Misconceptions

Abortion IS legal in Malaysia

Abortions are allowed in Malaysia in specific circumstances. Thus, if the doctor, in consultation with the woman, decides that the pregnancy is likely to injure the woman´s physical and mental health based on her individual circumstances, such an abortion is deemed legal. These legal conditions for abortion are progressive, placing Malaysia among three fifths of countries with least restrictive laws globally. Only one doctor´s decision is necessary in Malaysia according to the law. Unfortunately, public and some private hospitals unnecessarily require the decision of two doctors. RRAAM believes that women themselves need to be the main decision maker as to when a pregnancy is injurious to their mental health, as each woman knows her unique mental health needs and social circumstances.

The Penal Code Amendment Act (1989) allows a medical practitioner registered under the 1971 Medical Act (meaning all medical doctors practicing legally in this country) to “terminate the pregnancy of a woman if such medical practitioner is of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman or injury to the mental and physical health of the pregnant woman greater than if the pregnancy were terminated” (Section 312, Penal Code).

Do women and men know the legal status of abortion?

No. Many people mistakenly believe that abortion in Malaysia is outright illegal in all circumstances. A survey of reproductive health clients (Kamaluddin, 2008) found that 41% of the women did not know the legal conditions for abortion. This lack of knowledge is because abortion´s legality is minimally discussed in health, social welfare and women´s crisis services. Also there has been no public effort to educate women on its legal status including accurate provision of information in the media.

Do doctors and health professionals understand the legal status of abortion?

Many do not. A survey of 120 doctors and nurses found that only 57% correctly knew the law. (RRAAM, 2007) Medical and nursing curricula and the media all reinforce the same misconceptions.

Misconceptions of doctors on the legalities of abortion.

Despite broad permissible conditions for abortion, the Penal Code is a criminal law inherited from colonial times wherein the woman and the health practitioner can be charged if the law is not followed. Fear, together with negative media portrayal, has contributed to doctor´s silence and secrecy in the provision of legal abortion and prevented many doctors from providing abortion services. In reality though, in the last 20 years, doctors have been rarely charged for abortion offences, with all cases having been acquitted. No woman has ever been charged (Radhakrishnan, 2007).

Negative consequences for women due to misconceptions on the legal status of abortion

Due to lack of knowledge about the legalities of abortion and lack of understanding of the possible health consequences for women if abortion services are not accessible, abortion is not openly discussed by the public and health providers. This creates more misconceptions and stigma for both women who seek abortion and those who provide these services legally. Thus, women who may have been entitled to a legal abortion may resort to unsafe abortion with untrained abortion providers or try to abort themselves and thus risk their health and life.

Confusion over the legal status, fear and misinformation about abortion and its consequences, and the lack of abortion services in government hospitals have created a situation where private sector abortion services are totally unregulated. Whereas vacuum aspiration and abortion using drugs (medical abortion) are safer, cheaper and more convenient out-patient services, abortion methods provided are often the more costly and higher risk in-patient methods of d and c (dilation and curettage).

Vacuum aspiration, for example, is a simple procedure completed in a few hours in the clinic. Women of low income have told women´s NGOs that they cannot afford costly private sector abortions. These women have been refused services in government hospitals and are thus forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy or resort to unsafe abortion. Many Malaysian women have low incomes and include young women, students and migrant women.

 

References:

  • Kamaluddin, F. (2008). “A Rapid Assessment Study of Client Experiences with Abortion and Contraception in an Urban Family Health Clinic In Malaysia”. RRAAM.
  • Radhakrishnan, S. (2007). “The Legal Dimensions.” Presented at the Seminar on ‘Reproductive Health, Reproductive Rights and Miscarriages: Problems and Solutions,´ July 3rd 2007, Hospital Tua´anku Jaafar, Seremban, Negri Sembilan, Malaysia.
  • RRAAM. (2007). “Survey Findings of Knowledge and Attitudes of Doctors and Nurses on Abortion by the Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia.” (unpublished).
  • Wong, Y.; Aiyar, S. (2007). ”Women´s Perspectives”. Presented at the Seminar on ‘Reproductive Health, Rights and Miscarriages: Problems and Solutions; 3 July 2007, Negri Sembilan.