Despite recurrent reports of baby dumping in the press, there have been little response from the concerned ministries to take concrete actions such as implementing comprehensive sex education, to facilitating contraception to teens and singles.
Providing shelters and baby hatches can only solve a fraction of the problems related to unplanned pregnancies that occur annually.
Unfortunately, the authorities continue to ignore the reality that poor access to safe abortions is a major obstacle to preventing women having to bear unwanted babies. Baby dumping just one of many consequences resulting from this.
Abortion services, in fact, play a major role in dealing with unplanned pregnancies, saving thousands of women and girls every year from facing serious psychological and social problems resulting from bearing an unwanted child, especially if they are single.
Due to public ignorance of the Penal Code on abortion, many are unaware that technically, all medical doctors when faced with a request for abortion can legally assess her situation.
And if continuing the unplanned pregnancy is considered detrimental to the patient’s physical or mental health more than if it were terminated, then abortion is perfectly legal up 22 weeks of gestation although, for obvious reasons (cost and safety), most are done within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Estimates by Prof Tey Nai Peng, the statistician previously advising LPPKN, opines that there are at least 100,000 abortions performed every year, mostly safely by medical doctors. This is in line with the estimate given by the Guttmacher Institute for middle income countries with relatively permissive laws on abortion.
Unfortunately, due to stigma and cultural attitudes, this is hardly ever recognised and discussed and thus, it is often difficult to access official information and sevices by those needing them. It is unfortunate that few Ministry of Health centres are willing to provide abortions, except when pregnant women face life-threatening complications due to pregnancy.
The government baby hatches and NGOs like Orphancare only help girls in late pregnancy, for example providing a temporary shelter and arranging for ante natal care and adoption. These girls, almost without exception, must have tried and failed to obtain an abortion either because of lack of knowledge of or access to available services, or their pregnancies were left too late for a safe legal abortion.
Without safe abortion services and if all unplanned pregnancies continued to term, shelters and baby hatches would be totally overwhelmed by demand, apart from the fact that these women are unlikely to agree to this option.
As reported by Orphancare, they have saved 420 babies in the last 10 years while approximately 1,000,000 abortions were done on request over the same period.
For this reason, 13 years ago, volunteers involved in the family planning movement decided to form Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM) to urgently address this unmet need.
We provide information via our website, run a hotline for information on abortion linking callers up with a suitable network of clinics to solve their problem. We receive over 300 calls a month with higher numbers during MCO. We hold dialogues with NGOs and policymakers to hopefully improve access to reproductive health services to all who need them.
In the area of reproductive health for women, we can no longer allow abortion to be the invisible elephant in the room!
Dr SP Choong is a founder member of RRAAM.
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