Family Honor Keeps Risky Abortions Secretive

To preserve the honor of her family, 24-year-old Srey Mom said she was forced to have an unsafe abortion at a private clinic in Phnom Penh’s Phsar Chas.

“An unsafe abortion is dangerous,” acknowledged Srey Mom, a private university student and NGO worker. “The important reason that I chose a private clinic is because everything is secret. I only paid $35 for a nurse to perform the abortion.”

Health workers are reporting a rise in the number of women like Srey Mom. Meanwhile, the stigma attached to abortions, and the lack of access to adequate medical services, is keeping the procedure unsafe and underground.

The National Maternity and Child Center, for example, had at least 30 to 40 women between the ages of 25 and 35 report having one or more abortions performed in their family in 2002.

More than 120 women of the same age group reported undergoing one abortion in the maternity center, while it is estimated that the same number had abortions with traditional midwives.

Dr Chhun Long, the Ministry of Health’s national reproductive health program manager, said abortion still is considered an un­acceptable act in Cambodia.

“Many people are afraid to speak out about abortion. It is sec­ret because the Buddhist religion teaches people not to kill,” he said.

Srey Mom said she knew that her abortion would be considered sinful by some, but said there is no good solution for preg­nant single women, since premarital sex also is frowned upon.

“Sexual intercourse before marriage is not respected, but having a baby before marriage is even worse. I prefer to have an abortion rather than babies,” Srey Mom said.

Since many abortions are performed at health clinics after hours, it is impossible to obtain an accurate figure of how many Cambodians undergo the procedure, Chhun Long said.

Women visiting the center of­ten are advised about the Minis­try of Health’s birth spacing plan, involving birth control pills to min­imize a woman’s likelihood of becoming pregnant, Chhun Long said.

Chhun Long added that preventative planning is crucial to a woman’s health, since abortions too often are performed in unsafe conditions.

“There are many unsafe abortions and some deaths,” he said. “The lack of trained midwives is increasing the risk of unsafe abortions in rural areas.” Chhun Long added that even safe abortions carry risks, including decreasing a woman’s ability to carry a baby to term.

“Women can’t give a good birth unless their womb is good,” said Nop Sotheara, communication manager for Population Ser­vices International. “If a woman has a lot of abortions, her womb will have problems.”

Chhun Long and Nop So­theara agreed that young people must be targeted by educational campaigns, since many students are the recipients of abortions.

“Students have a higher number of abortions than older people,” said a nurse at the private Phsar Chas commune clinic. She said she charges students $25 to $30 for the procedure.

In order to reduce the number of unsafe abortions performed, the Ministry of Health legalized the procedure in August 2002, Chhun Long said.



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