Abortion hotline not welcome in Pakistan
An abortion hotline set up in Pakistan on Saturday has been condemned by Islamic groups and political parties as “anti-Islamic” and “colonial”, even though it will save the lives of thousands of women who die each year in back street abortion clinics, reports The Independent.
The hotline, set up by women’s groups in Pakistan and the Dutch pro-choice group Women on Waves, advises women how to use a drug to induce miscarriage safely and aims to reduce the estimated 8.9 lakh unsafe illegal abortions performed in Pakistan every year.
“There will be very strong opposition,” said Ahsan Iqbal, of the Pakistan Muslim League. “This could create misuse. It cannot be done as free choice under our law and our religion.”
Access to abortion in Pakistan is limited. Forbidden under Islamic law unless the mother’s life is in danger, terminating a pregnancy carries a massive social stigma in the country, which is 97 per cent Muslim. As a result, a flourishing trade in backstreet abortion clinics has developed.
Figures from the Population Council of Pakistan show 320 women die for every 1 lakh live births — compared to 13 per 1 lakh in the UK.
The Guttmacher Institute, which researches sexual and reproductive health, estimates that as many as one in six deaths are a result of illegal abortions. “We want to save women’s lives,” said Gulalai Ismail, founder of the Pakistani women’s group Aware Girls, which is helping to set up the hotline. “We are empowering women, and trying to give them information to help them take control of their bodies.
Any groups which try to help women will have problems with extremist and fundamentalist groups. Ninety-nine per cent of clerics will oppose this.”
As well as the hotline, trained Pakistani staff will offer abortion information in communities in rural Pakistan, particularly in the tribal areas of the North-West Frontier Province, where opposition is expected to be fiercest.
Massoud Shadjareh, chairman, Islamic Human Rights Commission, said, “To go against the majority like this might be seen sympathetically in the West, but it will be counterproductive and will create huge problems.
At best, they are misguided, at worst they are trying to provoke.” He added, “It is part of the colonial idea that the West’s way is the best, and that is not the case.”