PAKISTAN – Unsafe abortion causing maternal mortality in Punjab

Commentary, by Muhammad Shahzad

The recent deaths of women during abortion in Lahore need to be looked beyond the moral implications. These women lost their lives due to the absence of needed healthcare facilities. The latest case was reported on 18 February in Nishtar Colony. A 27-year-old woman reportedly went to see a man. Later, she was found dead in a government hospital in Lahore. The family of the victim in their complaint before police alleged that their daughter had been murdered. However, they also claimed that the suspect was a close relative of theirs. The young woman left her home with him to “get medicines”. He informed them that the victim was lying dead in the hospital.
The police investigations suggested that he had taken her to a clinic for an abortion, where her condition deteriorated and she was shifted to the hospital, where she died.

Another case was also reported a few weeks earlier in Nawab Town. A video of a girl left outside a hospital emergency facility by a youth had gone viral. The investigations revealed that the victim and the suspect were friends. The victim with the help of the boy had undergone an abortion in a small town in Jhang district. Later her condition deteriorated due to medical complications and she died.

Social media platforms were abuzz with the debate mostly focused on criticism of women, urging them to refrain from relations out of wedlock. The arguments made online also urged parents to keep a closer look on their girls after two cases of women losing their lives due to complications from illegal abortion made rounds on the internet.

Thousands of people took to the social media to post their views on intimate relations before marriage. Reportedly, hundreds of video programmes regarding relationships and women were recorded and uploaded on YouTube.

However, none of them talked about an overall neglect in the society towards women’s healthcare. None of the videos discussed the need for sex education, healthcare, orientation and safety measures.

Rarely were there any voices or platforms that raised critical questions surrounding the deaths of millions of married women during pregnancy owing to the unavailability of standard medical facilities.

There had been two basic flaws in the dominant discourse in the aftermath of the two incidents. Firstly, the arguments focused on moral policing and ascertaining the patriarchal notions regarding women’s relationships of their choice. Rather, it was argued that women should adhere to the traditional social institution of arranged marriage. The arguments missed the voices of women in choosing their life partners. Marriage remains a means of strengthening social class barriers and patriarchy in the society. The likes and dislikes of women are repeatedly dismissed when it comes to marriage by choice.

Secondly, in the online debate over abortion and women’s rights, no one raised the issue of poor medical facilities available to the public in general and women in particular. Police investigations into the recent deaths during abortion revealed that the procedures were conducted at shabby places with poor hygiene. Hundreds of thousands of women die in the country due to poor health facilities during pregnancy. Moral policing surrounding the issue made it difficult to discuss sex education and abortion, instead, making them taboo.

Youth remain largely bereft of necessary awareness surrounding sexual health, including safe sex and contraception. Every other day, incidents of dumping of newborn children are also reported across Punjab and other parts of the country.

SOURCE: The Express Tribune, by Muhammad Shahzad, 26 February 2021
SEE ALSO:, by Diaa Hadid, 28 November 2018 on why the abortion rate in Pakistan is among the world’s highest. Includes the photo of an unidentified woman by Diaa Hadid above who had one son, six daughters and three unsafe abortions to avoid the risk of further daughters.