Indonesia: Abortion issue sparks variety of reactions

The Jakarta Post
A proposal by 13 Muslim scholars that abortion be legalized for pregnancy caused by rape or incest has sparked a variety of reactions among religious leaders.
The Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) rejected the suggestion on Monday, arguing that abortion in cases of unwanted pregnancy due to rape or incest, was still classified as the taking of a life, jinayah or murder.
"Abortion (in case of pregnancy due to rape or incest) is still jinayah (murder). Generally, we in MUI still consider it haram (forbidden)," MUI's Fatwa Commission chairman Ma'ruf Amin said on Monday.

Lily Zakiah Munir of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)'s women's wing, however, welcomed the proposal, saying that it was in line with the thoughts now developing within the organization.

"A law should be considered for its usefulness for the public at large. NU usually assigns the responsibility to think about the problem to its women's organization, as we share similar views to the researchers," Lily said.

NU, which has around 40 million members, is the country's largest Muslim organization.

Lily said abortion should be considered as an attempt to save the life of rape and incest victims, both physically and psychologically.

Thirteen Muslim scholars announced the results of their research last week, calling for the legalization of abortion for victims of rape and incest.

They also recommended abortion for a fetus with a potentially life-threatening disability.

The researchers from Syarief Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Kalijaga State Islamic University of Yogyakarta, Allauddin State Islamic University of Makassar, South Sulawesi, and privately-run Yarsi University argued that such unwanted pregnancies endangered the lives of the mothers.

The organization had earlier recommended that abortion could be conducted in an emergency situation, when the pregnancy endangered the life of the mother. Most religious leaders here are against abortion as it is generally considered the taking of a life.

The researchers, however, argued that it should also encompass victims of rape and incest as women made pregnant under those circumstances experienced unbearable trauma, which could lead to the death of either the mother or the baby.

"So we should consider how to help the victim physically and mentally," Atho Muzhar, the research coordinator from Syarief Hidayatullah University, said.

Atho said the suggestion was also aimed at protecting doctors from legal prosecution after performing an abortion, which is considered a criminal act under the country's Criminal Code.

He said the recommendation, if accepted, would reduce the incidence of unsafe abortion, which is believed to have contributed to the high mortality rate among mothers.

According to the latest data issued by the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), the maternal mortality rate was 307 per 1,000 births, the highest among Asian countries, many of them due to unsafe abortions.

Ma'ruf insisted that the majority of ulemas, including MUI, still prohibit abortion.

He, however, admitted that some intellectuals would tolerate abortion under certain tight requirements.

MUI consists of representatives of several Muslim organizations, including the mainstream NU and Muhammadiyah.