By Maya Mahmoud, young volunteer at the Syrian Family Planning Association
Like in most other countries, abortion in Syria is a subject of controversy. Some stand with the person’s right to decide whether he/she is ready to become a parent or not, and that no one must be obligated to go through an unwanted pregnancy, while others believe that no one has the right to terminate a potential life, no matter what the situation is.
In Syria, having children is seen as essential in every marriage, in fact, there is a Syrian saying that says “each baby that comes, with it comes its wealth.”
There is also a high number of child marriages and a lack of awareness regarding family planning, which means that most families consist of several children.
Syria is a religious country in general and people often understand abortion to be prohibited by their religion. The stigma that follows any woman who has an abortion exposes her to a variety of stigmatizing attitudes and limits her access to good medical and social care for abortion. It also shames her because in many cases abortion is related with women who get pregnant out of rape or an affair out of wedlock. Women who choose to opt out of pregnancy are often given many negative labels, such as sinners, as well as a bad person or even a bad mother if she has children.
In the Syrian law, abortion is almost completely illegal unless done to save a woman’s life however, due to the ongoing war in Syria, many people now seek abortion. The reasons are many, including low wages, the very expensive life costs due to the economic crisis. Additionally, many people lost their homes and have extra costs now since they have had to rent new houses elsewhere, so plenty of people can’t afford the expenses of an extra child.
Another major issue is the discrimination and inequality between boys and girls, which makes the news “you’re having a baby girl” very sad and shameful for a lot of people. In some cases it could get them to abort because they don’t want a girl, thinking that a girl only brings shame and extra expenses on the family. Some husbands even ask their wives to undergo dangerous procedures to abort since it isn’t legal and finding a doctor who will perform the procedure is very difficult. Many of these procedures end up with harming the woman’s health and threatening her life.
The Syrian law sentences any woman who aborts to prison for a time that ranges between six months to three years, whether she had taken an abortion medication or if it was done by another person (for example a doctor) with her consent. A person who provides a woman with an abortion or helps her do it with her consent receives a sentence of between a year to three years in prison. If the abortion causes the death of the woman he/she gets four to seven years of hard labor, and five to ten years if he/she used other procedures that the woman didn’t consent to, and if that person who carried out the procedure was a doctor or a pharmacist, the penalty is increased by a third to a double and all fines are doubled along with a ban from practicing their job.
Mostly, the government’s supervision over medicine is insignificant and there are ways to obtain pills for abortion. Many pharmacies sell them without a prescription and similarly, many doctors conduct abortion under the cover of names of other procedures. According to the way things take place, technically no one goes to prison unless the husband or someone files a lawsuit against the wife or doctor.
Personally, I believe that being a parent is a responsibility that demands a person who is psychologically, emotionally, and financially ready to raise a healthy emotionally-stable child. Thus, all people should have the right to decide for themselves whether they are ready to have a child or not. An unwanted child could suffer from many issues as he/she grows up, with the absence of social services or governmental supervision on families and children along with the absence of financial aid in. No child deserves that. People should asses their situation and have the right and access to end a pregnancy when they see fit.
We, the youth, always seek to achieve gender equality, empower women, raise awareness on family planning, and aim for a better future.
source: the Syrian Penal Code. Subject 247, 527, 528, 532.