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Global view of abortion

September 27, 1999
By: Sakina Dewji
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Britta Hansen has a deep concerned look on her face. She recalls last weeks rally at the State Capitol in Jefferson City when the House voted to override Gov. Mel Carnahan's veto on partial-birth abortion. She has never seen anything like that in Denmark ever, she says. About 5000 people amongst them, many children had gathered to support pro-override legislators.

"I do not like the fact that people bring their children to the vote in the House when it comes to things like abortion because you would have to explain children in a very simple way what this is about. I don't think a child is capable of understanding the complex matter of those things so I don't think children should be bothered with the thoughts about killing babies and hurting babies," says Hansen.

It is not only children though who have proved incapable of understanding the complex issues related with abortion. The debate has rocked through theological, cultural and spiritual doors throughout the world. It has crossed cultural barriers and questioned every society's basic morals, ethics and rights. Indeed, the only thing most societies agree on about abortion is the fact that they disagree on their stand on it.

Abortion is illegal in Kenya and pro-abortion supporters are doing everything to change the law. It is legal in America and abortion rights opponents rally in protest. If it is banned in Saudi Arabia those who perform or undergo an abortion, are accused of human rights. It is forced in China and critics charge the government pressure for abortion to hold down the population growth with abuse of human rights too.

The reality is not that simple. Seynabou Cisse is a Moslem but she is pro-abortion. "In France we are very liberal. My parents are Moslems but I don't practice," Cisse says. Hansen offers similar insight. "Most of the people in Denmark are atheists but do not support partial-birth abortion. For us, it's an ethical issue." In Japan, only 0.4% of the population is Catholic, but women are greatly troubled by abortion.

While other factors are at play too, in most countries, religion does rule. Not one Islamic State allows abortion except in cases of rape, incest, deformity of the fetus or mother's health depending on the country. Similar is the situation in Catholic stronghold countries. Italy, Northern Ireland and most Latin American countries ban abortion generally.

Iranian Ali Siavosh Haghighi fully supports his country's law. "Life in this world is created by God so we should obey His laws. People follow laws for their benefit, not liberties," Haghighi says. "Our basic philosophy of thinking should be to follow God's law in any country."

Prabha Natarajan, an Indian Hindu has a totally different perspective. "As a single woman I would like to have a choice to decide what I would do. It should be primarily up to me and I don't think anyone has a right to tell me I can or cannot have an abortion."

Rose Lukalo finds herself debating the issue within her. "I'm a Catholic so it's difficult to support it but I think there's a need to recognize the forces that especially women face." Of Kenyan women she says, "I don't think many women like abortion but the social situation they find themselves in often dictate that, that is the only choice they can see and I think a lot needs to be done to keep then engaged and aware that this is a very real problem. It's not where you want to go and it has health risks."

Lukalo would rather see implementations in her country to avoid situations that lead to abortions in the first place. Haghighi agrees. "It (abortion) has roots and we should talk about them. The solution is in other places not in hospitals and in killing infants." According to Alan Guttmacher institute, the total annual global abortion figure stands at 46 million.

Even talking about abortion though is controversial in many cultures. Kazuko Matsuno says that in Japan, abortion is legal but there is stigma attached to it. "It is seen as a bad thing because it is killing a baby and can hurt a woman's body and there is a possibility that one cannot have a baby anymore." This, she says, leads to men warning each other not to marry a woman they find out has had an abortion. The fear is that she may have damaged herself and may not be able to carry another child to completion.

The sentiment is similar in Taiwan. Ihuei Cheng says, "If she (the woman undergone abortion) has got some problems with her health or the baby's, then it doesn't make a difference to us, we still respect her. But if she just did it, then most people of course will think this girl or woman is not responsible for herself and her behavior and that is not good."

Stigma in India exists in a totally different pattern. If a female child is conceived, chances of abortion are greater that if it is a male child. A mother-in-law is famous for enforcing abortion when a female is conceived on many occasions. "In India, a boy-child is still more important than a girl-child. They are not only the earning members but parents, according to the social structure in India, have to pay a lot for a girl-child, for her marriage and dowry so we still have cases of female infanticide," said Natarajan. According to one recent survey in Bombay, of 8000 abortions surveyed, 7,999 were unborn girl babies and one was a boy baby.

Infanticide in China meanwhile doesn't determine the sex of the child. In a one-child policy state, when a second child is conceived, especially in the Northwest China, government officials persuade the family to obey the policy and have an abortion. A Chinese woman presently in America who would rather remain anonymous says people resort to going into hiding when pregnant with a second child. When the child is born, they come back and say they've adopted the child although everyone knows it's their child. "If you're with a child, it is alive and it is not good to do abortion. You should have it," she says.

"There is stigma in discussing anything sexual in Kenya," says Lukalo. "We have a dichotomous situation. It is illegal but in practice it is happening officially in government hospitals and in the back streets. Although young girls talk about abortion, anyone older than 30 years won't even talk about it."

Talks amongst politicians and religious leaders about this highly flammable topic though is not uncommon at all. In fact, says Lukako, it's the only time the Church in Kenya agrees with the Moslem community. That seems true on the world stage too.

In 1994 when Vatican and Iran sided together on the abortion issue before the international conference on population, the London paper, The Independent called the move, "rather unholy religious pact". During a UN gathering in Rome last year, Catholic pro-life lobbyists were working with the delegation of Moslem countries of the Middle East.

Passions have flared and angry exchanges have been made all over the world in regards to abortion. There may however be a positive outcome from this issue. For centuries, the three major world religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism have been through bitter encounters with each other. Abortion may be the subject to bring them together as says Brian Joseph, "I don't think religiously it is viewed favorably by anyone."

Shoshana Lewin betrays the feeling of many people increasingly unhappy with religious conflicts, "There are so many issues that separate that it is almost impossible to get past what divides us to work on what unites us. So, an issue like abortion would be wonderful if we could get together. I think that would be great."