Should Abortion be legal beyond life threatening situations?

The debate whether abortion should be legal remains a matter of controversy all over the world. It rests between the overlap of religion, politics and law. The continuous disagreement between the pro life and pro choice supporters undermines a women’s right over her body. Financial instability or emotional unpreparedness may not always be the reason behind her decision. Termination of pregnancy might be needed for various medical reasons.  Accounts of women dying for impending miscarriages for not aborting early are common.

Hence, the ‘right’ had to be recognized which only a few countries did. American women got their right as recently as 1973 after a landmark case of Roe v Wade. As we look further into the topic, in Bangladesh, abortion is only allowed when the woman’s life is in danger.

In developing countries like Bangladesh, there are many social issues which may affect a woman’s decision to give birth. Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage even though the legal age is 18. Early marriage leads to early pregnancy. UNICEF Bangladesh finds One third of teenage girls aged 15 to 19 are mothers or are already pregnant.

The Human Rights Watch details that young girls face serious health consequences including death from early pregnancy. In order to save these young lives, professionally performed abortions are needed. It will reduce injury and death caused by unsafe and illegal abortions, particularly in the rural areas.

A survey was conducted 6513 married women under 50 years of age by Bangladesh Fertility Survey (BFS). According to the statistics, 80% agreed to abortion for pregnancy as a result of rape or premarital sex, 53% approved danger to mother’s life, 30% for malformed child and only 17% wanted abortion for economic reasons (Ahmed R., 1979). Therefore it is clear that there are multiple reasons and consensus among Bangladeshi women.

What does the law say?

In Bangladesh, only the Penal Code 1860 talks about abortion or miscarriage. Sections 312-316 lay down the punishment for causing miscarriage. Section 312 states whoever voluntary causes miscarriage to a pregnant woman, given that it was not done in good faith shall be imprisoned for three years or with fine or both and if the fetus has been fully developed (quickening), the punishment may extend to seven years. A woman who performs an abortion on herself is subject to the above penalties.

It is not essential to this offence that the offender should know that the act is like to cause death. Section 316 says causing death of a quick unborn child amounts to culpable homicide. A ‘quick child’ is a fetus that has developed to such a stage that it moves within the womb of the mother (USLegal).

Since induced abortions are illegal, there are black market clinics making use of this opportunity. There have been an increasing amount of unsafe abortions done illegally. Despite the availability of MR facilities, women resort to stealth abortions under the supervision of unprofessional people. To prevent unwanted pregnancy, these women expose themselves to unsafe environment. An estimated 1,194,000 induced abortions were performed in Bangladesh in 2014, and many of these were likely done in unsafe conditions or by untrained providers. (Guttmacher Institute, 2017)

Bangladeshi law permits a woman MR (Menstrual Regulation) for upto 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is the method of vacuum aspiration if woman misses her period. This was introduced as part of the Government’s family planning program and not considered as an abortive measure. It may be regarded as a euphemism for early pregnancy termination.  It is estimated that 468,000 menstrual regulations are performed each year in Bangladesh (Henshaw, et al., 1999).


Laws around the world

Medical Termination of Pregnancy under certain conditions is legal in India. It recognized the need for abortions even when there is no danger to the mother’s life by the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971. There is another law Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 which prevents gender selective birth or abortion.

The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland refused to rule on allowing rape victims to have abortions, ruling that it is not up the courts to decide on abortion law. (Independent, 2017)

According to UN Experts, “Repealing anti abortion laws would save the lives of nearly 50, 000 women a year all over the world.” They believe “In countries which prohibit it, women who seek health services for an abortion, whether to carry out the termination or seek medical care after a miscarriage, may be subjected to prosecution and imprisonment.” (UN News, 2016) The grounds on which abortion is permitted in Bangladesh, according to the Population Division of UNDESA are:

To save the life of the woman    Yes

To preserve physical health         No

To preserve mental health           No

Rape or incest                                 No

Fetal impairment                           No

Economic or social reasons         No

Available on request                     No

Choosing an abortion is practically impossible in Bangladesh. It is regarded as morally wrong in the country. This is because being a Muslim majority; such practice is believed to be haraam. The Quran does not explicitly refer to abortion but states “Whosoever has spared the life of a soul; it is as though he has spared the life of all people. Whosoever has killed a soul, it is as though he has murdered all of mankind.” (Qur’an 5:32) There have been many interpretations to this verse. However Islam allows abortion to save the life of the mother due to the Sharia law of ‘choosing the lesser of two evils’.

If the above mentioned survey is observed, abortion is not available on request. A rape victim for example, must be permitted the right to abort even if her life is not in danger. She is an innocent victim. Such situation is beyond any legal or religious obligation. Denying access to termination of unwanted pregnancy in her situation would be denying a human right.



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