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Ana Maria Luca

Lebanon’s abortion question

The woman’s blue eyes were moist with tears as she sat in a café in Achrafieh talking about the abortion she had in Lebanon. The woman, a foreigner, had gone through the procedure a few months before, and she said she hadn’t recovered completely. At 37, she was determined to keep the baby and raise it on her own, but her Lebanese partner wouldn’t agree to let her have the baby and even threatened to find her and punish her if she did so.

“If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” she said. “But when you’re in that situation, emotionally vulnerable and alone, you can be manipulated easily,” she told NOW Lebanon. “You have no idea how many women who went through the same thing but they choose not to talk about it.”

Abortion is illegal in Lebanon, but even though they can spend up to five years in prison for having one, many women here terminate their pregnancies, and many doctors perform them in secret for hefty sums of money.  Abortions are usually performed by gynecologists late in the evening when their clinics are empty. They can charge between $500 and $2,000, according to a nurse who agreed to speak to NOW Lebanon on condition of anonymity. The doctors are not always very professional in their relationship with the patient, the nurse said, and the procedures can sometimes end tragically.

All doctors NOW Lebanon contacted refused to talk about abortion, but the nurse explained the methods used in Lebanese clinics. “In my opinion it’s murder starting day one. I wouldn’t choose this option, but I also understand people who choose it,” he said. “Usually, abortions in Lebanon are performed by vacuum or dilation. Some doctors also use the chemical abortion, and they administer RU486, which is illegal to sell in Lebanon but can be found, or veterinarian-use oxitocin to induce early labor,” he added.

He said that in many villages and poor neighborhoods of Beirut, women who can’t afford to go to a doctor use “more handy” but dangerous methods to end unwanted pregnancies. For them, it’s sometimes a question of life and death. “They use mechanical dilation with some utensil in the kitchen or even with their hands, or they hit their bellies until they have internal hemorrhaging, and they even bang their heads to get rid of the pregnancy. Sometimes it ends tragically,” he said. Unmarried women from conservative areas who become pregnant also face the danger of harm from their families. “Honor killing still happens, even in the suburbs of Beirut, where I live,” he explained.

But sometimes, not even doctors are professional or careful enough with their patients. The foreign woman cried as she recalled her two meetings with the Lebanese gynecologist chosen by her partner to perform her abortion. “His behavior was completely unethical. When I told him I wanted to raise the baby myself, he told me, ‘How will you explain to the child that you stole him away from his father,’ and ‘We need to do it quickly,’ and ‘I know his family, it’s a good family,’” she said. “He gave me a week to think about it because [he said] after the 7th week [of gestation] it’s murder.”

She also said she was surprised that the doctor never checked on her after performing the abortion, and never asked her to go back to the clinic for a checkup to make sure she didn’t have any complications. “He insisted on doing the abortion on Wednesday, simply because he was leaving on vacation on Thursday and he needed the money. He didn’t even talk to me after the procedure. He called my boyfriend in and told him, ‘It’s over. She’s clean now,’” she said. While the woman broke up with her partner right after the procedure, she says it took her months to get over the abortion.

According to social workers at women’s rights organization Kafa, many women here go through the same ordeal if they have an unwanted pregnancy.  Having a child out of wedlock is practically impossible in Lebanon, not just because unwed mothers are marginalized by Lebanese society but also because the law doesn’t allow single women to register their children. The baby won’t receive the Lebanese nationality and “would have on the ID the label of lakit, the Lebanese word for bastard,” said Rima Abi Nadr, a senior social worker at Kafa.

Because it is illegal, when a woman chooses to have an abortion, “usually the doctors go smart about it. They always find a way… to justify the procedure,” such as claiming the pregnancy has to be terminated because the fetus is heavily malformed or that the pregnancy would endanger the mother’s life, which is technically legal.  “We have cases of young women who call our hotline and ask for help when they get pregnant. But a social worker can’t take the responsibility of recommending an abortion. We usually advise them to talk to their family,” Abi Nadr said.

There is no campaign to legalize or regulate abortion in Lebanon, and women’s rights activists don’t expect one in the near future. According to Abi Nadr, the lack of sexual education in schools and lack of promotion of contraceptive use, as well as people’s reluctance to have “the sex talk” with their children are to blame for the unwanted pregnancies that end up being terminated. “If you are a woman and you ask for condoms from the pharmacy, you get the look, and you don’t find information about contraception easily,” she said.

  • ali soufan

    in my opinion abortion is a right for women , and it could be legal in some cases.thx

    May 21, 2012

  • Michael Chacra

    Lucy, you are not going to find any statistics! Abortion is illegal in lebanon so naturally noone is going to report it. Noone who has done it is even willing to talk about it.

    May 16, 2012

  • samar

    lol

    February 29, 2012

  • Lucy

    What are the major causes of abortion in Lebanon... couldn't find a single statistic on the issue.

