UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Ministry announces abortion regulations

The UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention (Mohap) announced on 8 June 2024 what the procedures and controls for approving cases where abortion is permitted. The aims are “preserving the pregnant woman’s life, ensuring her safety, and enhancing oversight of healthcare facilities in the country”. Abortion is to be permitted “under clear conditions and controls”, Mohap said, adding that a committee shall be established in each health authority to “thoroughly examine abortion requests”.

All cases of abortion should be performed in an authorised facility by a licensed physician.

M.K., a 31-year-old woman, experienced an extremely high-risk third pregnancy six years ago. A year before that, she had had a stillbirth, and during her third pregnancy, M.K. had to undergo an abortion due to a diagnosis of a chromosomal anomaly in the baby. On Sunday, she welcomed the announcement by UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention (Mohap) about the procedures and controls for cases where abortion is permitted.

“I have already had a stillbirth and doctors were certain that if I carried this pregnancy to term, my health would be severely impacted,” she said. “I was in India at that time, and the option of abortion was easily accessible… Ever since I moved to the UAE, I was worried about what would happen if I conceived again. However, now I feel at ease knowing that such an option is also available to me here”.

The medical fraternity welcomed the move as something that would make it easier for pregnant women in the country. “In the past, some women had to travel abroad to access safe abortion services,” said Dr Dani Hanna, head of department and consultant Obstetrics & Gynecology at the Canadian Specialist Hospital Dubai. “This amendment ensures that such critical healthcare is available within the country, providing a safer and more supportive environment for women’s health.”

Dr Kishan Pakkal, CEO at the International Modern Hospital, agreed. “I commend the government for implementing a rule on abortion that prioritises the preservation of women’s lives and their safety,” he said.

According to one doctor, it is a relief for families who are dealing with heartbreak. “The policy takes into account all aspects like safety, religious, cultural beliefs of the country. It will surely be a life saver for our mothers,” said Dr Jasbir G. Chhatwal, specialist obstetrics & gynaecology at Zulekha Hospital. “It will be of great relief for couples who are already devastated and mentally drained out when they find out that they have an anomalous baby, or the mother’s life is at risk due to pregnancy.”

The move will reduce risks in more ways than one, according to Dr Amal Aburawi, consultant obstetrics & gynaecology at Saudi German Hospital Dubai. “The recent amendment of the UAE abortion law will reduce the risk of mums having any physical and mental negative impact,” she said. “It will also tremendously reduce the risk of having unsupervised options away from authorised personnel….”

Legal stipulations — The decision on abortion requests shall be made by a dedicated committee that will be formed by Mohap or the head of each emirate’s health authority. The committee should be comprised of three specialists:

– an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist;

– a psychiatry specialist, and

– a representative from the Public Prosecution.

“The new regulations are a positive step towards regulating the abortion process in line with international standards and protecting individual rights,” said Ghouson Bashir, legal consultant. “They emphasize the importance of providing necessary healthcare for pregnant women in critical circumstances, while maintaining a balance between protecting the mother’s life and the rights of the fetus.” According to one legal expert, more information is awaited at the emirate level. “The announcement is a clarification of what was announced a few months ago,” said James Clarke, Of Counsel at BSA Law. “The crux of the matter is that while there are federal rules on reproductive health at all levels, much is devolved to the individual emirate level. It is awaited and it will come, but in the meantime, the medical professionals are navigating it carefully.”

SOURCE: Khaleej Times, by Angel Tesorero, Nasreen Abdulla, 8 June 2024 + photo not credited