We need to talk about abortion – DW – 01/17/2023

The memory of that day is still very painful for Noura. At her mall at City Stars in Cairo, she felt sudden convulsions caused by massive bleeding.

Noura does not use her real name here. She became pregnant unplanned when she was 23 and had an extramarital affair with a man named Khaled.

Her boyfriend got abortion pills from a friend after she found out she was pregnant. “It was too early to marry and become a mother,” recalls Noura. Abortion is prohibited in Egypt and punishable by law, so she could only talk to her boyfriend and roommate.

“It was an incredibly brutal moment,” she says, a moment she will never forget.

Taboo story

Experiences like Noura inspired feminist activist Gadir Ahmed Eldamati to write them down. In , she describes the situation in Egypt, describes the legal and medical situation, and introduces many women like Noura. speak frankly.

“I want women who have had an abortion, or other women who are facing an abortion, to know that they are not alone,” she says. and the topic of abortion is completely avoided.It is prohibited.”

Erdamati, now 32, demonstrated in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011 against the previous government. Her women’s rights were especially important to her, and her growing interest in abortion issues grew over her years.

Writer and feminist Ghadeer Ahmed Eldamaty will publish his book Abortion Tales in late December 2022.Image: ACSS/E7na Summit

Egypt’s restrictive abortion laws

The Egyptian Initiative for Individual Rights and the Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice describe Egypt as one of the most restrictive countries in the world regarding abortion.

Egyptian law does not permit abortion, nor does it permit survivors of rape or incest to terminate unwanted pregnancies. can be justified. This is only if the woman is married.

Articles 260 to 264 of the Penal Code provide for penalties for women, doctors, midwives and pharmacists who perform or assist in illegal abortions or sell abortion pills. Abortion was first criminalized in Egypt in 1883, during the time of Muhammad Tawfiq Pasha, in accordance with the French criminal code of the time.

Infographic Abortion legislation in Africa 1994 and 2022 EN
Abortion laws are stringent in the Middle East and North Africa and range from outright prohibition to emergency only.

“These laws reflect attitudes towards women’s bodies. Women have no say in whether they want to get pregnant or whether they want to have an abortion,” Azza Soliman told DW. , is a feminist and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA). Soliman has fought for women’s rights for years, but in 2016 she was arrested.

Egyptian protesters took to the streets in solidarity with Samira Ibrahim in 2012
Egyptian protesters took to the streets in 2012 in solidarity with Samira Ibrahim, who filed a lawsuit against a military doctor accused of performing forced “virginity tests” on female protestersImage: Mohamed Hossam/AFP/Getty Images

Prohibition does not prevent abortion

However, the fact that abortion is prohibited in Egypt does not prevent women from having abortions, whether they are married or not.

A World Health Organization study found that banning or restricting abortion does not reduce the number of surgeries. Rather, more and more women are undergoing questionable or dangerous procedures that can endanger their lives.

“If something happens to a woman or there is a medical error, you can’t take action against the doctor,” Eldamaty says. Women are left alone with pain and possible consequences. Additionally, “Abortions are only possible if you have the financial means. They are often very expensive,” she told DW.

According to WHO statistics, approximately 39,000 women die each year from unprofessional abortions worldwide. About 60% of these occur on the African continent and 30% on the Asian continent. There are no reliable statistics on unsafe abortion in Egypt.

“Unreliable statistics on unsafe abortion in countries with limited or non-existent access to safe abortion hinder proper research on the impact of abortion laws on women’s health in the Middle East and North Africa region.” said Habiba Abdelal, a Washington-based gender studies expert. DW.

Egypt is no exception to this rule. All countries in the Middle East and North Africa allow abortion only if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger. For example, some countries such as Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco and Oman allow abortion when there is a risk to a pregnant woman’s physical health.

Book cover for Abortion Tales by Ghadeer Ahmed Eldamaty (published in Arabic in December 2022)
Cover of Abortion Tales by Ghadeer Ahmed Eldamaty Image: Al Malaya for Arts and Culture

Abortion and local women’s movements

In 1990, September 28 was declared Safe Abortion Day. It is an international day of action for the right to safe and legal access to abortion. Eldamaty says several Egyptian organizations took up the issue of sexual health and abortion in the 1990s. But that’s changed now, she says.

Abderal agrees. “Abortion is rarely at the top of the local women’s movement agenda,” she said. “This is probably due to fear of retaliation from conservative social groups, which often seek to regulate and constrain women and girls to stereotypical gender roles in society. .”

There are also frequent attempts to justify abortion bans on religious grounds, she said.

CEWLA’s Soliman hopes that the issue of abortion will be discussed in a broader context in the future. “At the legal level, it’s clear that the law needs to change,” she said. “Abortion should not be banned, but we also need to talk more about women’s sexual and reproductive rights at the medical and social level and educate them on this topic.”

After a traumatic abortion, Noura had to pretend all was well. Fear of her social stigma and possible punishment was too great, and after some time Khaled and she parted ways.

Jennifer Holleis contributed to this article.

This article was originally published in German.

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