Raising eyebrows and the shush surrounding abortions in Pakistan

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Hira Saleem, a fourth year medical student at Allama Iqbal Medical College in Pakistan. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


When World War II came to an end on September 2, 1945, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established, so as to avoid such catastrophic events in the future. According to the aforementioned declaration, every human being has thirty basic rights, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, nationality, ethnicity, race, language, sexuality and gender.


Among those rights are the right to life, dignity, autonomy, and most importantly, the right to all basic rights without any government interference.


With the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States, an important global dialogue regarding bodily autonomy and abortions has started, with many of the opinion that a fetus should have the rights of a fully formed human being, while simultaneously neglecting the mother, for whom an unwanted pregnancy will not only be a burden, but may also lead to her economic and financial downfall.


In Southeast Asia, particularly India, laws have been changed and amended so as to permit women’s accessibility to safe abortions. Pakistan, however, faces another dilemma. Taking into consideration the fact that the law in Pakistan is extremely ambiguous and states that abortions be permitted only if they are done in ‘good faith’ or are a part of ‘necessary treatment’, defining neither the former nor the latter, many resort to dangerous means to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Furthermore, a self righteous narrative, under the guise of religious and moral concern, occludes the thinking of most gynecologists in Pakistan, and they do not consent to providing this essential medical service.


With the advancement of social media and its role in voicing the global dialogue of concern, it is vital to educate both the general public and the medical practitioners about their rights and duties respectively. Furthermore, abortion care and termination of unwanted pregnancies should be made an essential part of medical curriculum and all ethical and moral dilemmas surrounding it should be addressed and explained, rather than being shunned. Television and print media can contribute significantly to starting this narrative and normalizing it.


Perhaps the most important thing that can be done regarding the normalization and removal of stigma surrounding abortions is to be a conversation starter; to not let raised eyebrows and hushed whispers of judgement stop us from the recognition of abortions as an essential part of healthcare is the need of the hour.

About the author

Hira Saleem is a fourth year medical student at Allama Iqbal Medical College in Pakistan. She has an avid interest in human rights and the provision of global access to healthcare. Currently, she is serving as the Vice President Internals in IFMSA Pakistan AIMC LC and General Assistant to Vice President Activities IFMSA Pakistan.

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