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Mar 8 2005
Abortion Illegal in Iran -- With Dangerous Effects

Abortion illegal in Iran -- with dangerous effects

Sun Mar 6, 5:29 PM ET Health - AFP

TEHRAN (AFP) - A booming business in backstreet abortions has pushed Iran's religious conservatives to consider changing the law, which was supposed to have protected the lives of mothers.

For women wishing to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, there are two options: prove that the child is putting their own life in danger, or otherwise join tens of thousands who go through dangerous illegal procedures every year.

Roya S., a 28-year-old woman from the Iranian capital Tehran, recounted how she nearly died in the process of aborting a pregnancy she didn't want.

"I could neither financially nor emotionally afford to have a child. I was only married for two months and still living with my mother-in-law," recalled the 28-year-old woman.

"But the doctor did a sloppy job. A month after the abortion was performed at his surgery, I started haemorrhaging horribly. It turned out part of the placenta had remained in my womb which would get infected and lead to my death if I did not have another operation."

Roya eventually survived the ordeal, but emerged significantly poorer. In addition, the offending surgeon escaped any legal reprisal, given that if Roya filed a complaint she would have faced jail as well.

"When you are desperate you have to entrust your life in someone who does not care and only pray not to get permanently damaged." Roya said.

According to local press reports, at least 80,000 illegal abortions are carried out every year. But some believe the real figure could be far higher.

"These cannot be exact figures, as the only statistics we have are based on reported complications. But these have dropped over the past years because there are more professionals doing a clean job," said gynecologist Malek Mansour Aqsa, a member of the states national family planning committee.

"There is a good market tempting many doctors and midwives with good money and easy money. They are not even afraid of prosecution," Aqsa said.

The performer of the abortion and the mother can be sentenced to three to 10 years in jail and have to pay blood money (the judicial price) for the child.

The flourishing trade has pushed some lawmakers in the conservative-dominated parliament to offer more flexibility although none actually espouse the right to choice.

What MPs came up with was a proposal that would allow pregnancies to be terminated if the foetus is diagnosed with a handicap that would inflict too much of a financial burden on the family.

The bill, if passed, remains subject to the approval of the Guardians Council, a hardline vetting body that screens all laws to see if they are in line with Islamic law and Iran's constitution.

But according to the head of the parliamentary health commission, Dr Omidvar Rezai, the issue of unwanted pregnancies may eventually find its way to parliament.

"It is just like our problem with AIDS (news - web sites): finally we chose to provide addicts with free needles in order to prevent HIV (news - web sites) infection. We have to choose between the bad and the worse," Rezai told AFP.

Rezai explained that the current debate over abortion revolves around the question of when a foetus develops a soul. There is still division over this question, although some prominent clerics have put the time at four to six months.

There are also many who hold the view that any easing of the regulations will lead to promiscuity.

And others argue that better sex education is needed.

But one top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei has issued a fatwa, or religious decree, stating that "abortion is allowed before four months of gestation, and if the mother suffers a psychological burden caused by unwanted pregnancy, the foetus is handicapped or the mother's life is in danger".

According to Abolghasem Pourreza, a doctor carrying out nationwide research on the abortion issue, Iranian law leaves no choice for the mothers who bear a child out of wedlock, victims of rape, women in a temporary marriage or those who simply cannot afford a child.

"It is out of the question in our culture to have a child without being married, but such pregnancies do happen," he explained. "When someone is desperate there must be a way out. Abortion should be legal, rare and safe, even though it is not acceptable from a humane point of view."

"The only ones who benefit from the present situation are underground opportunists."

Mar 8 2005

Someone needs to forward this story to Bush. If Iran, one of the most rigid fundamentalist theocracies on the planet, is considering legalizing abortion, that says a lot.

Mar 9 2005

Bush doesn't read the news, remember. He has other people summarize what going on for him.

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