Thu, 29 May 2003

Information on sex and abortion needed

Arya Abhiseka, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A noted abortion expert said on Wednesday the high number of maternal deaths from unsafe abortions was partly the fault of the media, which has failed to educate the public about the issue.

The national media, according to Kartono Muhammad, often portrays premarital sex and abortion as moral issues, and sensationalizes these issues to sell papers and attract viewers.

"Most media outrageously portray women who have abortions as criminals. The media certainly plays a major role in the people's ignorance about abortion," said Kartono.

Abortions are illegal in Indonesia, except in cases where the mother's life is at risk if she carries the fetus to full term.

He said he had seen many abortions where the fetus had reached full term. "In those cases, abortion in fact becomes infanticide and is very dangerous to the mother."

Research by Dr. Biran Affandi in 2000 and Dr. Budi Utomo in 2001 showed that between 1.5 million and two million abortions are performed across the country each year.

According to data from the Women's Health Foundation (YKP), unsafe abortions account for about 11.1 percent of total maternal deaths.

The Ministry of Health said earlier that maternal deaths resulting from abortions accounted for about 50 percent of all maternal deaths.

The maternal mortality rate in Indonesia is 370 per 1,000 births, the highest among the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN comprises Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia.

Unsafe abortion refers to abortions performed with inadequate equipment by traditional midwives. Such procedures often occur in villages.

Kartono, however, disputed the figures, saying many more women died because of unsafe abortions than reported. He said many of these deaths went unreported by those involved.

A recent study by the YKP found that the majority of women seeking abortions were married, over the age of 30 and already had children.

Kartono suggested that more information on sex and abortion should be given to the public by the media, to help reduce the number of deaths as a result of unsafe abortions.

"The media should be aware that abortion is no longer a moral issue, but is rather about facing the truth and safety," he said.

He also said the public was still in denial about the fact that society had become more permissive.

"Most Indonesians are against abortion, as long as it does not happen to them or their families," Kartono said.