Abortion has been recognized as a fundamental right for women, based on the principle of bodily autonomy. However, the legalization of abortion remains a contentious and divisive issue in many societies today. Abortion is defined as the termination of a pregnancy and the removal of the fetus from a woman’s womb. The reasons for seeking an abortion vary and can include considerations of physical, mental, emotional, and socio-economic well-being, as well as cases involving fetal impairment or pregnancies resulting from incest or rape.

The United Nations, through the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has declared that women have the right to access safe and legal abortion under certain conditions. These conditions include situations where the life, physical health, or mental health of the pregnant woman is at risk, cases of fetal impairment, and social or economic reasons. Additionally, the UN recognizes a woman’s right to choose abortion upon request.

However, despite these international standards, reports indicate that only a limited number of countries allow legal abortion under all the aforementioned circumstances. In many Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan, abortion is often seen as forbidden based on religious interpretations. Islamic teachings emphasize procreation within marriage and consider abortion as the taking of unborn life. Consequently, many Muslim states, including Pakistan, criminalize the termination of pregnancy.

Pakistan’s Penal Code addresses abortion, categorizing it as “Isqat-e-Haml” (termination of pregnancy when the fetus’ organs are not yet formed) and “Isqat-e-Janin” (termination of pregnancy when some organs have formed). According to the code, abortion is punishable unless it is performed in “good faith” to save the life of the woman or as “necessary treatment.” However, the code lacks clarity in defining terms such as “good faith” and “necessary treatment,” leaving room for ambiguity and differing interpretations. This lack of clarity raises questions about the specific circumstances in which abortion is legally permissible and whether it considers the woman’s physical, mental, and socioeconomic well-being.

The abortion laws in Pakistan, based on pre-partition legislation influenced by Islamic teachings, demonstrate a misalignment with the abortion rights proposed by the UN. The terms “good faith” and “necessary treatment” are inherently influenced by the views of Muslim jurists. Their opinions vary, leading to divergent interpretations regarding the development of the fetus’s organs and the permissibility of abortion within specific timeframes. The lack of consensus and vague abortion laws create uncertainty and affect the lives of countless women. Many women in Pakistan believe that abortion is entirely illegal and prohibited under Islam, leading them to seek unsafe and clandestine abortion services.

This exposes them to significant health risks and potential harm.
Furthermore, discussions on abortion among Muslim jurists lack clarity, particularly in cases of rape and incest. Even when abortion is permitted in such instances, the decision is often based on preventing mental and psychological harm to the mother, with physicians determining the potential harm rather than granting the woman agency over her own body. Consequently, even in cases where abortion is technically allowed, women’s rights to their bodies are not fully respected, as advocated by the UN.

The analysis of abortion laws in Pakistan reveals a disconnect between state laws and international human rights standards. Religious interpretations complicate the legalization of abortion, considering it as a violation of the rights of the unborn child. Ethical and legal debates surrounding abortion, including the recognition of fetal rights, require further attention and examination.

Therefore, understanding abortion laws should encompass more than legal and human rights perspectives. It is crucial to explore how social realities, such as religion and ethical considerations, influence and shape policies regarding contentious issues like abortion.


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