Catholic Church has urged the government not to legalize abortion under any circumstances
Pregnant women wait to get a dose of coronavirus vaccine in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Photo: AFP)
A global rights organization has called for reforming the abortion law in Sri Lanka and urged its government to uphold equal rights by allowing all woman access to abortion.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Sri Lanka has among the most restrictive abortion laws in the world while referring to Justice Minister Ali Sabry’s recent call for the national parliament to consider legalizing abortion in cases of rape.
“The government needs to act. The justice minister should introduce a bill to decriminalize abortion not only for rape survivors but for everyone,” said HRW in a statement on March 10.
“Denying women and girls access to safe, legal abortions jeopardizes numerous human rights, including the rights to life, health, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, physical integrity, non-discrimination, privacy and equality and the right to decide the number and spacing of children.”
Sabry had said in parliament on March 8 that initiating a conversation was important and in his personal view the amendments to the law had to be made. “If a woman is forced to have a child conceived by rape, that child will be looked at with hatred for the rest of their life,” he said.
Abortion is illegal in Sri Lanka unless the mother’s life is at risk but illicit abortion clinics and pills are readily available in the country with abortions being carried out using unsafe and unsanitary methods.
“The Feminist Catholic Network called on the Church to support the modernization of the law to allow medical termination of pregnancies”
Under a Sri Lankan law that dates back to 1883, anyone deliberately causing a miscarriage except for the purpose of saving a woman’s life can be imprisoned for up to three years. The sentence can increase to seven years if the woman is “quick with child,” an archaic phrase meaning that the movement of the fetus can be felt.
The same penalties apply to a person who performs an abortion and to a woman who causes herself to miscarry.
Research conducted in 2015 found that unsafe abortions are responsible for 10-13 percent of maternal deaths in Sri Lanka, making it the third most common cause of death during pregnancy. A 13-year-old girl from Mullaitivu died as a result of an illegal abortion after allegedly being raped by a family member in December.
The Catholic Church has condemned the government’s move to permit abortion under special circumstances and asked not to legalize abortion in any circumstances.
A Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Colombo said the Church has believed that life begins at conception and no one has the right to take a life. “All Catholics should oppose such attempts and call for Catholic politicians to block the move,” said the priest, who asked to remain anonymous.
The priest further demanded that housewives who stay at home to look after the children should be paid a salary to encourage them.
The Feminist Catholic Network called on the Church to support the modernization of the law to allow medical termination of pregnancies. It also signed a petition supporting legal amendments in cases of rape, incest and serious fetal impairment.
The Sri Lankan Bishops’ Conference had opposed proposed legislation to legalize abortion in 2002 until the then government stepped down.
Caritas and other church groups organize awareness programs to prevent abortions through classes, special talks and sermons.