LAW & POLICY: MOROCCO – Barrons, a stock market magazine, published an article about abortion in Morocco this month 

200,000 illegal abortions per year / My mother was 16, my father is my grandfather

AMLAC demonstration in Rabat, June 2019. Photo: Agence France Presse, in

Le Monde, 23 September 2022

This article reveals that in spite of the advent of abortion pills some years ago now, plus ça change in Morocco. The article opens with the experience of a 37-year-old mother of one child, who got pregnant and couldn’t face having another. Instead of helping her, her gynaecologist told her about other women who had managed to get their hands on abortion pills through Facebook. There, on Facebook’s Marketplace feature, she found anonymous persons selling tablets they claimed contained misoprostol. It worried her that this was a scam, as it should have done, since there was no information about follow-up.

Under Moroccan law, abortion is only allowed if the pregnancy is cause for imminent danger to the woman’s health. If she is caught, she can face up to two years in prison, while any medical person helping her can face up to five years. Arthrotec and Cytotec, two medicines containing misoprostol and intended for rheumatism and gastric ulcer treatment, respectively, were removed from the market in Morocco in 2018, after it was learned that they were also being used for abortions, as in many other countries too. But abortions continue to take place in Morocco. According to the Moroccan Association to Fight Clandestine Abortion (AMLAC), who have been active on this subject for a very long time, between 600 and 800 abortions take place in secret every day in Morocco. Pills cross the border or are stolen from local hospitals and sold at very high prices, often with no details on how to use them.

The women interviewed for this article went for help to the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties (MALI), who provide free abortion pills, imported from abroad. “The women who contact us come from all backgrounds, ages and nationalities,” said Ibtissame Betty Lachgar, a clinical psychologist and the movement’s coordinator. Trained by Women on Waves, which provides abortion pills to women in countries with restrictive abortion laws, Lachgar said she has helped between 1,500 and 2,000 women since 2012 and receives requests for help every day.

“I am ready to go to prison for my ideas and for my actions, because I act for the rights of women and against their oppression by the patriarchal system,” she said, adding that she makes sure to show her patients how to use the pills and provides follow-up.

The restrictive legal situation and Betty’s steadfast support for women seeking abortion help have been reported in international abortion rights newsletters before. The same can be said about the help of Dr Chafik Chraibi, the head of AMLAC, who the article quotes as saying: “Society remains conservative… There is a return of religion and a lack of political will to overcome certain norms. The countries that have legalised abortion understood that we would get there one day or another, so we might as well do it today.” But Morocco… not yet.

The week before the Barron’s article was published, Amnesty International called for the decriminalisation of abortion in Morocco. That too has been called for before. Although the Barron’s article doesn’t mention it, even the King of Morocco called for law reform on abortion at an earlier point in time as have MALI and AMLAC (see, for example, ICWRSA Newsletters 16 November 2022 and 26 October 2022 and 12 November 2019 and 18 October 2019 and 6 February 2018 and 15 June 2016, and The Guardian, 5 May 2015. Conservatism was always stronger and it seems has remained so to date.

Meanwhile, one of the two women interviewed for the Barron’s article travelled over 700 kilometres to get the abortion pills she finally used. “I don’t understand why others have to decide on my behalf,” she said.

SOURCES: Barron’s, by Claire Gounon/Agence France Presse, 26 May 2024, and previous articles from ICWRSA Newsletters 2016-2022. Disclaimer: “The Barron’s news department was not involved in the creation of [this] content.”