Posted on Tuesday, 16 June 2015 16:32

Morocco's abortion outrage

By Nadia Rabbaa

King Mohammed VI has asked top officials to set up a public consultation and submit a reform proposal on the Morocco’s abortion law. Photo©ReutersA taboo subject has been broached and reforms may be forthcoming.

The debate on abortion in Morocco is rapidly shifting, with a revised law expected soon after the completion of consultations.

Many tragic situations are finally going to be taken into account now

In early May, health minister El Hossein El Ouardi came out in favour of reforming the law to allow abortions in more cases, saying: "It is absolutely necessary to legalise abortion because it is not only a medical question but also a social one."

Moroccan law only allows abortions in cases where the mother's life is at risk.

The issue was catapulted onto the front pages when French TV channel France 2 aired a documentary that featured professor Chafik Chraibi, a gynaecologist and president of the Association Marocaine de Lutte Contre l'Avortement Clandestin (AMLCAC), which campaigns to end backstreet abortions.

A month later, in January 2015, the health ministry fired Chraibi from his job as head of the maternity ward at Les Orangers hospital in Rabat, where he had worked for 30 years.

Campaigners say that every day an estimated 800 women in Morocco choose to have abortions.

As Moroccans often view single motherhood harshly, reports say that up to 150 children are abandoned by their parents each day. Moroccan law also forbids sexual relations outside of marriage.

Politicians are largely divided on the subject of abortion.

Saâdeddine El Othmani, a psychiatrist and former general secretary of the governing Islamist Parti de la Justice et du Développement, said that "it should be possible and risk-free to perform abortion before the 120 first days of pregnancy, in cases of rape, incest or foetus malformation," basing his opinion on a 1990 fatwa from the Mecca jurisprudential council.

He remains a lone voice in his party.

In March, health minister El Ouardi, a member of the progressive Parti du Progrès et du Socialisme, organised a meeting to discuss abortion.

He talked with representatives from civil society and political and religious organisations as well as members of the Conseil National des Droits de l'Homme (CNDH), the consultative body on human rights issues.

Chraibi's association also organised a debate about the law on abortion where many women, including elected representatives, took a stand and denounced the situation in the country, strongly arguing for a change in the law.

The resulting din has reached the palace.

King Mohammed VI has asked the ministers of justice and Islamic affairs, as well as the president of the CNDH, to set up a public consultation and submit a reform proposal on the country's abortion law.

Perhaps to test the water, some of these proposals have been leaked: local media report that abortion could be allowed in six specific cases: rape, pregnancy of a minor, incest, foetus malformation, when the mother suffers from intellectual disability and when the mother's life is at risk.

Yet for Chraibi, the fight is not over: "I feel like I have won a battle, but I have certainly not won the war. Many tragic situations are finally going to be taken into account now, and this is a good thing.

But I wish the law would have acknowledged the World Health Organisation definition of health, which is 'a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.'

Without this clarification, what represents a health risk for the mother will remain at the judge's discretion, and that opens the door to grey areas," he tells The Africa Report. ●


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