically, ‘Good faith’ abortions include those performed to save a woman’s life or when the fetus has not developed organs.
Although a large number of countries permit abortion only when the mother’s life or physical health is jeopardized (United Nations, 2014, p. 18-27). Many Muslim jurists consider abortion to be the murder of an unborn child and thus forbidden.
What are the Islamic teachings about Abortion?
Abortion is considered murder by many Muslim jurists and thus forbidden. The notion is rooted on teachings in the Quran that support intermarriage propagation.
For example, in Surah Al Maiydah , verse 32 states:
“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, Surah Al Isra 17, verse 31 states:
“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”.
Such Islamic teachings have been interpreted and applied to the issue of abortion, leading many Muslim countries, such as Pakistan, to criminalize pregnancy termination.
The differing perspectives held by Muslim jurists regarding the organ development of a foetus, however, further complicate issues. According to certain judges, abortion is acceptable up until 120 days of pregnancy. Some people think the first 40 days of pregnancy are the only time it’s acceptable.
As a result, the lack of agreement among jurists and the ambiguity surrounding abortion laws affect the lives of many women. Abortion is completely illegal and forbidden in Islam, according to the vast majority of Pakistanis. As a result, women in the country frequently choose hidden and dangerous abortion options available from back-alley providers. This exposes those women to increased health risks, physical and mental trauma, and, in some cases, death.
What are the Complications related to Unsafe Abortions in Pakistan?
Unsafe abortions have a huge impact on preventable sickness and mortality in Pakistan. Studies reveal that when women who have undergone unsafe abortions visit medical institutions, they typically have a number of post-abortion problems. Such as; Combination of these issues include incomplete abortion, severe bleeding, injuries to the reproductive tract or nearby anatomical areas, sepsis (bacterial infection), and both.
Surgery under general anaesthesia is required for perforations and abrasions to the vagina, cervix, or uterus because they may cause damage to nearby organs like the bowel.
Excessive bleeding can result in life-threatening complications such as;
- anemia or shock
- hysterectomy (uterine removal) may be required, rendering the woman infertile for life
- sepsis, if not treated promptly, can cause peritonitis (abdominal lining inflammation)
- septicemia (blood poisoning)
- kidney failure
- septic shock, all of which can be fatal.
Who performs Abortion in Pakistan?
Abortions are performed in Pakistan by both formally trained health personnel and traditional practitioners, often under dangerous conditions. Where a woman lives and how much she can afford to pay for the procedure often determine who performs the abortion and how safe it is.
According to Population Council, Unwanted Pregnancy and Post-Abortion Complications in Pakistan: Findings from a National Study, Islamabad, Pakistan: Population Council, 2004;
Underprivillaged rural women are much more likely to get abortions from inexperienced health workers than non-poor urban women. In the 2002 nationwide study, which examined how women’s economic status and place of residence affect access to professionally educated abortion providers, more than 100 informed health professionals from all four provinces took part.
They estimated that only 7% of poor rural women got abortions from doctors, while 42% went to dais (traditional birth attendants). In comparison, 49% of nonpoor urban women had their abortions performed by doctors, while only 9% went to dais. An estimated 34% of poor women in urban areas attended dais.
What is the Price of Abortion Medicine in Pakistan?
Abortion services are available in Pakistan via both medical and surgical means. A combination of the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol is used for medical abortions (MA). Manual Vacuum Aspiration (MVA) and Dilation and Evacuation are two surgical techniques that are available (D&E). Ten different brands of misoprostol tablets for abortion have received approval from Pakistan’s Ministry of Health. The cost is approximately Rs. 100 (or $0.95), that are dispensed by pharmacies if there is a valid prescription.
Only in cases of life-saving or “required treatment” for a woman early in her pregnancy is abortion permissible in Pakistan. Because it is unclear how the legislation should be interpreted, it is difficult to find legal abortion services, hence the majority of women who get abortions turn to risky and illegal methods. Modern, risk-free abortion techniques could be difficult for many women to access. Many Pakistani women are putting their health—and even lives—in jeopardy right now to prevent having children they cannot afford or do not want. Regarding difficult matters like abortion, perception and policymaking are crucial.
Why do abortions cause complications?
Complications with abortions occur due to a lack of experienced health specialists and sanitary conditions. Complications are thought to occur in 41-49% of abortions performed by Lady Health Visitors, nurses, and midwives, compared to one in every ten abortions performed by gynecologists.
Is abortion illegal in Pakistan?
Abortion is not illegal in Pakistan. But it is legal in with some condition. It is performed to save a woman’s life or to provide “necessary treatment” early in pregnancy. But, legal abortion services are difficult to obtain due to a lack of clarity in interpreting the law, and most women who have an abortion resort to illegal and dangerous procedures.
Where can I go for abortion services in Pakistan?
Services for abortions are offered in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Abortions can only be carried out by obstetricians and gynecologists’ (OBGYN), medical professionals with an MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor Surgery), nurses, and skilled midwives.