Religious Fundamentalism and Access to Safe Abortion Services in Morocco

by the Moroccan Family Planning Association (MFPA) and Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), 2016 .Abortion is largely prohibited in Morocco, as is pre-marital sex, which is illegal under the Criminal Code. Abortion is only allowed to save the life of the mother, with spousal consent. Illegality also means there are presently no official statistics on the number of illegal abortions performed in Morocco (OMS 2013). Presently, the Criminal Code does not allow abortion in cases of pregnancy even in the case of rape, incest, or mental illness. Many women take desperate measures and seek abortion in unsafe conditions, face prospects of abandoning children, or resort to infanticide (WHO 2012).Besides maternal deaths, the high numbers of abandoned children and of single mothers are significant social issues resulting from unwanted pregnancies and restrictive legislation about abortion. The adolescent population (15–24 years), growing in number, are increasingly vulnerable to the negative effects of illegal abortions. Pregnancies and births continue to increase for adolescent girls. This research study was carried out by the Moroccan Family Planning Association (MFPA) in partnership with the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), Malaysia, to generate evidence on the nature and consequences of unsafe abortions in Morocco and how religious fundamentalism (in the case of Islam) prevents adequate policies and practices for safe abortion services, in order to facilitate advocacy among a range of stakeholders working on the issue.In May 2015, Morocco initiated a reform process by a directive of the King, to expand legal protections for women opting for abortion. The decision could help improve access to services, although even if the law is implemented adequately, it will continue to leave unmarried women out of the equation (Sousanne 2015).The abortion law was established in 1920 while Morocco was a French protectorate and French law was adopted, including on abortion. However, the abortion law was established by the Catholic Church, and the Moroccan Islamic Council did not have an official view on the practice. The King’s directive was the first time that the Islamic Council has been involved in the debate. The study found that despite certain differences among authors and respondents in their in-depth interviews, there was a consensus that abortion is permitted within the first three months from conception, when the life of the woman in terms of her physical health and mental health is in danger, and in situations of rape, incest and congenital malformations. To ensure a revised law is implemented, however, services would need to be set up and training for providers instituted. The authors of the report also highlight the need to “create an environment to advocate for change and develop progressive viewpoints in relation to women’s position in society and gender equality and empowerment, with a view to uplifting the position of all women in Moroccan society… [and] the involvement of all actors, including religious leaders, in changing mind-sets”.