Ladies, don’t opt for abortions!

Published: February 10, 2014

What can be more violating to the dignity of human life than parents killing their own children when there are effective and safe measures of birth control available? PHOTO: REUTERS

Florynce R Kennedy once said,

“If men could get pregnant, abortion would have been a sacrament.”

My maid refuses to take any birth control measures because her husband considers them to be a ‘yahoodi saazish’ (Jewish conspiracy) to sterilise the ‘flourishing’ Pakistani nation – just like the superstitions concerning polio drops.

However, she doesn’t mind going to the local dai to get an abortion – illegally of course. When I admonish her and tell her that she will get herself killed, she replies,

“Baji aap ko kia pata… woh bari tajrabakar hai. Bohat aurtain aati hain us ke paas aur bus kuch ke ilawah kabhi koi mari nahi hai.”

(Ma’am what do you know… she is very experienced. A lot of women come to her and apart from a few, none have died.)

Her statement was a sad reminder of the secondary status of women in our society. So, out of a little curiosity and some fear for my poor maid and others like her, I decided to see for myself who this ‘experienced’ lady named Rasheeda was – apparently the ‘messiah’ of the lower class women of the area.

I knew that she was a midwife at a local clinic and that she did not see patients without a reference as a measure of safety due to the illegality of the procedure.

I arrived at the clinic and it was as I had imagined. It was a room in her small quarter. There was a filthy rag, a wooden table with some dried blood that must have seen numerous procedures and there were absolutely no disposable operation instruments in sight.

Interestingly, she charged Rs2000 for the procedure, prescribed some antibiotics which I knew her patients either couldn’t afford or cared not to take. As an educated middle class woman, I realised that day that abortions are a phantom in our society. Everyone knows about them, they linger in the haunted mind but no one admits to their presence and prevalent use – not openly at least.

These women are quite easily facilitated and one can find a variety of abortion facilities ranging from midwives to nurses to renowned doctors depending upon the contacts or pocket of the needy party. It is also very easy to find and purchase over-the-counter medicine to induce medical abortion.

According to a report of the Population Council in 2012, as many as 700,000 women in Pakistan faced complications while undergoing an abortion. Apart from the lower class, women and young girls from the middle class – the more traditionalised, stratified class of society – indulge in this practice for various reasons. Some opt for an abortion when they find out that the unborn baby is female. In other cases, unmarried girls who are involved in open-ended relationships make the decision to abort the unborn foetus either as a compulsion or as a symbol of the right to make a decision about their own bodies. Still others, opt for or are forced to get an abortion since they have too many children already.

Unfortunately, an abortion seems to be the easier option, especially to unmarried women who have been abandoned by their partners. From their perspective, it is better to kill the unborn child than to face the stigmatisation of an illegitimate child.

I spoke to a seemingly educated woman who explained that she opted for an abortion since the baby that she was carrying had been conceived out-of-wedlock and she knew that the punishment for adultery was stoning and killing the child.

According to her, an abortion was the right course to save her from shame.

However, her interpretation was completely wrong. Islam does not warrant the death of a child in any case, be it adultery or not. Such an action can only be taken in an extraordinary situation when there is danger to either the life of the mother or child or any such medical condition. However, her ignorance stemmed from the fact that this topic is taboo in almost all Muslim societies. In Pakistan’s conservative environment, this topic hardly ever surfaces and sadly, that is why such misconceptions exist.

In other cases, women who opt for abortion are forced by the father of the child. After all, what would a man know about the physical pain or the emotional trauma and guilt of deliberately killing your own child – a child that is nurtured inside the mother’s womb?

Even men from an educated background at times force their wives to abort unwanted children. I know of a female doctor – now a housewife – whose well-educated husband refuses to take birth control and doesn’t even allow her to practice any form of prevention. Instead, he has forced her to go through an abortion five times.

Although an abortion is a proper surgical procedure, not many in our country can afford to get it done by qualified doctors and end up being brutalised and even killed in the process. It seems to me that a woman’s life is considered to be cheaper than a man’s. But the fact is that a woman’s life and health is even more precious since she is the one who bears, births and nurtures children.

So, I ask you, what can be more violating to the dignity of human life than parents killing their own children when there are effective and safe measures of birth control available?

And more importantly, how can a man endanger the life of the woman whom he loves or has married and promised to protect?

