AWL Press Statement No. 5 of 2016 - Decision on Abortion in Zika Infection Cases Is A Medical Concern
26th September, 2016
The Association of Women Lawyers views with serious concern the Ministry of Health’s decision to consult the National Fatwa Council on the issue of abortion where a woman is infected with the Zika virus.
AWL asserts that access to proper sexual and reproductive healthcare is a right guaranteed under Article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). As such, the decision whether or not to undergo an abortion is one which should be made by the pregnant woman upon being provided with the information regarding the medical risks involved for both options – to continue or not to continue the pregnancy.
It is reminded that the law allows abortion to be conducted in cases where a registered medical practitioner has formed an opinion, in good faith, that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman or that it would involve injury to the mental or physical health of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated. In this context, it is important to take cognisance of the mental health consequences for women in cases involving risk of foetal abnormality, which have been well documented globally.
It is clear therefore that a decision on abortion should be based on medical considerations in relation to the pregnancy risks. While religious views may influence an individual’s decision, this is a matter of personal choice.
The fact that the Ministry of Health has sought and is awaiting a ruling by the National Fatwa Council on medical issues raises serious implications. Firstly, there is no basis for the Ministry to consult the National Fatwa Council as the law does not require or provide for an opinion to be sought from a religious body. Secondly, the risk of foetal abnormality such as microcephaly and other complications is not exclusive to Zika infection cases, and does not require a special consideration. Thirdly, any ruling by the National Fatwa Council has no legal standing. Lastly, matters relating to Islam are confined to personal law and doctrines, in line with the Federal Constitution.
In any event, should a pregnant woman choose to carry her pregnancy to term, there should be support by healthcare providers to assist in the care of the child, so as to allow the woman to make an informed choice on the matter.
Given that the risks associated with Zika infections in individual pregnancies can only be determined by a medical practitioner’s professional judgment on the matter, the move by the Ministry of Health is an abdication of responsibilities and creates a bad precedent for future cases involving pregnancy risks. It is important to be mindful of the legislation and reproductive rights of the woman, so as to prevent resort to unsafe abortions.
Association of Women Lawyers (http://www.awlmalaysia.org/)