Tue, 08 Jul 2003

Rising cases of abortion prompts review of law

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The health ministry confirmed on Monday a recent finding that some two million abortions are performed every year in the country and singled out the failure of contraception methods as the main cause.

Azrul Azwar, director general for community health at the health ministry, said that his office estimated the number of abortions at between two and 2.4 million cases annually.

A researcher from state-run Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Muhadjir Darwin, revealed over the weekend that an estimated two million women had abortions per annum, mostly through unsafe means.

He said data showed that most abortions involved single women, rape victims or married women whose contraception method had failed.

Azrul said abortion was usually an option undertaken by a woman who did not want to have more children, but the failure of contraceptives to prevent a pregnancy was another reason.

Aside from contraception failure, abortions were also triggered by financial constraints and premarital sex among teenagers.

Azrul said although the figures were only an estimate, they indicated that abortions in the country had reached an alarming level.

There was not much the ministry could do but to campaign on the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, as the existing laws still outlawed abortion under any and all circumstances, he said.

"Despite the grave risk of having an abortion through unsafe procedures, there is nothing we can do to persuade those who opt for abortion," he said, adding that the country's Criminal Code prohibited abortion.

He said the ministry had begun to rewrite the law on health to outdo the criminal code by making abortion legal for health reasons.

Separately, an activist with the Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association (PKBI), Ramona Sari, said the lack of access to medical facilities prompted women to go seek out illegal health providers for abortions.

"Less than 10 percent of abortions were carried out by authorized medical workers, while the remaining 90 percent were conducted through unsafe procedures," she told the Post.

She also put the blame on the stereotype surrounding medical workers who were willing to provide abortions for health reasons, as a reason why women preferred illegal practitioners.

"A doctor will lose their reputation after they take the risk of helping a woman to have an abortion, although their true aim is to save lives," she said.

Given the mounting cases of abortion, she slammed the government and religious leaders who still condemned abortion in the name of humanity.

"What kind of humanity prefers meting out death to millions of women each year because they must resort to unauthorized providers to have an abortion?"