In Pakistan Birth Control and Religion Clash
In Pakistan, less than 1 percent of GDP is spent on health care. Government hospitals lack qualified staff and medicine. Private hospitals like the United Christian Hospital in Lahore, where Raashid is the chief physician, are underfunded. In her hospital nursery, soap is scarce. But a newborn baby boy, with a shock of black hair, does have the benefit of an incubator where he lies sleeping.
This newborn is among the fortunate few in Pakistan born in a medical facility. It’s estimated that at least 70 percent of Pakistani babies are born at home with the assistance of a midwife, but many of those birthing attendants are unskilled and the children battle disease from their very early days.
He’s one of the fortunate few who could take advantage of being born inside a hospital, which is not the case for most children in Pakistan.
It’s estimated that at least 70 percent of Pakistani children are born at home, many without a skilled birthing attendant. The result is that 12,000 mothers die in childbirth in Pakistan each year. To save more mothers, Raashid says, Pakistan must invest in more midwives.
“You really don’t need hi-fi doctors everywhere,” she says. “You need proper-trained midwives. Skilled birth attendants working in the villages — I mean skilled women — can go and deliver the patients at home. And at the moment we have only 25 percent of women being delivered by skilled birth attendants.”
Raashid leaves the room to see a patient and perform an abortion.
In Islam, there is no strict, unanimous ban on abortion, but Muslim jurists agree that it is forbidden after the fetus is completely formed and has been given a soul. Islamic theologians differ on when that happens: The Hanafi School of Islamic law prevalent in Pakistan is among the least restrictive. It says the soul is deemed to come into the fetus at four months, and so up to four months, abortion may be induced for “good cause.”
But Raashid says abortion has become a dangerous form of birth control as women submit themselves to unskilled practitioners.
“I know definitely that there is a very large number of women who die because of abortion-related complications,” she says. “It’s the fifth-leading cause of maternal death in Pakistan because of the infections related to incomplete abortions and septic abortions.”