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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Back alley abortions killing Cambodian women

Back alley abortions killing Cambodian women

ILLEGAL abortions performed by unlicensed clinics and unqualified traditional doctors

each year claim the lives of hundreds of women ignorant of alternate family planning

methods - and ignorant that legal abortion is available for $20 - say family planning


Alan Cole, Program Director for the reproductive health service Cambodia Women's

Clinics (CWC) and Country Representative for Marie Stopes International, told the

Post that between 20 and 25 percent of Cambodian women who seek abortion services

from unqualified medical personnel die as a direct result of medical negligence.

"Abortion techniques range from massage [of the woman's womb] to treatments

of herbal medicine preparations to crude insertions of objects into the uterus to

induce irritation," Cole said. "The problem is that these methods cause

high infection rates, so a lot of women die."

A midwife at National Maternal and Child Health Center, who asked not to be named

confirmed that women suffering complications from traditional abortion techniques

regularly come to the center for treatment.

Health experts say such suffering is unnecessary.

A 1997 abortion law allows abortions to be freely performed up to the first 12 weeks

of pregnancy by "licensed hospitals and health centers". Pregnancies after

the twelfth week are permitted if judged to be threatening to the woman's health

or if congenital disease has been detected within the fetus.

The problem? A lingering traditional view that women who seek abortions are not "nice


"Abortion is still unfairly viewed within traditional Khmer society as a recourse

of taxi girls and poor or low-class women," Cole said. "As a result, women

prefer to get abortions secretly from illegal abortionists in order to maintain a

perception of personal virtue."

Unrealistic public perceptions of the cost of safe, legal abortion are also a deterrent

to poorer Cambodians. According to Cole, while CWC charges $20 for a safe, legal

abortion, other clinics charge rates as high as $500. .

According to the Minister of Women's and Veterans' Affairs, Mu Sochua, the dangers

posed by traditional kru Khmer abortion services are a matter of increasing concern

for her ministry.

"I think that when private clinics charge high prices for abortion services,

poor women go to cheap places, where abortions are performed by kru Khmer,"

Sochua told the Post.

"We are working hard to provide correct information about birth control and

abortion services that cost about $20, but less than 30 percent of Cambodian women

have access to any kind of family planning information."

According to Sochua, up to 75 percent of women who seek abortions do so as a "last

resort" form of family planning due to lack of knowledge about contraception.

Such ignorance opens the door to potential horrific abuse by kru Khmer and traditional

midwives who lack the skills and training to safely perform abortions.

"We are concerned about the abortionists who lack proper skills ... currently

the number of Cambodian midwives and medical personnel who have received adequate

training [in performing abortions] is still very limited," said Vong Vathiny,

Executive Director of the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC).

"I think women in rural areas are regularly put at risk of death and illness

after having an abortion provided by a local midwife who has never had proper medical


And although Cambodia's abortion law stipulates penalties of between one and ten

years jail for abortions that result in a woman's disability or death, health officials

say legal action against illegal abortionists is impossible due to an inability or

unwillingness of victims to press charges.



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