Five million women, according to a research, become pregnant in Pakistan annually, and 15% of which (that is, 700,000) usually tend to face obstetrical and medical complications. About 30,000 women die annually due to pregnancy related complications.
The importance of maternal health cannot be overlooked. About 50% of the world population consists of women. Thus their good health and well-being do matter when it comes to the progress and development of nations. If half of the population is entangled in the throes of life threatening complications, it is impossible for the collective progress to continue and for the global society to grow and mushroom in peace and harmony.
Yet despite the aforesaid facts, maternal health suffers in the world in general and Pakistan in particular. For this predicament, sundry factors are responsible, with the unavailability and underutilization of safe-abortion, however, as a leading factor. Abortion has been radically stigmatized in Pakistan besides the fact that there has been made little or no efforts to make the service of safe-abortion accessible to all and sundry.
Significance of Safe Abortion: reducing maternal morbidity and mortality ratio through safe abortion
There is no denying the fact that safe-abortion plays a very crucial role in maintaining and promoting sound maternal health. But before we go for its significance with respect to maternal health, it is considered pertinent to give a handy description to the term itself.
What happens when the option of safe abortion is not available?
According to a source, “states with more abortion restrictions have higher rates of maternal and infant mortality”. Where abortion is restricted and not easily accessible to all, there are high chances of hikes in maternal and neonatal (newborn) morbidity and mortality, especially given the discussion in the above paragraphs.
Why is abortion deemed as something abhorrent in Pakistani society: tendencies and status-quo?
Abortion, as significant as it is in promoting and maintaining maternal health, is not really utilized in Pakistan. The situation in Pakistan is, unfortunately, far from satisfactory. The following are some examples:
Stigma Barrier: Amid certain other factors, there is a negative and abhorrent sentiment concerning abortion, so much so that a stigma has been attached to it. It is true, especially in the rural areas of Pakistan. Scores of women avoid going to abortion facilities for having abortion, considering lest they should be humiliated in their respective communities. To compound, in most cases they are not allowed by their male family members for the reason aforesaid.
The Case of Religion: Although Islam clearly allows abortion in the time of need, yet it is thought of as an unorthodox practice.
Lack of Safe Abortion Facilities: There is also lack of such facilities in not only rural areas but in some towns also, which can be accessed for getting safe-abortion.
Lack of Education and Awareness: In various cases, women and men do not possess the right and basic education and awareness as to how and when abortion becomes incumbent for the sake of life and health.
How to tackle these challenges?
As per the old adage ‘when there is a will, there is a way,’ there are many ways in which to tackle the obstacles and challenges faced in the way towards achieving the goals of maintaining sound maternal health and utilizing the perks of safe-abortion. Following are some ways to the said end:
Efforts to alleviate Social and Economic Susceptibility of Pakistani Women: In most rural areas of Pakistan, women are dependent, socially as well as economically, upon their male family members, which seriously hinder their potential. This, in turn, renders their health vulnerable. Thus, the need of the hour is making sincere efforts in easing women’s social and economic vulnerability, which will definitely leave positive marks on the maternal health.
Law making for easing the process of abortion and for ensuring the implementation of the already existing laws in spirit and letter: Laws pertaining to the process of abortion, are already laid out in the constitution of Pakistan. However, there is need of effective implementation of the said laws.
Awareness campaign at community level with the inclusion of administration and the clergy: Community level awareness campaign can really help, but this needs to be done in coordination with the administration and clergy. To illustrate, administration has the capacity to establish local commissions consisting of Imaams (congregational leaders) and community elders, and the onus of such commissions would be to impart awareness on how and when abortion is allowed in Islam.
Making efforts to establish such facilities where needy women can get crucial information on contraception and abortion, and where contraceptive devices and safe abortion services are offered to all and for free.
Maternal health is significantly crucial for the progress and development of nations and, subsequently, the whole world. Short of it, the world is deprived of the role of almost half the world’s population, in which case progress cannot be envisaged. But as discussed above, maternal health is suffering due to certain factors, particularly in the third-world countries including Pakistan. The most relentless and frightening reason is scarcity and underutilization of safe-abortion. Through safe-abortion, the condition of maternal health can be improved, which really is need of the hour.
By Kiran Palwasha