The global right to abortion debate has been a protracted one; the communities that are still engaged in that debate are still bogged down in principle issues. A pro-life and conservative stance versus a progressive libertarian one. Pakistan is past that debate – without much ado, considering the persistence of the death penalty and state sponsored extrajudicial killings – abortion is legal. Yet that law contains an illogical legal precondition that undercuts the positive effect of this law. More than that the state’s reluctance to emphasise an issue they consider ‘sensitive’ or ‘controversial’ is piling up on this and making Pakistan a dangerous country for women.

Data reveals that around 200,000 women in Sindh opted for abortion last year, indicating an increase in abortion cases by 20,000 in a year and double over the past 13 years. The figure in itself wouldn’t have been a problem had these been medically sound abortions; the imposing law and hands-off attitude adopted by the government forces women to seek the help out crude means and untrained healthcare professionals, which endanger their lives –a fact backed up by the alarmingly high member of reported post-abortion complications. The law allows abortion only if the mother’s health is in danger, not in any other scenario. The logic of this is inexplicable. We consider the life and wellbeing of the mother important enough to override the “right to life” of the unborn foetus. An unplanned birth adds a heavy financial and practical burden on families – to the extent that poor families suffer a virtually similar drop in wellbeing for the mother, and by extension the whole family. Yet a mother seeking an abortion because she cannot afford another child is turned away by the government. Only the vaguest conservative moral notions support this precondition, while more than 623,000 women are treated for post abortion complications because they are forced to go to untrained professionals. The costs are overbearing while the benefits are non-existent.

The need to remove this proviso becomes more compelling once we consider how the government has all but abandoned attempts to promote contraceptive measures. Pakistan has the one of the lowest modern contraceptive usage rates in the region. In the absence of contraception abortion becomes the first option, the first line of defence rather than being used as a last resort. The government needs to clarify its stance on abortion, and adopt more principled laws. More than that, we need to restart a national family planning campaign, and improve both pre-abortion and post-abortion healthcare provision.