TODAY.AZ / Society

Azerbaijan eyes to disallow selective abortion

20 September 2013 [10:05] - TODAY.AZ
By AzerNews

Modern medicine allows parents to learn the sex of the baby before it is born, and in some cultures this can lead to a foetus being aborted. In some countries selective abortions are one of the top priorities of the government. The preference for male children is part of the general inequality against women in some cultures. This is largely an economic factor and there are reasons including the following ones: family continuity depends on sons; women cannot own property in some societies, so, a male child is essential for a family to retain its wealth; girls are considered transitory members of a family as they marry and leave home; even while girls stay in the family they generally earn less than boys; the family may have to produce a dowry when a young women gets married (this could be seen as a backdoor way of a woman getting to inherit some of the family wealth); men bring in a dowry when they marry, adding to the family wealth, a wife's status (and thus her economic security) is not consolidated until she delivers a son; the trend toward small families means that parents don't want to have several girls before having a son.

Experts have found that the sex of the previous child born affects the sex of the children the family has later on, with fewer females born as second or third children to families who are as yet to have a boy. Based on the national sex ratio from other countries, researchers estimate that over the last 20 years around 10 million females are 'missing'.

Azerbaijan is one of the countries where families mostly have selective abortions for different reasons. Selective abortions raise all the other ethical issues associated with abortion, but they bring to the forefront several issues of their own as well. For instance, the unborn child is a girl, and the parents, for cultural or other reasons, want a boy, the foetus is defective, the foetus does not suit the parents in some other way, the pregnancy is intended to produce a child with specific genetic properties, which this foetus doesn't have. Selective abortions, which are a small fraction of all abortions, occur in those cases where a particular foetus is perceived as having undesirable characteristics. A selective abortion is also done when there are too many foetuses in a pregnancy. Moreover, a different type of a selective abortion occurs when the pregnancy involves several foetuses, and unless one or more are aborted all the foetuses will be endangered, therefore, some of the unborn must be removed for the good of the others. Parents usually plan to have one boy and a girl. And this prompts them to resort to abortion of the unwanted sex foetus.

To regulate this situation the government of Azerbaijan is expected to apply some new regulations. By the end of this year selective abortions might be prohibited in Azerbaijan. The issue of selective abortion is included in the government's scheme 'Family planning and reproductive health'. The issue will be discussed during the fall session of the Azerbaijani parliament, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on social policy Musa Guliyev told Trend news agency.

He said that currently one of the most important issues is selective abortions that occur after determining the sex of the baby during ultrasound. Furthermore, punishment will be handed down according to the changes in legislation.

"Doctors who carry out selective abortions will face sanctions like suspension of the medical practice, fining and criminal prosecution. Because if the matter is not subject to administrative and criminal sanctions, only outreach activities will be insufficient to prevent selective abortions," said Guliyev.

It is worthy of note that in Azerbaijan an exceptional right of any mother is abortion of a 12-week foetus. Selective abortion means abortions from 12 to 22 weeks considering social preconditions.

Guliyev added that prohibition of abortion in Azerbaijan across the board is out of the question.

"Society is not ready for this and there are no social preconditions. Abortions are forbidden in those countries where demographic processes are on the decline. On the other hand, in some states religion does not allow abortion. And Azerbaijan is a democratic and constitutional state," the MP said.

In Azerbaijan unwanted pregnancies and induced abortions occur for a number of reasons. Contraceptive methods may fail, couples do not always use them correctly or consistently, some women have partners who oppose contraceptive options, some become pregnant as a result of coerced sex, and some seek abortion for health reasons. Even a planned pregnancy can become unwanted if circumstances change.

Termination of pregnancy is legal in Azerbaijan up to 12 weeks from the date of conception with the woman's consent. It is available upon request and for the following reasons: to save the life of the pregnant woman; to protect the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; if the pregnancy is the result of rape or an act of incest; if the foetus is severely physically or mentally impaired.

Under certain circumstances an abortion is permitted up to 28 weeks from the date of conception. In all cases, the abortion must be carried out in a hospital by a doctor, and a fee is charged unless the woman's life is in danger.

Approximately 112 boys are born for every 100 girls in Azerbaijan, according to statistics from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The natural sex ratio at birth is about 105 boys per 100 girls.

According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, Azerbaijan has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. Their surveys indicate that women on average have close to three abortions each in their lifetime.

Abortion has been legal in Azerbaijan during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy since 1955.

The abortion debate deals with the rights and wrongs of deliberately ending a pregnancy before normal childbirth, killing the foetus in the process.

Some societies ban abortion almost completely while others permit it in certain cases. Such societies usually designate a maximum age after which the foetus must not be aborted, regardless of the circumstances.

At various times some of the following has been allowed in some societies: abortion for the sake of the mother's health, including her mental health; abortion where a pregnancy is the result of a crime; abortion where the child of the pregnancy would have an ' unacceptable quality of life' such as cases where the child would have serious physical handicaps, serious genetic problems or serious mental defects; abortion for social reasons, including poverty, the mother being unable to cope with a child (or another child); the mother being too young to cope with a child; abortion as a matter of governmental policy as a way of regulating population size, etc. Most opponents of abortion agree that abortion for the sake of the mother's health can be morally acceptable if there is a real risk of serious harm to the mother. Abortion for social reasons is usually the least acceptable for opponents.

Approximately 205 million pregnancies occur each year worldwide. Over a third are unintended and about a fifth end in induced abortion. However, unsafe abortions result in about 70,000 maternal deaths and 5 million hospital admissions per year globally. An estimated 44 million abortions are performed globally each year, with slightly under a half of those performed unsafely.

In some countries, also there is a major problem with female foeticide, which is deliberately aborting foetuses that would be born as girls. For sociological and economic reasons parents in some cultures prefer to have baby boys. When parents can find out the gender of the foetus in advance, they sometimes request the termination of a pregnancy solely because the foetus is a female.

While selective abortion for gender preference is illegal in some countries, the low proportion of female births relative to male births, together with other evidence, makes it certain that female foeticide is practised on a large scale.

Gender-biased sex selection through such practices as selective abortion and infanticide has resulted in birth ratios as high as 130 males per 100 females in some countries (India, China). At the Human Rights Council, WHO and other United Nations agencies are due to call for an end to this form of gender discrimination. Their call, contained in an interagency statement by OHCHR, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and WHO, highlights the public health and human rights aspects of the problem and provides recommendations on how best to take effective action.

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