11 June 2009 DILI East Timor (AP) - Women are dying in East Timor from the complications of secret abortions, and the government should make abortion legal and promote contraceptives, a report funded by the U.N. population agency said.
Centuries of Portuguese colonial rule left a deeply entrenched Roman Catholic culture in the tiny Southeast Asian nation of less than a million people, and women have an average of seven children.
The report was released Wednesday, a week after East Timor's parliament passed a controversial law permitting abortions when a woman's life is at risk. Practitioners can still be punished by up to three years in prison for terminating a pregnancy in other cases.
Women use unsafe techniques to terminate pregnancies, such as drinking herbal cocktails, beating their bellies or inserting blunt instruments, the report said, citing hundreds of interviews with women, friends and doctors at several clinics.
The report was released by the U.N. Population Fund; the Alola Foundation, a women's group established by the wife of East Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao; East Timor's Health Ministry; and the Graduate School for Health Practice at Charles Darwin University, Australia.
It recommends that 'modern methods of contraception should be promoted' and that conducting abortions should be removed from the criminal code.
Several Roman Catholic Church officials contacted Thursday by The Associated Press declined to comment.
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Image added by ETLJB: The Roman Catholic Church's policy on abortion in East Timor.