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Pak’s alarming abortion rate

Although it rarely makes headlines in this country, Pakistan has a massive illegal abortion problem. In August last year, a representative from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) announced that there were 2.2 million abortions in the country every year. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a US-based research firm, almost half the pregnancies that occur in Pakistan are unplanned, and 54 percent of them end in abortion.
The issue has received some attention since yesterday after a local court extended the remand of a nurse and her assistant who stand accused of conducting a botched abortion procedure on a model, whose body was discovered near a Karachi graveyard on February 20.
The high abortion rate in Pakistan — a deeply religious country where the practice is by and large considered taboo — is indicative of two different problems. These are lack of awareness to contraceptives and women’s lack of reproductive agency in a patriarchal society. It seems that every year, millions of Pakistani women find themselves faced with a grim choice: to risk their lives by undergoing illegal abortion procedures at the hands of unlicensed medical practitioners or to risk giving birth while their own bodies are unlikely to survive the process. Cases of women having to terminate pregnancies because they have conceived as a result of rape or sex outside of wedlock also have to be considered here, as well as cases of girls being married at an age when their bodies are not ready to safely sustain pregnancies or give birth.
It should be pointed out that abortions are legal in Pakistan if the woman’s health is at risk. However, reports indicate that many doctors refuse to carry them out in even these cases because of religious reasons. Consequently, many women turn to illegal abortions. Aware Girls, an NGO dedicated to helping women who find themselves in need of terminating a pregnancy has stated that the most common method used for illegal abortions in Pakistan is to ingest Misoprostol, an OTC drug for treating ulcers that causes the expulsion of the embryo.
In December 2018, Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan had promised to launch pro-contraception campaigns using the media, mobile phones, schools and mosques. However, he was opposed by the Council of Islamic Ideology, which insisted that family planning is forbidden in Islam. It is hoped that better sense prevails and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government makes good on the PM’s promise.



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