By Serah Aupong – EM TV, Port Moresby
The law making abortion illegal in Papua New Guinea is outdated.
Maternal health expert, Dr Lahui Geita, told EMTV that a lot of women, especially young women, are dying from abortion related causes because they are not able to access medical help.
Doctors specialising in caring for pregnant women and women’s sexual reproductive health, have been proposing to the government to have this law reviewed.
Papua New Guinea is not alone in having a law that restricts the abortion of an unborn child. It is illegal to have an abortion in many countries around the world.
The criminal code of PNG states:
“A person who unlawfully administers any means to a woman with intent to procure her miscarriage is subject to up to fourteen years’ imprisonment. A woman who undertakes the same activity or consents to it is subject to up to seven years’ imprisonment.”
However reports have shown that there is widespread practice of abortions practices throughout the country.
“30 per cent of maternal deaths are of young women who try to terminate their unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. That’s quite a large number,” Dr Geita said while discussing maternal mortality in the country.
Dr Glen Mola, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecologist with decades of experience, has seen cases where attempts at abortion have gone wrong for women in PNG.
“They do things to themselves to start the miscarriage and often they do this when they are already more advanced (in their) pregnancy (and) its quite dangerous.”
Doctors Geita and Mola, who are both members of the PNG Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology agree that PNG’s law on abortion needs to be looked at.
Dr Geita says, “as doctors we think that we need to revisit this law and change it a little bit.”
“It (the law) talks about stuff that doesn’t exist anymore. It was formulated in the days when doctors operation was very dangerous (and that is the) 19th century, when there was no medicine available. So it forbids giving potions and poison to initiate the miscarriage. These dangerous sorts of things don’t exist anymore, we have very safe medicine these days,” Dr. Mola adds.
The reality in PNG is that public opinion usually outweighs medical opinion on this issue. Dr. Mola personally believes that:
“We should decriminalise abortions and leave it to society, ethics and the medical profession and its code of ethics and the policy of the ministry of health to regulate the situation and not make it a criminal matter.”
“It is not a criminal matter, he adds, “It is a social issue.”