Sat, 16 Dec 2000

'Regulations on abortion needed to protect women'

JAKARTA (JP): Regulations on abortion need immediate revision to ensure protection of women, experts and activists told a public discussion on Thursday.

"The public have a misinformed image of abortion. They tend to blame women, whereas in most cases women are already the victims," said Zoemrotin K. Susilo, a member of the Women Health Forum and executive board member of the Indonesian Consumer Foundation (YLKI).

Zoemrotin further pointed out the double-standards of rulings on abortion which leave women at the receiving end.

The ambiguity of existing regulations, Zoemrotin said, is evident by comparing Law No. 23/1992 on Health and the Criminal Code.

Articles 14 and 15 in the 1982 law, state that in an emergency situation where the life of a mother and her baby is at stake, "certain medical action" can be taken based on expert medical judgment and in agreement with the wishes of the mother or husband.

This clearly differs from article 346 of the Criminal Code which stipulates that a woman who commits an abortion, or asks somebody else to do it, will face a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

"This legal dispute must be cleared first. We believe that women are entitled to the rights of their own reproductive system and health, irrespective of age," Zoemrotin said.

The country has also not yet achieved an adequate level of good counseling services and safe abortions, she said.

"Is there a safe place where a woman can consult and have a safe abortion without having to be afraid of police officers or any other groups who take action in the name of morality?" Zoemrotin questioned.

The degree to which doctors will use their autonomy and authority in order to perform a medical action according to their conscience also matters, she said.

Another speaker, Gulardi H. Wiknjosastro, a professor of obstetric gynecology at the University of Indonesia, asserted that the law on abortion should heed people's interests.

"The ban against abortion has had negative consequences such as the rampant practice of unsafe abortions by traditional midwives or the mothers themselves. The practice contributes to an average mortality rate amongst these mothers of 15 percent," Gulardi said.

The professor further explained that an artificial abortion (intentionally performed) and natural abortion (miscarriage) are totally different, but people tend to mix them up.

"Every abortion conducted for medical reasons must follow certain indications, which include hypertension, metabolic flaws, cancer, organ (liver, heart, lung) dysfunction, the death of the infant, infection, a severely crippled fetus or an ill fetus.

Abortions should also be allowed due to socio-medical causes, which include rape, incest or contraception failure, Gulardi said.

Prior to an abortion, all counseling procedures need thorough explanation and understanding between patients and counselors (doctors), so that the decision reflects the interaction between the two parties, Gulardi added.

"Abortion which is done safely and properly before the fetus reaches 12 weeks old reduces the risk of the mother's death or illness."

During the discussion Mitra Perempuan revealed that an average of 26 percent of women who fall victim to rape become pregnant and half of them are also infected with sexually transmitted diseases.

The non-governmental organization which fights for women's protection operates a hotline on (021) 837-90010 for victims of violence.

Among the speakers in the discussion were former health minister Farid Anfasa Moeloek, YLKI chairwoman Indah Suksmaningsih and National Police representatives. (edt)