Abortion is on the rise in Iraq

Illegal procedures result from -- and compound -- the dangers faced by in-country refugees.


Lynn Harris
June 20, 2007 7:18PM (UTC)

In Iraq, broadly speaking, human suffering does not discriminate. Both men and women -- to say nothing of children -- are enduring unspeakable hardship caused, or at the very least undiminished, by the U.S. invasion and occupation. But just as Iraqi men -- soldiers, say -- face particular risks because they are men, so too do Iraqi women face their own set of dangers. MADRE, for one, has extensively documented the rise of gender-based violence against women -- including so-called honor crimes -- in Iraq. The collapse of the healthcare system (which began with the trade embargo of the 1990s), combined with the overall security situation, has turned pregnancy and childbirth into minefields of their own. We have learned that some better-off pregnant women schedule C-sections to avoid driving to the hospital on dangerous roads at night. And a possibly related rise in home births -- most without a trained birth assistant -- has caused women to die from "preventable complications," according to the Christian Science Monitor.

It is perhaps no wonder, then, that for some Iraqi women, the question "How can one bring a child into this world?" is apparently a cliché become real. According to the latest report by the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization on internally displaced people (IDPs), for the more than 1 million refugees who have left their homes but remain in Iraq -- 78 percent of whom are women and children, as many men have fled or joined armed groups -- lack of access to healthcare has led to a rise in illegal abortion. "Pregnant women, infants and children are unable to get the required medical care and criminal abortion became [sic] the norms," states the report (translated from Arabic).

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Unsurprising, but chilling nonetheless. There's no official estimate yet of the number of women who've died from such procedures -- nor, for that matter, of the rape, theft, armed gangs and drug addiction characterized as "commonplace" in makeshift IDP communities. These desperate abortions are no small part of the "overall picture" as the report describes it: "that of a human tragedy unprecedented in Iraq's history."


Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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