    January 15, 2012

  • Michael Chacra

    Hello, I am a film writer who is interested in the topic of abortion in lebanon for a movie I plan to write and direct. I am interested in interviewing individuals who have had an abortion before. If you know anyone who is willing to talk (both women and/or their partners) please let me know. I can be found on facebook. Thanks.

    September 13, 2011

  • Lenx

    A discussion about morality of abortion seems somewhat irrelevant. Abortion in Lebanon is a reality which is not going away anytime soon. What bothers me is that abortion is often a choice of men rather than women, that the society is promoting it and that for doctors it’s a business that some approach unethically. You criticise women who choose to abort. But what about the impunity of the second half of the couple, the men? You don't questions his right to abortion, you question only hers. Yet, the article says 'her Lebanese partner wouldn’t agree to let her have the baby and even threatened to find her and punish her' Did she have the right to keep the baby? In a society where single-mothers are unable to register their children, it's so easy for men to reject their responsibility and force a woman to abort.

    September 20, 2010

  • Lenx

    It also strikes me that no one wonders about the ethical dimension of the abortion business. Nobody seems to wonder whether it is ok for a gynaecologist to give you deadlines or one-sided advice, to set the price by a quick assessment of your social standing, and to provide zero medical follow up. The 2000 dollar cheque that people sign are probably the easiest 2000 dollars that a doctor makes, all untaxed. The unregulated effortlessness of the act in Lebanon makes me wonder why Irish, American or Polish women don’t choose to have their abortions here.

    September 20, 2010

  • SpidySaidaweh

    Do you have children? Imagine someone else had your child and they decided to not bring him/her into this world? What right does that person have with terminating the life of a baby? What about you, or your best friend or anyone you know that could have been aborted by their parents. Imagine you are missing one of these people who mean a lot to you in your life because their mother took it into her hands to let live or die? Does that give the mother the right to give up her responsibilities over her child anytime before and after birth? Please Sophie we have our issues in Lebanon but every country has its problems and issues. One of Lebanon's issue is this wana be western mentality which is creating the subjects of abortion. Not that everything western is negative. No there is much to take and learn from the western culture. Yet it doesnt mean you take the bad. AND CASUAL SEX IS A BAD.

    September 14, 2010

  • SpidySaidaweh

    Sophie, Homosexuality is just an extreme act of fornication just like the most of these issues that arise in which men and woman are having sex. They should both be un acceptable as apposed to the way you put it which is the Gays are treated like animals. The concept of casual sex whether it be same sex or hetrosexual is a huge regress and not a progress for society. Tell me what Good has come out of couples whether it be hetro or homo that has contributed to society? Look at all cultures that promote premarital and liberal sexual activities. Divorce right is RIDICULOUS! with the most un-healthiest families that have broken bonds. Not to mention the trauma the kids grow to pass onto their children. I agree with you with regards to the law regarding a single mother not being able to register her child but that is not the case. The case is if she was married she can register her child if the father is not around and has proof of him being her husband.

    September 14, 2010

  • SpidySaidaweh

    The core of the issue is that society has come to the point where sex is a common practice with no boundaries limit or value. That premarital sex is a right for one to practice and its "cool" if you do practice it when it shouldn't be as such. Its that fact that people have sex casually as if it is like sharing a meal or a cup of coffee."That is the main issue. If two couples love each other and are committed to each other why would they even hint the idea of abortion?!? even if they don't have money? Giving abortion rights to the mother is not the way to go. You have to bare the fruit of the seed you plant. I mean you want to have sex but not be responsible for your actions. Sex isn't a normal thing like it is perceived in the western liberal cultures. Its is something that deserves more respect and more worth then just left and right physical satisfaction.

    September 13, 2010

  • Sarita

    i think that making following big campaign a) about the necesity of condon use and pill control birth, b)sexual education at highschool, c) creating social concience in societe, in man and in men, about the right number of son what couple can support will be faster than admment law, making it, without havieng women well set up concept about responsabile matternity, it is to open the door, to have many children without any kind of protection, the important is that woman understand, that ONE SON IS GIVEN TO WHOM GIVE ONE HOME, and that ONE SON DOESNT TIE TO ONE MAN, NOR THE MOTHER, IF BOTH ARE NOT RESPONSABILE

    September 13, 2010

  • Anna

    Anna, Are you even familiar with Lebanon's adoption laws before you suggest women take it upon themselves to give up their children for adoption? If she is going to give the child up and wants to be in its life and she happens to be muslim, then forget it. She has to abandon the child on a street corner somewhere and hope that somebody finds it. Besides the "loving couples" you speak of, half of them are not legally allowed to adopt and the other half can only adopt from the institutions run by their religious affiliation. Contraception, education and the legalization of both abortions AND single mothering are the only solutions to this issue.

