Abortion in war time: How women break taboos in Yemen

Abortion in war time: How women break taboos in Yemen

E ensures that her children prevent anyone from entering the room at her family home. Then, when the door is closed, she begins to speak quietly and nervously about why she had an abortion earlier this year.

At the age of 39, E already has five children, the youngest of whom is 18 months old. Her family, like millions of other Yemenis, have been left destitute by the two-year war…

“My brain told me it was wrong to exhaust myself and make my husband suffer to provide a new baby with its needs,” E says. “We hardly have enough for our current children. If one of them is sick, we try our best to treat their sickness at home, as we cannot pay for hospitals. The economic crisis does not allow us to have more children.”…

During the first month of her pregnancy she unsuccessfully tried to locate supplies of the necessary abortion injection [sic]. “Finally, after three weeks, a relative of mine found it in Aden… and sent it to me…” The procedure, for which E had to sell some of her jewellery, finally took place during the second month of her pregnancy at a health facility in the city. Afterwards, she told anyone who asked that her life was at risk and that her doctor had recommended a termination.

Abortion is practically forbidden in Yemen, a taboo practice which takes place amid secrecy and which no one discusses. Usually it is only allowed early in the pregnancy if the mother’s health is at risk, if there is a risk of congenital defect or in cases of rape. Only during the past decade have society and Islamic sheikhs started to accept abortion on these grounds. Women who terminate their pregnancy without what Yemeni culture regards as good reason are criticised.

In peacetime, family planning in [her city] was difficult: health centres were scarce and many poorer families were unable to pay for medical prescriptions. The country also has the highest maternal mortality ratio in the Middle East…

A, 28, married five years ago and wanted a baby: her family is well-off and her husband is a Saudi immigrant. But when she became pregnant, her doctor advised her that the fetus would not be able to develop and that she should end the pregnancy. Clerics told A that she could end her pregnancy before 42 days, which she did.

“I left… for Sana’a in June 2016… because I could not find the abortion injection [sic]…” The journey itself was difficult and dangerous, taking more than 12 hours to travel 250km across war-torn Yemen…

SOURCE: Middle East Eye, by Amal Mamoon & Nasser al-Sakkaf, 27 April 2017 ; PHOTO by Nasser al-Sakkaf