After Nepalese acquitted, group tells ministry to ensure no more women criminalised for abortion

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality wanted the Health Ministry to ensure that no woman would be charged in future over her decision to undergo an abortion. — Reuters file pic
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality wanted the Health Ministry to ensure that no woman would be charged in future over her decision to undergo an abortion. — Reuters file pic

GEORGE TOWN, Sept 21 — Nirmala Thapa’s legal battle may finally be over but the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) is demanding that the Health Ministry ensures that no other woman will be hauled to court in the future over their decision to undergo an abortion.

JAG, an umbrella body for 11 women’s groups in Malaysia, said in a statement released today that the Health Ministry must take responsibility for what happened to Nirmala, a 24-year-old Nepalese migrant worker who was charged for having an abortion.

Nirmala was acquitted and discharged of the offence by the Bukit Mertajam Sessions Court today almost a year after she was arrested at the clinic on the day she had the procedure done.

“We are still concerned for the reproductive rights of women in Malaysia and we want to discuss Section 315 of the Penal Code with the relevant ministries so that this would not be used to criminalise women for having the procedure done,” said Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) programme consultant Dr Prema Devaraj. WCC is also under the JAG.

Section 315 of the Penal Code is for committing an act with intent to prevent a child being born alive or to cause it to die after birth with a jail sentence that may extend up to 10 years or fine or both upon conviction.

She said JAG will be arranging discussions with all the relevant ministries to ensure that women’s reproductive rights are protected.

JAG also hoped that the relevant agencies that took action to detain and charge her will issue an apology to Nirmala and compensate her for the trauma and loss of earnings since October last year.

Dr Choong Sim Poey of Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM) pointed out that about 90,000 abortions are conducted in Malaysia each year, based on 2012 statistics.

“If they want to prosecute women for having the procedure done, they will have to prosecute 90,000 women each year,” he said.

He also pointed out that abortion is permitted under Section 312 of the Penal Code where there is an exception for a registered practitioner to terminate a pregnancy.

“If the medical practitioner feels that the pregnancy is a threat to the mental and physical health of the mother, he has the right to terminate the pregnancy,” he said.

Dr Choong also said Nirmala is the first woman in Malaysia to be charged in court for having an abortion and that such a case was never prosecuted before.

Nirmala was arrested at about 3pm on October 9 last year at Poliklinik Ng in Bukit Mertajam and was first convicted and sentenced to a year’s jail before the Penang High Court quashed the conviction and sent the case back to the lower courts.

She was charged again in January this year and after the trial was dragged for almost eight months, she was released a free woman by the Sessions Court after the prosecution failed to present a prima facie case against her.