    September 12, 2010

  • Sarita

    I consider that woman must give her hers space by dignity, she must let that man goes to pharmacy and buys the condom by himself, he is wiho will be use them, not her, she must not give all her in one trial for one man, she must buy her pills control bills, when you are in any kind of relation, where 2 people are involved, BOTH MUST PARTICIPATE IN BODY AND HEAD, not only one person, enought she is making with being with him at bed by love, hot times, protstituion, etc, the lack of condon use is a complex in one man, one real man is not measure for how many son he has throw in the owrld, it is gotten, for how many son he can care in good condtions,

    September 12, 2010

  • Sarita

    we are enought adult people to know that for making or not the things, we will find enought reason to justify our actions, i was widowed at 25 years old, with one baby of 4 month in my belly, i was not working in that time, i could chose to stop my baby, but i didnt do, now he is 17 years,to be widowed, i was married, so with my marriage papers, i registered my baby, under all legal action due to my marriage, so there is one excuse, for lack of man besides woman, to stop the life of one baby. it is a topic of decision,

    September 12, 2010

  • sarita gonzalez

    woman who goes to bed, go by 3 reasons: love, hot times or by prostitution,we are enough aduits to recognize them, l in any of 3 sceneries she is in obligation to avoid baby, if the other person doent collaborate in the topic, ONLY BY SOCIAL RESPONSABILTIY, woman who makes one, will be make 2 aborts, becuase she lost the respect to the life's concept, it is similar way of acting, like when woman is unloyal to her husband one time, she will be unloyal by second time, under any excuse, besides who makes one abort, is the first person what recommend to other to make as fast solution to the problem,

    September 12, 2010

  • 1984

    Before giving the right to abort, we should give the right to raise a child as a single mother. Maybe the number of abortions would decrease if women could raise their children on their own. What happens if the woman is widowed during pregnancy? Who registers the children? It's always the women who suffers in such situations. The man uses her for what he wants and then wants nothing to do with her. Men should have the responsibility to look after their children, no matter what the conditions are. We should all be legally obliged to supporting our children both financially and emotionally.

    September 11, 2010

  • Tim Lebanese

    Great article, I can not believe that a woman can not register her newborn on her own. What a disgeace of a society we are where we deny a woman her simple rights. That is truthfuly disgusting and disrespectful.

    September 11, 2010

  • Anna

    Abortion has become the civilized world's way for a woman to dispose of a mistake she's made by killing an innocent human being. If you get pregnant, carry to term, have the baby, you don't want him/her you put him/her out for adoption, millions of good couples would love to adopt. Unless the mother's life is in danger there is no reason for abortion, even in the case of rape or incest two wrongs don't make a right and killing a baby is cruel. Unlike what the feminists tell you, the fetus is a baby it can't be anything else not a butterfly nor a rat just a baby, and killing it for your convenience is murder. What about the woman's right to chose, about half those babies are girls don't they get to chose? The emotional toll on the woman after an abortion is great, studies showing many of them regret the act. Pro abortion group have been doing they best to desensitize the act turning it into a routine procedure and asking for late term abortion in the name of choice, it's still killing

    September 11, 2010

  • sophie

    My husband is from lebanon ...im from canada. He always wants to bring me there to meet his family...but its stories like these that make me say no.. there are so many issues that really .... me off about this country, and they dont have anything to do with israel and hezbollah.Womens rights and practically non existent, and the gays are treated less than human. I find it funny that the lebanese pride themselves on being modern, what with all the parties and nightclubs. And yet the countries policies are sooooo archaic. Most of the young lebanese living abroad do even know about all the messed up rules there are back home. What lebanon needs is all the young people to take a stand ....instead of just clubbing and hanging at the beachclubs . If my country was so .... up id be a fulltime activist!

    September 11, 2010

  • Sarita

    when people recognize one social problem withouit putting one soft dress, the situation will be solved, THE DOCTOR WHAT MAKES THE ABORT AND THE PERSON WHAT REQUIRES IT, IS HIRING AND PAYING FOR ONE SICARIO TASK, yes, as you read, because the sicario kills by payment and order, with the difference that adult people unless can run a bit, even he will be killed, sicario has straight shoot, but baby dont have chance of moving, ABORT IS A SICARIO TASK TOO,

    September 11, 2010

  • Sarita

    ABORT is a topic very old show into people, it have been present in all cultures and time, check books about Lucrecia Borgia, who in indirect way taught how making domestic abortion,one way how to eliminate it, it is to have a big campaign about condon use and pill 's control birthl, movie taboo and talk in opeend way about it, because when one abort is done, one human being is secure what wont be born, but the mother also can die, and if she has other children, appear the BIG SOCIAL COST for the orphans what will loose her mother. NOBODY HAS THE RIGHT TO KILL OTHER HUMAN BEING, WORST IF HE IS IN THE BELLY, BUT SHE HAS ALL CHANCE TO PREVENT HIM.

    September 11, 2010