Sri Lanka should consider legalizing abortion for rape victims, says justice minister

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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka should consider legalizing abortion for rape victims, Justice Minister Ali Sabry told Parliament on Tuesday (08), International Women’s Day.

The statement was made in response to a question from Government MP Shantha Bandara about the hardships Sri Lankan women and girls face because they cannot have abortions in cases of rape.

Asking the MP to raise the issue at the Parliamentary Women’s Caucus, Sabry said: “It is very important to start this conversation. I personally think changes need to be made.

“If a woman is forced to have a child conceived by rape, that child will be looked upon with hatred for the rest of her life,” he added.

Currently, abortion is illegal in Sri Lanka unless the life of the mother is in danger, with a prison term ranging from three to 10 years for offenders. However, illicit abortion clinics dot the country, abortion pills are readily available everywhere, and abortions are performed using unsafe and unsanitary methods.

In December 2021, the death of a thirteen-year-old child after a botched abortion attempt caused widespread outrage, but no constructive action was taken regarding the situation. The child had been impregnated by her brother-in-law and had died after an attempted domestic abortion.

Such tragedies are common in countries that restrict a woman’s right to safely terminate a pregnancy. Data from the 2005 Maternal Mortality Review conducted by the Bureau of Family Health attributes 11.7% of maternal deaths to unsafe abortions, making it the third leading cause of maternal death.

On the other hand, countries like Nepal have seen a significant decrease in abortion-related morbidities like serious infections and complications since legalization. A 2021 study published in the American Law and Economics Review found that legalizing abortion resulted in a 17.5% drop in the overall crime rate from 1998 to 2014.

Research shows that many Sri Lankans undergo induced abortions because they cannot afford another child, knowledge of contraceptives is low and the subject itself a societal taboo. Only about half of Sri Lanka’s female population practices some form of birth control. A 2018 study showed that good knowledge about contraceptives was present among people who studied in the Biosciences stream, or who had their secondary education in single-sex schools.

The country’s low sexual literacy rate, taboos that prevent children from receiving effective sex education, and Sri Lanka’s high rates of sexual violence all contribute to the number of unsafe abortions performed in secret across the country.

Attempts to legalize abortion in 1995, 2011, 2013 and 2017 all failed, with the country’s religious leaders also opposing the motion. (Colombo/08 March 2022)

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