On 13 February 2011, an article in the New Straits Times (“Is abortion the answer?”) highlighted a fact which is little-known but ought not to be. Abortion is not illegal in Malaysia.
Section 312 of the Penal Code states that a termination of pregnancy is permitted in circumstances where there is risk to the life of the pregnant woman or threat of injury to her physical or mental health.
Although terminations are permitted, the law is nevertheless limited. Under the Penal Code it is the doctor alone who makes the decision as to whether a termination should be carried out. This is especially worrying in view of the results from the 2007 survey by the Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance of Malaysia (RRAAM) which found that only 57 per cent of 120 doctors and nurses surveyed knew that abortion is legal in certain circumstances.
Women have the right to determine the course of their lives and they have the right to make decisions about their own bodies.
Women must be equipped with knowledge and be aware of the options available to them, so that they can make informed decisions. However expert a doctor may be, doctors will never be fully aware of the facts of a woman’s circumstances and so cannot make a completely informed decision about the appropriateness of a given option. It is the woman who has this understanding and it is the woman who should be legally and practically empowered to make the decision.
However, many women cannot make this fully informed decision because they are not provided with comprehensive and unbiased information about sex, contraception, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases. This needs to change.
It is encouraging to note that the government has recently introduced the Social and Reproductive Health Education Programme into the National Service curriculum, so that young people can be given the knowledge they need to make informed choices.
And this is the crux of the issue – when people are provided with clear and unbiased information, they can make the most appropriate decisions for themselves.
Programme Officer, WAO
Published on February 13, 2011