Nisaa FM: - The non-profit organisation Women on Web is helping provide safe abortions to women in Arab countries where the procedure is illegal
Syrian doctor helps women in non-profit organisation
“Dear Women on Web, I'm sorry for being a burden to you, but you are my only last hope,” reads the email from a Kuwaiti woman in Nour Saadi's inbox.
Nour Saadi is a doctor originally from Aleppo in Syria. She receives hundreds of emails monthly from women across the Arab world with urgent pleas for help doing something that is technically illegal in their countries: getting an abortion. Nearly two-thirds of the world's countries ban or severely restrict abortions, including the entire Arab world.
“I am a refugee in Sudan and I have [an] unwanted pregnancy,” another woman explains. “I don't have anyone who can help me, so please help me before my relative kills me.”
Saadi now lives in the Netherlands and works for Women on Web, a Dutch pro-choice non-profit organisation. It assists women in difficult situations seeking a first-trimester medical abortion - irrespective of their circumstances or location. The organisation was set up by Dutch doctor Rebecca Gomperts in 2005 and it helps around 60,000 women every year by providing advice on how to get specific World Health Organisation-approved pills that safely terminate a pregnancy, as well as general sexual health advise.
Amal from Jordan is one of the women helped
In Jordan, unless the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life, abortions are criminalised under the penal code, with women facing between six months and three years in prison for either inducing their own miscarriage or undergoing the procedure. According to Justice Ministry figures some 49 Jordanian women have been imprisoned for abortion between 2009 and 2016.
“I decided to have an abortion because my husband's salary is just not enough,” explains Amal, a 35-year-old homemaker living in the impoverished Jordanian province of Zarqa.
Already a mother to two children, she knew a third would push them to breaking point because her husband earns a salary of just $210 a month. Her husband supported her, as did her friends and family. “The general attitude towards abortion in Jordan is that everyone rejects the idea,” she tells. “But I told everyone and no-one objected. My husband was very understanding.”
After completing an online consultation with a licensed doctor that covered her medical conditions and the risks associated with the abortion, she was asked to donate around 90 euros. When Amal said she could not afford it, Women on Web agreed to get her the drugs anyway.
The alternative is unqualified doctors and unnecessary health risks
For most women in the Arab world, getting an abortion is usually very dangerous. Because it is illegal, it often involves unqualified doctors and unnecessary health risks.
“Complications from an unsafe abortion can be life threatening, especially when performed in unsanitary settings, by unskilled providers or both; and many women may not seek post-abortion care treatment at all in fear of legal reprisals or mistreatment,” explains Rita Nehme, who works on reproductive health at the International Rescue Committee.
On a global scale, from eight to 18 percent of maternal deaths around the world are estimated to be due to unsafe abortions, according to Human Rights Watch. Those without money or connections often resort to high-risk solutions, such as drinking abortion "potions" made of poisonous herbs or harmful chemicals, punching themselves in the belly or inserting sharp objects inside themselves.
Women on Web is blocked in many countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. However, the website provides numerous workarounds to allow people to still get in contact with them. They have set up an Arabic-language Facebook page, where women can get information via Messenger. They also have an app on Google Play.
“I wish that Arabic countries and media would talk more about a woman's right to get this service,” says Saadi. “It is taking place in these countries anyway, but under the table.”