Baby Dumping: Allow for Termination of Pregnancy

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Dear Editor,

Health Equity Initiatives is very concerned about the current debates on baby dumping and infanticide that once again seems to adopt a moralistic approach, which has proved ineffectual in dealing with this long standing problem.

As such, we laud the call by Federal police CID director Commissioner Datuk Seri Mohd Bakri Zinin “to find a more effective mechanism to resolve this and all parties must play their part” (The Sun, February 9).

We support Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia’s (RRAAM) call for women to have more control over their reproductive health and have access to the termination of pregnancy (TOP) services (The NST, February 13).

We do not view the termination of pregnancy as a means of nor as an alternative to contraception.  However, we do believe that the termination of pregnancy should be examined within the broader context of women’s lives, unequal power relations between men and women, the lack of access, especially for women, to accurate and appropriate sexual and reproductive health information and services, the development of technologies related to TOP, and importantly, evidence related to TOP.

Unsafe abortions come at a high cost to human life and material resources.   Unsafe abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity globally and treating complications that result from unsafe abortions brings unnecessary and avoidable costs to the health care system.  Studies indicate that the availability of legally induced abortion has reduced mortality due to abortion.  Further, high quality studies indicate no increased risk of mental health problems in women having a TOP.

The decision to terminate a pregnancy is never easy for any woman and alternative options to carry the pregnancy to term, childbirth, raising the child and/or giving the baby up for adoption comes with its own psychological, financial and social hardship.

As an organization working with marginalized communities, we notice that particularly in the case of non-citizen refugee women, TOP services while much needed are extremely difficult to access.  Undertaking risky journeys as they flee persecution, refugee women experience the risk of unwanted pregnancies as they are exposed to rape and sexual violence and lack access to emergency contraception.  Given their insecure legal status and lacking the formal right to work in Malaysia, they are barely even able to meet their own basic needs, including of security.  Carrying the pregnancy to term, accessing maternal health services via a public health system which charges extremely high foreigners’ rates, and, raising the baby after birth sans child care and social support within such an environment is extremely challenging.

In 2009 the United Nations recognized maternal mortality as a violation of human rights and reproductive health rights are enshrined in several international declarations and laws.  The exercise of judgment related to the woman’s body and personal morals should be the right of the woman – not of the family, the State, or even of the medical practitioner.  In the context of reproductive health services, General Recommendation 24 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) which Malaysia has ratified states that “if health service providers refuse to perform such services based on conscientious objection, measures should be introduced to ensure that women are referred to alternative health providers”.

The failure of overly moralistic and legalistic approaches to the problems of baby dumping and infanticide in our country and the consequent loss of lives must strengthen our efforts towards greater dialogue and creating more spaces where these issues can be discussed openly, rationally and compassionately.

Health Equity Initiatives

This letter was published in the News Straits Times on 5 April 2011.

This letter was published in the Sun Daily on 4 March 2011.