JUNE 13 — We refer to Mr Alwyn Lau’s comments in the opinion page on 4/6/18 where he criticises the result of the Irish referendum to remove the constitutional rights of the unborn foetus. It is expected to lead to legalising abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This new law will give Irish women the right to choose to end any unplanned pregnancy under 12 weeks.
Restriction and women’s health
This deeply concerns Mr Lau who regards this freedom as encouraging permissive sex not ‘sanctified’ by marriage. Unfortunately, he also believes that restricting abortions will protect women’s health ignoring the fact that in countries where abortions are most restricted the abortion rate remains constant but poor women die from unsafe abortions. The rich, as we know, always have a way of accessing abortion wherever they live.
Status of our Penal Code
Mr Lau quite rightly points out that the Malaysian Penal Code section 312 law does not allow abortion ‘on demand’ unlike the anticipated law in the Irish Republic.
However, it allows a medical doctor to decide if the patient runs a ‘risk of injury to her mental or physical health’ caused by the pregnancy being ‘greater than if it were terminated’. If so, an abortion by a doctor is permissible meaning a woman seeking to abort an unwanted pregnancy must obtain the approval of a doctor. Thus the attitude of doctors in assessing a patient’s mental state or health risk is an important factor in service provision.
A failed legal challenge
The case for accepting the validity of a doctor’s opinion has been raised. Fortunately, this has been tested in a court challenge as mentioned by Mr Lau. The Nepali migrant worker who was charged in 2013 for undergoing an abortion was initially wrongly convicted. On appeal to the high court, the judge considered it a mistrial as the case was conducted without a translator or legal counsel. On retrial she was acquitted without her defence being called.
Thus, as it stands, the doctor’s opinion on the ‘risk’ to the woman is not likely to be challenged.
Mr Lau asks the question if Malaysia should go the ‘Irish Way’. He may not be aware of the many organisations around the world that are now challenging the rights of governments and religious authorities to control women’s reproductive rights.
This is supported by covenants and consensus documents of the UN signed by the majority of countries around the world. They include CEDAW (1974), ICPD (1994) and Beijing Platform for Action (1995). The Irish Government itself has actually been charged by the human rights committee of the EU for its abortion laws as a violation of human rights.
For Malaysia, as our populations become more educated and our political culture more mature, this move to protect women’s reproductive rights will inevitably take place.
*Dr S P Choong is a member of Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM).
**This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.