A group of medical doctors representing the Health Ministry met with religious leaders of the the Congress of Religions at Sri Sambodhi Maha Viharaya in Colombo yesterday afternoon to explain and discuss about the proposed amendments to abortion laws.
Ven. Ittapana Dhammalankara Mahanayaka Thera, Prof. Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera, Ven. Dr. Akuratiye Nanda Thera, Ven. Thiniyawala Palitha Thera, Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Ash Sheikh Fazil Farook of All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) and number of other religious leaders attended the meeting representing the Congress of Religions.
Prof. Sujeewa Amarasena, Professor in Paediatrics of the Ruhuna University’s Medicine Faculty said the recommendations had been made to decriminalise abortion and allow for medical termination of pregnancies only in three specific circumstances under strict regulations.
The three instances are sexual abuse and incest, the pregnancy occurring in a girl below the age of 16 (a victim of statutory sexual assault) and serious foetal impairments when the fetus is 12-week old.
“Even for these instances, a Magistrate will have the final say in the decision and the approval of a panel of three physicians including the Judicial Medical Officer and a psychiatrist should be sought in order to proceed. Abortion should only be performed by a state medical doctor at a government hospital. In case of a sexual abuse, a complaint should be lodged with the police informing the crime,” he said.
In terms of foetal impairments, Prof. Amarasena said they have identified 30 instances including genetic mutations where the baby would have no chance of survival when born.
He said the recommendations to amend the existing laws pertaining to abortion, which were set by the Penal Code of 1883, were brought out of compassionate and it was only for those who in need of abortion.
“These laws cannot be misused because of strict implementation and cannot be commercialized or promoted because the surgeries would be performed only at a government hospital,” he said responding to the questions by the clergy.
He said about 600-1,000 illegal abortions are being performed daily in the country putting the lives of mothers at major risk.
“By way of allowing abortion under certain circumstances, these numbers could likely to reduce. Positive results could be seen in the health sector of other countries, where abortion has been made legal under different circumstances. We can’t guarantee that it would exactly be the same in Sri Lanka but mostly it could be a success,” he said.
The doctors said the abortion laws were amended for the first time in India, a country with vast diversity of religious beliefs in 1971 while Nepal amended it in 2002.
They also emphasized on sexual abuse, the psychological trauma of the victim who becomes pregnant, incest and social issues arise from these incidents.
Raising their concerns, Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera said according to teachings of Dhamma, foetus has life since the conception, and therefore, killing of a human life cannot be accepted.
“We admit that there are issues faced by raped victims who become pregnant. They have to undergo many difficulties and sometimes the society treat them in a manner which is far worse than it treats the rapist. Therefore, the victims resort to illegal abortion. The laws which applies to Sangha is set by Vinaya. Vinaya says killing or aiding to kill a human, even a fetus, is a cause for Parajika (Expulsion from the Sangha). The medical doctors know what is best for the patient. According to common laws, abortion may not be a crime but it is so to us. For us what counts as a crime is the intention to end a life be it a mercy killing or abortion. This is a topic we should discuss further in detail,” the prelate said.
His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said there are ample places and services in the country to accept children if a rape victim who becomes pregnant wishes not to raise the child.
“There are instances where such victims even continue to raise the child. We cannot generalize few incidents. We should look at alternatives. We should focus on sex education. The society should be educated about the value of life. Terminating a life is a dreadful thing to do. We respect and accept the individual rights but within a religious framework we cannot approve this,” the His Eminence said.
Meanwhile, Ash Sheikh Fazil Farook said Islamic teachings are too against abortion in general except for three circumstances.
“A good family is a blessing, a gift of god. There is no choice to terminate a foetus except for three instances under strict supervision in Islam. An abortion can be performed when the mother’s life is in danger, within 40 days if a girl was subject to sexual abuse and she did not want the baby and within 120 days if the foetus is diagnosed with extreme deformed conditions. However, laws pertaining to killing of a soul should be strong. If that law is not strong, people would abuse the abortion practice. Today, the Sri Lanka’s problem is how strong is the law with regard to value of a soul and how strongly it is being implemented,” he said. .
Wrapping up the discussion, Ven. Ittapana Dhammalankara Thera expressed gratitude to the doctors for explaining about the proposed amendments though the religious leaders and the doctors have different opinions.
However, it was significant to note that the multiple party discussion on legalizing abortion under special circumstances was not attended by a single female representative. (Lahiru Pothmulla)
Pics by Nisal Baduge