The National Maternal and Child Health Centre (NMCHC) said seven per cent of Cambodian women of reproductive age have had an abortion in the past five years, and 40 per cent of the procedures were performed by unlicensed practitioners.
The figures were revealed at a three-day workshop organised by the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC) and funded by the Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) to destigmatise abortions.
The proposed goal was to rescue legitimate abortion service providers and the women who seek their assistance from the disrepute that weighs them down.
Cambodia Midwives Association president Chhay Sveng Chea Ath said at the workshop that over 21 million women in the world had unsafe abortions in 2011.
About 50,000 of those women died while five million suffered short-term or permanent disabilities due to improper abortions, she said.
NMCHC deputy president Pich Sothy told The Post on Wednesday that abortions are not against the law.
However, he said all women must seek safe abortion services as permitted by the Ministry of Health to ensure their health and safety.
“Abortion is not birth control. Women have the right to have abortions when they get pregnant by accident, have bad health conditions, or are raped.
“We do not ban abortions but we do ban abortion services that have no legal authority to operate,” Sothy said.
He said having an abortion is not a sin, but many Buddhist Cambodians disagree, as the religion teaches that killing any living thing is sinful.
Abortion officially became legal in the Kingdom when the National Assembly adopted the Law on Abortion on October 6, 1997.
Sothy said legal and safe abortions can be carried out for women who are in their 12th week of pregnancy or before. Women pursuing an abortion after 12 weeks must provide sound reasons to the abortionist.
Both State and private hospitals can perform abortions after they have received specific training and have been registered with the ministry, he said.
Ministry of Information adviser Kuch Nearadey said there is no shame in having abortions.
She said women should seek professional assistance and avoid illegal abortions which pose serious health risks and can result in permanent damage.
The shame drives women in Cambodia to seek unsafe abortion services, she said. Abortion pills can also seriously harm women.
“The press and media play an important role in spreading abortion awareness to women and encouraging them to find proper abortion services,” Nearadey said.
She said some women confuse birth control and abortion and believe that abortions are entirely safe given that they have been legalised and are mentioned in the media.
But she cautioned that although safe abortions are legal and shouldn’t carry a stigma, multiple abortions and pregnancies often have adverse effects on health.