Dr Sameh Azzazy, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Welcare Hospital in Dubai, says a change in the law is needed to avoid women undergoing illegal terminations overseas or in unsanitised places


ABU DHABI // Doctors and mothers have called for a change in the law to make terminating a pregnancy permissible even when a foetus is above 120 days.

They say babies are being born with abnormalities that cannot be detected until much later in pregnancy, risking the life of both mother and child.

One mother was told a few weeks before she gave birth that her baby had a chromosomal abnormality that would cause all his organs to gradually shut down, and he would live for less than a year. Grief-stricken and helpless, she must now watch her little boy die.

“There is no worse pain,” she said. “I would not have kept the baby if I had known earlier.”

There had been hopes that a new health law introduced last month would have changed the rules. It did not, and they have remained unaltered since 2008.

A termination is permissible only if the mother’s life is in danger, when it may be carried out at any time; or if the child could not survive after birth, in which case the 120-day limit applies. The period is based on Sharia, as the time at which the soul is believed to enter the body.

“Many anomalies can only be detected at around 150 to 160 days,” said Dr Nazura Siddiqi, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Bareen International Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

A scan for anomalies is routinely carried out at 20 weeks. “Even then, you can miss a lot of congenital anomalies,” Dr Siddiqi said. “I’ve had patients who’ve gone to the 5th and 6th month and only then did they discover that the baby had an abnormality and that the laws did not allow an abortion at the stage.”

Scans before 120 days identify only major abnormalities, she said. “There are many others that we cannot make out until after 150 to 160 days.”

When an abnormality is diagnosed after 120 days, many mothers travel to countries where the law permits later abortions. Some have an illegal termination in the UAE or a neighbouring country, risking serious harm to their health, and possibly their lives.

“Illegal abortions are done in unsanitised, shoddy practices, and are very dangerous,” said Dr Sameh Azzazy, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Welcare Hospital in Dubai.

“The woman is susceptible to disease, or an incomplete abortion that might need another operation. She might suffer severe infections and bleeding that damage the uterus, or even cause death.

“We are talking about serious infections like Aids, hepatitis, or even losing your ability to ever conceive again.

“Women are resorting to these places, or to taking pills to abort the baby, because of the law.”

There should be no hard and fast cut-off date for terminating a pregnancy in cases of severe foetal abnormality, Dr Azzazy argues.

“These have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis and referred to a committee that can include a religious scholar. Our aim in the end, as physicians, is to have a healthy child or a child that can be treated so that ultimately we are not torturing a soul and making the entire family miserable.”