Quratulain Fatima

Quratulain Fatima

The author is an Oxford Graduate in public policy, a Weidenfeld Scholar and an Oxford Global leadership fellow. She tweets @moodee_q

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Pappu

    In a muslim country birth control measures are not approved by religious scholars abortion is carried out to avoid “shame” and “honor killing”. Where to go?Recommend

  • Ali Shah

    As an ‘educated’ women you would realize that women have an inherent right to decide about their own body. I’m not sure in what part of Pakistani society you live in but sadly having sex out of wedlock is looked down about let alone having an illegitimate child. Sad that you use religion to justify your cause, how does a single mother bring up a child in Pakistan. I guess you as an ‘educated’ lady has all the answers or maybe you should go preach in the US of A, evangelicals would love you!Recommend

  • rabia

    Very well written, a good effort indeed to raise the issue…Recommend

  • Stranger

    How about using female contraceptives ( like tablets ) on the sly ?Recommend

  • Vikram

    Author: “and she knew that the punishment for adultery was stoning and killing the child…… According to her, an abortion was the right course to save her from shame…..However, her interpretation was completely wrong. Islam does not warrant the death of a child in any case, be it adultery or not.”

    Are you saying Muslims will welcome a child born out of wedlock with open hands? Do you think a woman should risk death by stoning or being killed for honor instead of abortion in a society which will never accept such a kid?Recommend

  • x

    I don’t understand the logic. If contraceptives are deemed against religion or wrong, how can these same men consider abortion more aligned with religion or right?? If any conservative/narrow minded person takes a moral/ethical/religious stand on it, they would consider contraception to be lesser than abortion as that is killing of a fetus or unborn child whereas contraception is just prevention of pregnancy. If preventing a sperm from becoming a fetus is wrong, how is then killing off that fetus right??Recommend

  • Leila Rage

    Dear writer,

    While I agree with the idea that abortion should NOT be used as a form of contraception; especially when pills, IUDs and other contraceptive options are available.

    However, the abortion debate is much more complex than you make it seem.

    Should a rape victim be forced to carry the child of her rapist? No, I think not, she’s suffered enough already.

    Should a married woman with 5 children, with very low income, who uses some form of contraception yet ends up pregnant, be forced to add to the economic burden of her household with an unwanted child? No

    Should someone who may have made a mistake and engaged in extra-marital/pre-marital relations with someone else be forced to blight all their life chances and face the persecution or society, not to mention be jailed and killed under the “hudood” ordinance, be forced to carry the burden of their shame? No.

    Should a woman divorcing a very abusive man be forced to keep an unwanted child and spend another 9months or more enduring abuse and humiliation? No.

    And since you are cite Islam to strengthen your argument, I think you should be made aware that according to Islam, abortion is permitted before the 3rd month of pregnancy. Actions, dear lady, are judged by their intentions- God understands a persons motivations or majboori better than anyone else, so while yes we do need education regarding contraceptives, lets not pass judgment on people who may have had abortions.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    If the take-home message here had been that women should focus on birth control rather than depending on abortions, that would’ve perfectly rational. Unfortunately, it isn’t just that.

    The article goes further to imply that Madame X should not have an abortion because it conflicts with Author Y’s religious beliefs. Also, the complications you state are because of the fact that abortions are illegal and have to performed by unqualified, untrained people in backalleys. Otherwise, abortion is actually safer than carrying the baby to full term delivery.

    You cannot blame abortion for the hazards caused by the ban on abortions itself, that is leading desperate women into unsafe procedures.Recommend

  • Tazeen

    No wonder the civil bureaucracy is so inept in Pakistan. The writer a civil servant has no idea that abortion is NOT illegal in Pakistan.

    One day the country will explode with malnourished uneducated kids and people will continue to wonder if contraception is halal or not. Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Also, I don’t understand why threat to mother’s life is an exception to abortion, in the eyes of a pro-lifer. Does the fetus (not “unborn child”) automatically become less sacred when the mother’s life is at risk, allowing the doctor to play God and conveniently decide which of the two lives to save?

    Or is it that you already recognize the fact a fetus is really just a fetus, while the mother as a conscious adult who is intricately connected to the world’s social fabric, is a completely different kind of life entirely!Recommend

  • Sure?

    @Ali Shah: The point the author is making is that instead of using abortion as the primary method of birth control people should practice safer methods of birth control. HEr rationale for saying that is that these abortions performed illegally by untrained dais in an unsafe condition put the woman’s life and health at great risk.Recommend

  • Komal

    What exactly are you (the author) trying to achieve here? Limiting female agency even more than it already is in Pakistan? Interestingly, you did not criticize the socially-sanctioned routine rape and forcible impregnation that is the majority of heterosexual sex within marriage in Pakistan (and many other parts of the world). You didn’t even name rape, but simply said that some ‘husbands’ refuse to use birth control, thus implying that the rape would have been okay if contraception was used during it.

