For Palestinian women, abortion can mean lies, jail or worse

Tue Mar 8, 2016 8:38am EST
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By Sabreen Taha

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - "Fatma", a mother of twins with a demanding workload, was distraught to discover she was pregnant again. Her doctor agreed to perform an abortion, she says, only after she promised to pretend the procedure had been a medical emergency.

"He felt sorry for me and told me, 'If someone asks you how you ended up having an abortion, I will be in trouble and will lose my job, so say you were hemorrhaging at the time,'" said Fatma, who lives in the West Bank.

"He did the abortion for me - the first time, the second time and third time," she told Reuters, speaking on condition her real name not be used as she had never told her husband.

For women seeking abortions in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Palestinian law strictly limits the procedure, the choice is stark: have the baby or terminate the pregnancy by using ruses, risky back-alley methods or even turning to neighboring Israel, where the laws are far more permissive.

Women's rights campaigners rue the ban but decriminalization looks unlikely. Conservative customs guide much of Palestinian society and parliament has effectively been suspended since 2007 because of factional disputes, making it impossible to amend or pass new laws.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, doctors are permitted to perform abortions only when pregnancy endangers the mother's life, but not if it is a peril to her mental health.

When fetal impairment is detected, an abortion can be performed if both parents consent, but terminating a pregnancy that resulted from rape or incest is banned, the ministry said.

Palestinian authorities declined to give figures for how many abortions had been approved or how many people had been prosecuted for violating the law. Anecdotal accounts suggest such sanctions are rare, but the fear of repercussion and violating taboos keep many abortions covert.   Continued...

Palestinian women stand on a beach in Gaza City during sunset on summer's day August 26, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem