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Abortion: Women's Bodies, Women's Choices

If women cannot have full control over their vaginas, and whether or when to have children, their fundamental freedoms and human rights are being seriously violated. Every woman is entitled to her own sexual autonomy and fulfilment; thus they have the rights to decide what should happen to their bodies, particularly their reproductive organs. These rights are recognised by our national constitution and legislation, as well as the international human rights instruments. The bottom line is that if women want to have children, they should have children. If women do not want to have children, they should not have children. By extension, if pregnant women want or need to have an abortion, they should have access to safe, affordable and legal abortion regardless of the stage of the pregnancy.

In fact, Cambodian law grants that abortion is legal. But the 1997 law on abortion is conservative and bears a paternal nature, granting the vastly male-dominated government the power to regulate women’s bodies. This power is reflected in article eight, for instance, which states that abortion is legal only within the first trimester of pregnancy (the first 12 weeks after conception). After this 12 week period has passed,, abortion is only permissible only under the following circumstances: of course, no rush!(a) if there is a probability of the pregnancy developing abnormally or if the pregnancy poses a danger to the mother’s life; (b) if the baby who will be born “can get an incurable disease”; or (c) if the pregnancy is caused by rape. In these cases, the abortion must be approved by a group of “2 or 3 medical personnel.”

These provisions undermine the well-established notion of “women's bodies, women's choice!”

Why should an adult pregnant woman need approval from 2 or3 strangers [medical personnel] should she want/need to have abortion? She is an adult. She can make decisions independently about her own body. She is responsible for her conduct in front of the law. If she commits any wrongdoing against the law, she is expected to be convicted and imprisoned, but she is not adult enough to decide what should happen to her vagina? Where is the logic in that? The point is whatever the circumstances, restricting or banning abortion based on stage of pregnancy is equivalent to taking away the control from the concerned woman over her body, and stripping her of access to safe medical procedures and experienced medical practitioners. It completely undermines women’s freedom of choices, their human rights, and can place women in a very vulnerable position. It might leave women no choice but to seek unsafe abortion services from unregulated clinics/ market with untrained personnel, which puts their lives at risk.

What need to happen now? Simply put, women's bodies, women's choice! Sex, pregnancy and abortion relate to women’s sexual and reproductive organs, which are intimate areas of each individual woman’s body. Women (and trans men) with vaginas and uteruses should have the right to independently decide whether, or when to have sex, or to have children or to have an abortion. I would respectfully and encouragingly say this to any woman, if you need to have an abortion, get an abortion! If you want to have an abortion, get an abortion! If you are pregnant and don’t want/need to have an abortion, don’t get an abortion! It is your right; your body is your choice! The decision about whether to have an abortion is a very personal one and it should belong to where it rightfully belongs - the concerned woman!

Lastly I call on the government and general public to stop controlling women’s bodies - get out of women’s vaginas and treat women’s bodies with respect. The government agencies particularly the ministry of health and the ministry of women’s affairs have to proactively ensure that there are adequate facilities, equipment, and that experienced medical practitioners are systematically in placed in under-serviced, poor and remote areas to facilitate and respond to the needs of women in need of abortion services. Likewise, the legislatures should immediately initiate a process to amend the law on abortion to reflect freedom of choice, particularly to ensure women’s rights to decide about whether and when to have an abortion by themselves beyond the first trimester.

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