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Will abortions be banned in Armenia?

Back in April of this year, a group of lawyers from Vardanyan & Partners law firm, Nerses Isajanyan, Varuzhan Vardanyan and Vahe Simonyan, petitioned RA National Assembly Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan to adopt a law on the protection of the right to life of the unborn child. At the end of June, at the special sitting of the NA Standing Committee on Protection of Human Rights and Public Affairs, President Naira Zohrabyan, attaching importance to having a law on the protection of the right to life of the unborn child, offered the factions to present their positions. Shake Isayan from the NA “Prosperous Armenia” faction, Ani Samsonyan from the “Bright Armenia” faction and Sargis Khandanyan from the “My Step” faction submitted proposals on the issue.

What do the authors of the petition suggest?

The lawyers who authored the RA draft law “On the Right to Life of the Unborn Child” state in the substantiation that according to the official statistics, in 1991-2018 about 434,000 pregnancies were aborted in Armenia. It is assumed that in reality that number is much higher, as most abortions are performed at home and are not registered. According to them, the “abortion epidemic” has had a very serious negative impact on the number of the population of Armenia, the size of the labor force, and, consequently, the income received, the taxes paid. However, they emphasize, the goal of the RA draft law “On the Right to Life of the Unborn Child” is not to improve the economic or social situation, but to protect the weakest, most vulnerable, unprotected layer of our society, the right to life of unborn children.

In continuation, the authors note that the current legislation of the Republic of Armenia envisages a number of circumstances, the existence of which allows abortion, depriving the unborn child of life. For example, when the pregnancy is up to 12 weeks; the woman (mother of the unborn child) is ill; the unborn child has a defect; There are circumstances that make the development of defects in a child more probable (presence of inherited diseases from the family related to children with developmental defects or sex); There are circumstances unrelated to the health condition (death or divorce of the husband during pregnancy, serving the sentence of the wife or husband in prison, pregnancy as a result of rape).

The authors of the initiative suggest replacing almost all of these regulations with a single regulation prohibiting abortion. In other words, if the bill becomes law one day, it will be forbidden to terminate the pregnancy, even if it is up to 12 weeks, the child has a defect incompatible with later life or the pregnancy is the result of rape. The only case when a woman, according to the authors, will be allowed to have an abortion, is the fact that the woman is ill: “if the disease is a real danger to a woman’s life, that risk can be eliminated by terminating the pregnancy.”

Which countries have banned abortion?

Attitudes toward abortion in the United States have long been an integral part of the political agenda. During the presidential elections, the preferences of women voters are often formed on this issue…

In May 2019, the state of Alabama passed a controversial law that criminalizes abortion in almost all cases, even as a result of rape and incest. Alabama was the next state to ban abortion after Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri. Discussions on this sensitive topic raised a huge wave of protests not only in the state, but across the country. Opponents of the law argued that abortion ensured women’s independence and protected their rights.

It is a misconception that the problem is only in the field of women’s reproductive rights, that is, a woman has the right to manage her body and make a decision. Experts warn that banning abortions has serious health consequences. In all countries where abortions are banned or severely restricted, maternal mortality rates are high, because a legal ban on abortion does not mean that abortions are not performed in that country. And as a consequence, distorted destinies, severe or irreversible damage to health, sometimes even death.

Abortions are banned in some parts of the world. In Europe, this path was chosen by Poland, Malta, Northern Ireland (although the ban may be revised in the near future), Andorra and Liechtenstein. The example of Poland is the most problematic in Europe. Abortion has been banned in this country since 1993, but in 2016 the Polish parliament passed a law that tightens the current legislation. That is, up to 6 years in prison for both an aborted woman and a doctor. The adoption of this law took tens of thousands of people to the streets, the wave of protests was called “black demonstrations”.

