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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Government finally issues abortion prakas

Government finally issues abortion prakas

Five years after abortion was legalized in Cambodia the Ministry of Health (MoH)

has finally issued the prakas that authorizes health centers and hospitals to perform

terminations.

Officials said they were confident the new legislation would reduce Cambodia's rate

of maternal mortality, which is one of the highest in Asia.

The 1997 Abortion Law states that abortions can be performed only in institutions

that have been authorized by the MoH. Until September 2, when the prakas was released,

all abortion service providers including reputable centers and hospitals technically

did not have authorization, and so risked being shut down or sued by the government.

Dr Chhun Long, national reproductive health program manager, said the new prakas

would lead to an increase in the number of public and private clinics providing safe

abortion services.

"We hope this prakas will increase the use of birth spacing and decrease the

number of maternal deaths from unsafe abortions," Dr Chhun said. "We will

also increase the number of midwives and provide them with training on safe abortion."

Service providers can now apply to the Department of Referral Hospitals for authorization

and will be assessed according to MoH guidelines on service provision, quality of

facilities and level of staff training. The MoH said many private centers already

had basic equipment but it would take longer to train staff and equip public sector

providers.

Mu Sochua, Minister of Women's and Veterans' Affairs, welcomed the new legislation,

saying it was 'way overdue'. However she warned that the prakas alone was insufficient

to reduce maternal health risks.

"The Ministry of Health will have to increase the quality and quantity of its

services to respond to the reproductive needs of women," Sochua said.

Heng Satha, director of the Cambodian Women's Clinic (CWC), said the new legislation

would make the practice of abortion more open.

"It will increase safe abortions, and women will be encouraged to be brave and

use these services," Satha said.

CWC is currently the only NGO that provides safe abortion services. Its agreement

with the MoH allows it to provide abortions on medical grounds.

However the number of NGOs providing services might not increase following the implementation

of the prakas. Many reproductive health NGOs are funded by USAID, and the US government's

foreign aid body has guidelines that prevent it from supporting or promoting abortion

services.

Sochua said it was "lucky" Cambodia did not rely only on USAID funding

for abortion services.

"This is the problem when you depend on aid with conditionality," she said.

"As a member of the government I support the Ministry of Health's position which

is to deliver services to women in need, especially to reduce the risk of maternal

mortality."

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