THE Health Ministry has issued a directive warning state and private health officials that they will face legal action for failing to observe abortion laws, amid concerns that a high number of women are continuing to use unsafe services.
The notice, signed by Health Minister Mam Bun Heng and released Wednesday evening, states that the ministry will take “strong measures” to prosecute service providers who do not comply with the 1997 Law on Abortion.
Under the law, abortion services can only be provided by medical professionals who have been authorised by the Ministry of Health, and only in government-approved facilities.
But experts have warned that a dearth of certified medical professionals – combined with a low level of awareness that abortion is legal – has meant that a large number of women continue to resort to unsafe abortion services, which are estimated to account for up to 29 percent of maternal deaths in the Kingdom.
As of September 2009, less than 200 private providers nationwide were legally certified to provide abortions, according to a report from Population Services International.
The report also showed that more than 80 percent of respondents surveyed in Kampot and Kampong Thom provinces said they believed abortion was illegal..
According to a 2007 study from international NGO Ipas, 40 percent of providers working in hospitals believed that elective abortion was against the law.
Paou Linar, the head of child and maternal health care for the municipal Health Department in Phnom Penh, said that as well as cracking down on illegal providers, the ministry aimed to “encourage women who want to get abortion services [to seek] expert or professional doctors in order to avoid effects on their health or lives”.