The Ministry of Health is abdicating its responsibility by referring to the National Fatwa Council for guidelines on abortions in Zika cases, the Association of Women Lawyers (AWL) said today.
The women’s lawyers group said there was no basis for the ministry to consult the National Fatwa Council as the law does not require a religious body to give their opinion and pointed out that matters relating to Islam are confined to personal law and doctrines, according to the Federal Constitution.
“Given that the risks associated with Zika infections in individual pregnancies can only be determined by a medical practitioner’s professional judgment on the matter, the move by the Ministry of Health is an abdication of responsibilities and creates a bad precedent for future cases involving pregnancy risks.
“It is important to be mindful of the legislation and reproductive rights of the woman, so as to prevent resort to unsafe abortions,” AWL treasurer Daniella Zulkifili said in a statement.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said earlier this month that Islamic authorities must present a unified guideline regarding abortions for cases of pregnant women infected with the Zika virus that has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect, in order to help the government draft “appropriate guidelines”.
AWL said today that the law allows abortion in cases where the doctor believes that continuing the pregnancy would put a woman’s life at risk or affect her mental or physical health.
“In this context, it is important to take cognisance of the mental health consequences for women in cases involving risk of foetal abnormality, which have been well documented globally.
“It is clear therefore that a decision on abortion should be based on medical considerations in relation to the pregnancy risks. While religious views may influence an individual’s decision, this is a matter of personal choice,” said AWL.
The women’s lawyers group also stressed that Article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), an international treaty, guarantees women the right to proper sexual and reproductive health care access.
The Health Ministry has so far reported four cases of Zika infections in Malaysia, including a pregnant woman living in Johor Baru.
The Malay Mail Online