Reproductive health, a woman’s right? – Yasmine Lamrini, Morocco

Morocco is a multicultural Mediterranean country located in the northwest border of the African continent. Most of the people who have heard about the country have seen either the most beautiful images it can offer, perhaps in glossy travel magazines, or the worrying pictures of contrasting landscapes where slums seem juxtaposed with luxurious houses and modern commercial buildings.

Moroccan women protest the scheduled arrival of a Dutch ship advocating safe and legal abortions in Smir, Morocco Thursday oct 4 2012. Their signs read

Moroccan women protest the scheduled arrival of a Dutch ship advocating safe and legal abortions in Smir, Morocco Thursday oct 4 2012. Their signs read “no to abortion.” Moroccan authorities sealed a port where a Dutch abortion ship was set to arrive , while demonstrators protested against its arrival . (AP Photo/Paul Schemm).

None of these images are false, because all of these realities can be found in Morocco.  Diversity is what defines the country: the diversity of social classes that constitute its population, the diversity of landscapes that can be seen in it, and the diversity of influences that coalesced to give birth to its particular history and culture.

Among these past and present influences, we must consider the Berber culture, Islamic and oriental cultural heritage and even Occidental influence as a result of French and Spanish occupation in the 20th century. Furthermore, Morocco acts as a bridge linking Africa to Europe by virtue of its geographical position.
This diversity of influences, which is making Morocco a multicultural, multi-linguistic country, is key to understanding what is happening within, whether with regard to its politics, philosophy, religion, economy or even judicature. The controversial issue of abortion is no exception.
The debate was reinstigated at the beginning of this year when the the French channel France 2 broadcast a programme concerning abortion in Morocco. An important person involved in the documentary was the Moroccan gynecologist Chafik Chraibi. Doctor Chraibi is a campaigner against clandestine abortion and founded the organisation AMLAC to this end.

It should be understood that when Dr. Chraibi says he is fighting against clandestine illegal abortions, it is actually because abortion is illegal in Morocco. This means that what he asks of the law is to eventually legalize abortion at some point, so women are not forced to seek out clandestine, illegal ways of doing it. The only cases of abortion condoned by the law, according to article 453 of the penal code, were those ending pregnancies that were putting the mother’s health or life in danger. But this actually doesn’t take the mother’s mental health into account.

The World Health Organization’s definition of health clearly stipulates that health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. By this definition, many more abortions should be permitted in Morocco. Even besides that, a substantial number of women in Morocco terminate pregnancies because they are afraid of being rejected by society, and do not want to face harassment… Or simply because they do not want to raise a being that they are not mentally, physically, or economically ready to take care of.

Earlier, Moroccan law did not allow any other grounds for abortion. But on May 15, 2015, the King of Morocco officially legalized the abortion of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Today, the sentence given to other abortions is 1 to 5 years in prison. Fear of this punishment does not stop many young girls and women to have clandestine abortions in the country.

The thorniest facet of this issue is that it becomes a financial matter. Some are well-off and can pay for an illegal, but professional (and hopefully, not risky) medical intervention, while others resort to dangerous and life-threatening methods to terminate pregnancy. Another ‘alternative’ is to wait until the baby is born, and then abandon it without really knowing if you want the baby to die, or to survive and face their already damned life of perceived illegitimacy.

The evolution of reproductive rights will be eventful in Morocco, what with the multiple culturally linked issues, the phenomenon of abandoning children, and the gradual empowerment of women. And it definitely has to be.

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