Abortion under spotlight in conservative Morocco

RABAT, Morocco (AFP) — The debate over abortion rights has flared in Morocco after a teenager’s death following an unsafe termination, but social taboos continue to stall reforms.

“If I spoke out for abortion rights in front of my brothers, I’d be risking my life,” student Leila, 21, said.

In September, a 14-year-old identified as Meriem died following an unsafe procedure in a rural village in the country’s center.

The conservative North African kingdom, which criminalizes abortion, has since seen growing calls for reform to women’s reproductive rights, although pervasive social attitudes and a lack of political will continue to block change.

“If I said the word ‘abortion’ in my family, I’d be accused and rejected, even by my parents,” 22-year-old Amal, a student at the University of Rabat, said.

‘Law that kills’

Unless a pregnancy endangers a woman’s health, Moroccan women undergoing abortions face up to two years in jail, while those assisting them risk five years’ imprisonment.

Local organizations say that despite the heavy penalties, between 600 and 800 women have an abortion every day in the country of 38 million people — many in dangerous, unsanitary conditions.

Meriem’s was carried out “at the home of a young man who was sexually exploiting the victim,” Moroccan feminist coalition Spring of Dignity said.

Her death came seven years after a royal commission recommended decriminalizing the procedure in “certain cases” such as rape, incest, fetal malformation or if the mother is mentally disabled.

But the report changed “nothing,” according to gynecologist Chafik Chraibi, a campaigner for legalization.

“There’s nothing but silence, the subject isn’t a priority,” he told AFP.

Chraibi, the founder of the Moroccan Association Against Clandestine Abortion, says a lack of political will is blocking any change to an “archaic” law that dates back to 1963.

A draft bill to modify the legislation has been presented twice to parliament before being withdrawn without any official explanation.

Dozens of rights activists gathered outside parliament in late September to demand changes to the “law that kills.”

Families Minister Aawatif Hayar told parliament last month that the government was taking “serious interest” in changing the penal code.
But any changes must “respect Islamic law and be acceptable to Moroccan society,” she said.

Campaigner Chraibi said religious authorities and Moroccan conservatism were blocking moves towards decriminalization — but added that nothing in Islamic law explicitly bans the practice.

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