As a result, the ruling party rejected such a strict abortion law, but in 2017 a new bill was introduced. It is not so strict, at least it does not envisage imprisonment, but it has serious restrictions. And it was not until the spring of 2020 that  Seim was able to discuss the bill, which opponents say the authorities deliberately began debating the controversial bill at this time, as the coronavirus pandemic will prevent them from protesting again this time around. However, the debates in the parliament will take months, and the opponents will definitely find a way to get their voices heard.

The concept of abortion is almost non-existent in Eastern countries or in the UAE, for example, except in cases where the fetus is malformed or a woman’s life is in danger. There are strict restrictions in Latin American countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Venezuela, Paraguay, etc.

The sad consequences of the abortion ban in the Soviet Union

In 1920, Soviet Russia became the first country in the world to legalize abortion. However, in 1936, abortions were banned in the Soviet Union to increase the birth rate. It is noteworthy that the expected positive impact after the ban was recorded only in the first year. In the first year, the number of abortions was reduced more than 3 times, and in rural areas – more than 4 times.

However, official medical abortions, such as illegal abortions and self-abortions, began to rise sharply in 1937, resulting in a sharp rise in maternal mortality. At the same time, there was a sharp increase in child homicides, and the state had to toughen the penalties for such cases. Summing up that experience, experts say that the negative consequences clearly exceeded the positive expectations of the abortion ban.

Selective abortions in Armenia

Abortions are not banned in Armenia, moreover, with the widespread use of ultrasound in the 1990s, they gained new momentum amid the cult of having a son. Due to selective abortions, the sex ratio of newborns reached an unprecedented level (110-120 boys per 100 girls, while the natural ratio was 102-106 boys per 100 girls), which led to some changes in the RA Law on Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights.  According to the amendments made in 2016, “Every woman has the right to abortion (abortion), but in any other case not included in the list of medical or social indications by a doctor, including sex-selective abortion from 12 to 22 weeks is prohibited.” Moreover, in the process of abortion permitted by law, administrative liability and fines are provided for cases of violation of the requirements set by law by medical workers. Legislative changes and explanatory campaigns have slightly corrected the gender ratio of newborns, but the problem of selective abortions still exists, experts say, cannot be solved by restrictions alone.

Research on this topic in Armenia shows that if a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy, she will do so at any cost. Terrible stories have been presented to the public, which prove what measures women take  to get rid of unwanted fetus: jumping from a high place, hitting the abdomen, damaging the fetus with a spade, drinking beer and sitting in boiling water.  Against this background, the use of abortion drugs on the advice of a neighbor only seems harmless at first glance, as it does not go unnoticed for a woman. But in all this   cases, there is a subtlety: they are not reflected in official statistics, there is no pregnant woman, there is no abortion. It is possible to talk about the real number of abortions in Armenia with great reservation…

What are the positions of the deputies?

In a conversation with WomenNet.am, Naira Zohrabyan, Chairwoman of the NA Standing Committee on Human Rights Protection, said that they also intend to draft a law on this topic and there is no ready-made draft at the moment, which will be final on this delicate topic. She mentioned that various non-governmental organizations have offered options from which to take the rational grains, but what violates women’s rights, naturally, will not be included in the bill.

A small committee has been formed in the National Assembly, which will study and submit proposals on this project. In a conversation with WomenNet.am, member of that commission, PAP MP Shake Isayan first reminded that Armenia joined in 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that every child has the inalienable right to life.

In response to WomenNet.am’s inquiry, the Human Rights Defender’s Office presented its position on the issue.

 “Issues related to women’s right to health care and abortions are issues under the attention of the Human Rights Defender. These issues are constantly raised in the Defender’s annual reports. As for the solutions proposed by the specific petition, we consider it necessary to inform that in case of organizing discussions in the National Assembly, we are ready to provide the necessary professional assistance.”

PS Today in the NA Standing Committee on Health and Social Affairs the presentation of the petition forbidding abortions took place and the discussion, as a result of which the committee unanimously rejected the initiative banning abortion.


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