    To be honest, this article comes across as thoughtless and not very intelligent. There isn’t any analysis, only some scattered remarks about how ‘killing children’ is morally wrong, and some explanations for why females seek out abortions without tying the two properly together. In the very least, you can say what your point is, because it isn’t even entirely clear in the article (at times you condemn abortion, at other times you talk about how in addition to raping and forcibly impregnating their ‘wives’, some ‘husbands’ also force them to get abortions. That doesn’t help make your point, so why bring it up? And if you’re going to bring it up, the very least you can do is name the rape and forcible impregnation going on there, and also address it since it challenges your overall point).

    Instead of trying to control females’ bodies even more than they already are, I suggest you attack the patriarchal and heteronormative system in which females are routinely raped and cannot control their own sexual and reproductive lives properly.Recommend

  • Komal

    I want to follow up on something I said in the earlier comment. Your entry title is ‘Ladies, don’t opt for abortions’. The use of ‘ladies’ is genderist, but I’ll leave that aside for now. Your title makes it clear that you’re telling female-bodied people in Pakistan what to do. Yet you yourself mention how some females are forced to have abortions by the males who also rape and forcibly impregnate them (by their ‘husbands’, i.e. their owners under patriarchy). Do you not realize the implications of this fact, even though you mentioned it? How about: ‘males, stop raping females and then forcing them to get abortions’. No, that would be too much of a challenge to oppression, I suppose.Recommend

  • Necromancer

    Well I totally agree on the point that woman has the right over their body………but aborting a child is a crime and is against the law of Pakistan. If women think that they have the right to abort child they should campaign and make it a law through legal means. People in Pakistan should start respecting laws ASAP and this goes for all three genders. No one is above the Law.Recommend

  • abubakar

    @Ali Shah: so you’re saying sex out of wedlock should not be looked down upon? Tell how you’ll feel if someone you know is involved in such a thing! Will your perception still be the same ? I doubtRecommend

  • Pappu

    Sex out of wedlock must be looked down upon. Children should be taught about risks of unsafe and out of marriage sex. In case two adults commit sex out of wedlock they must be forced to marry BY LAW.
    If such a law is introduced and implemented people would refrain from sex out of marriage.Recommend

  • binger

    Even then we are about to cross 200 million markRecommend

  • Misha

    Pro-lifers are all talk til they’re been in those shoes themselves.Recommend

  • Dante

    @Ali Shah:
    Women don’t have any right to decide about killing the unborn baby. The same goes for men.Recommend

  • Dante

    @Faraz Talat:
    What are the chances that you will manage to save the unborn foetus? In this scenario, it’s either one lives, or both die. If there’s a threat to mother’s life, there will be a threat to the unborn baby’s life as well.Recommend

  • Dante

    Such a marriage would likely be a disaster, accompanied by spousal and child abuse likely. Recommend

  • Dante

    You’re making it too complicated just for the sake of your arguments. The author is simply putting forward an honest advice. Take it, or throw it; that’s up to you.Recommend

  • Pappu


    That is why i used the words “they will refrain from sex out of marriage if such a law is implemented”. which will save them from an abusal marriage. Recommend

  • Nobody

    I can’t speak for @Ali Shah, but how would someone else taking part in premarital sex affect him or anyone else for that matter? It’s a PERSONAL matter and not up to anyone else to stick their nose in.Recommend

  • Nobody

    It’s highly unlikely they would refrain from it. It’s a very human urge. And who exactly is going to go around and check in people’s bedrooms to see who’s had premarital sex and who hasn’t?Recommend

  • Nobody

    Unfortunately, yes they do in the eyes of the law of many nations. And I too agree that it’s a woman’s body. While I understand paternal rights of course, the baby is inside the mother’s body before birth not the father’s and that complicates things a bit. Recommend

  • Pappu


    LAWS are made and implemented to refrain people from wrong doings, but yes people will still be doing wrong. (Law cannot be removed on the logic that people have the urge to jump red light).
    In case people are doing pre-marital sex in privacy and they have no problem or complains afterwards ( which is very unlikely in eastern societies). Also keep in mind such a thing you cannot hide for long from your family members. Consequences can be very nasty.Recommend

  • Femme

    If I told you not to walk a certain way or to stop talking a certain way, you would get angry at me and tell me it’s your body and you can do what you want. Exactly my point in case. YOU are not the one birthing the child or carrying it for 9 months. YOU are not the one responsible for it for the next 18 years of its life. The woman is. So if she doesn’t and can’t, it is her body. Having a unsanitary procedure is a whole different issue so maybe focus on that, instead of just focusing on the issue of abortion. This is a woman’s choice of what she wants to do with her body. If you don’t want to have an abortion, then don’t. Don’t tell other people what to do.Recommend

  • -SHAGY-

    Abortions should be legalized no questions asked as long as it falls under the medical guideline; 6-8 weeks I guess (Correct me if I am wrong)Recommend