30 January 2009

Women in East Timor endure unsafe abortions

Women in Timor 'have unsafe abortions' Tara Ravens 30 January 2009 - 6:19PM Women in East Timor are forced into potentially fatal abortions because they cannot legally terminate a pregnancy even for medical reasons, according to a Darwin researcher.

Restrictive laws in the mainly Catholic country mean women cannot request elective abortion for any reason, including to preserve their health or save their lives.

Charles Darwin University (CDU) researcher Dr Suzanne Belton said although there were no figures on the number of unsafe abortions carried out in the fledgling nation, they remain the leading cause of death for pregnant women worldwide.

Completing the first study on unwanted pregnancy in East Timor, Dr Belton - a research associate with CDU's Graduate School for Health Practice - said maternal deaths in East Timor continued to be very high.

"Key findings (of the study) included that induced abortion continued to be performed in secret," she said.

"Forty per cent of all emergency obstetric care was managing and treating complications from early pregnancy losses, and doctors and midwives continued to be reluctant to speak with women about induced abortion."

The study, Maternal Mortality, Unplanned Pregnancy and Unsafe Abortion in Timor-Leste: A Situational Analysis, found medical professionals were reluctant to talk to their patients about abortions.

Dr Belton presented her findings as part of East Timor's first congress on health sciences in Dili in December.

"A huge problem is that there has been no research conducted on unsafe abortion since Timor-Leste's independence from Indonesia in 2002," Dr Belton said.

"This study describes the context of unplanned and unwanted pregnancy and fertility management, as well as investigating and canvassing a way forward."

The study - funded and commissioned by The United Nations Population Fund - also recommended strategies to assist the reduction of morbidity and mortality associated with unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion.

Dr Belton said the law regulating termination of pregnancy in Timor-Leste was highly restrictive.

"The legal situation is complex and confusing for health professionals, given views on abortion are influenced by the Catholic context of the country," she said.

"Access to family planning information, education and supplies is limited and in three of the four health facilities investigated, evidence-based protocols in the provision of post-abortion care were not used."

Dr Belton's research methods included analysing data from a maternal death audit, monitoring service provisions, studying reproductive health indicators, and face-to-face interviews with doctors, midwives and women recovering from early pregnancy losses.

Image added by ETLJB - Traditional East Timorese women.

East Timor Women - Raising awareness of the plight of women in Timor-Leste.

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