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One of Bahrain’s leading health officials believes the victims of rape and women carrying severely handicapped children should have the right to seek a safe abortion without fear of arrest and jail.
The move comes after the United Arab Emirates announced it was considering relaxing its strict abortion law to allow the termination of foetuses with certain genetic disorders.
In Baharin a termination is illegal unless doctors believe a pregnancy would endanger the life of the woman carrying the child.
Health workers even have to report patients to the authorities they believe may have had a termination – even if they are seeking help for complications caused by women who have used self-harm or backstreet methods to rid them of their unwanted child.
Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC) chief of medical staff Dr Adel Al Jishi said: “Firstly we have to treat the patient to stop any bleeding or for complications but when her condition is stable we have to inform the police because what she has done is against our law.”
Dr Al Jishi said housemaids were on the top of the list of women who have illegal abortions carried out.
“I am not here to argue with our religion or even our laws and regulations when it comes to unnecessary abortion … but what I don’t understand is why can’t a woman have a legal and safe abortion when she is raped?” he said.
“Why should a woman go through nine months of pregnancy and then be forced to raise a child who was a result of an insult, humiliation and rape. That is just unfair.
“It is like we are punishing the woman for a crime she didn’t commit, why put her through such misery?”
Dr Al Jishi believes women who are pregnant with babies who have severe disabilities should also have the right to terminate their pregnancies. “It is true that a mother will always love her children whether they are disabled or not, but that is not the issue. Many children with severe disabilities don’t live long anyway, so why make them suffer day after day until they die.
“It is also a burden on the family, financially, physically and emotionally. In many cases we see the mother cursing the day she got pregnant with the disabled child, just because she is under lots of pressure and stress.”
While many religions around the world forbid abortion and some countries consider it a crime, many women believe that only they have the right to their bodies, therefore it is up to them to decide whether they want to continue with a pregnancy, or not.
Bahraini religious scholar Dr Abdul Latif Al Mahmoud says Islam forbids abortion.
“A pregnant woman has no right to terminate her pregnancy for whatever reason unless it is going to put her life in danger and this statement should come from a trusted and experienced team of doctors,” he said.
“It does not matter how long the pregnancy is, whether it is one day or three months, in our religion it is a forbidden act and whoever conducts it will be punished by the law and God.”
Dr Al Mahmoud asks why should a child be punished for the act of an adult? “I understand the misery of a raped woman who is carrying her attacker’s child in her womb or the trauma a mother goes through when she finds out that her to-be-born child will be severely handicapped … it is not easy … but at the same time it does not give them the right to get rid of their babies.
“Why should the babies die for something they didn’t do? It is not their fault, so why kill them? God is the one who gives life and He is the one who takes it.”
Manama Security Directorate spokeswoman said a woman who has an illegal abortion would go to prison.
“According to our law any pregnant woman from any nationality will be jailed if we find out that she has carried out an illegal abortion. The minimum sentence is three months, depending on the case,” she said. “Abortion is considered a criminal act here in Bahrain.”
● Reporter Farishta Saeed talked to two Bahraini women who decided to have an illegal abortion.
By Farishta Saeed