1669732601 Thediplomat 2022 11 29 134031

Legal, Accessible, Declining – The Diplomat

Crossroads Asia | Society | Central Asia

Abortion in Uzbekistan has never been politicized as in the West, but the termination of a pregnancy is becoming less common.

Abortion in Uzbekistan: legal, accessible, declining

People at Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Credit: Depositphotos

In Uzbekistan, women have always had access to safe abortion. Current legislation allows the termination of a pregnancy within the first 12 weeks and at any stage if the pregnancy threatens the mother’s health or life. The law lists 86 types of various life- and health-threatening medical indications, including severe types of diabetes, hereditary and degenerative mental disorders, mood disorders, epilepsy, and more. Age is also considered a risk factor and girls under 14 are allowed to have an abortion.

At the same time, abortion and the birth of babies have long been among nine types of medical practices that cannot be performed by private medical entities, along with organ transplants, blood donation, provision of medico-forensic examinations and other similar medical services. Such services are limited to the government in part as an effort to prevent the sale of children and the illegal documentation of births and deaths. Local private clinics can lose their licenses by performing illegal abortions or delivery services. In recent years, for example, a local private medical clinic in Samarkand that practiced abortion and baby sales had their license taken away four times in a row. Although the government has approved allowing private medical institutions to engage in births in 2019, the presidential decree does not allow private clinics to perform abortions.

The criminal code of Uzbekistan present administrative or criminal liability only for those who force women to abort a child or who perform illegal abortions, but a woman herself is under no circumstances liable for the termination of a pregnancy.

The main reason for government support for women’s bodily autonomy may be concerns about overpopulation. Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia. From only 24 million in 2000, the country’s population has increased to more 35 million in 2021. Tashkent has long promote family planning and prevention of unwanted babies via local healthcare entities, even in the most remote villages. Contraceptives are available without any restrictions.

Yet the number of abortions has decreased – it has fallen 42 682 abortions in 2007 to 35,449 in 2021. The number of abortions per 100 births increased from 7.4 in 2007 to a 4.1 in 2021. One reason for this is an improved quality of life in the country. Many women in the early 2000s chose abortion because of the financial problems of raising multiple children, especially in the midst of the global financial crisis. Traditionally, Uzbek families have 5-7 children, but living through the economic hardships of a newly independent country has made it nearly impossible for many couples to support more than a few children. Some women reported having six or more abortions, which later caused adverse health problems for them. This can be seen in the practice of abortion among different age groups – in 2007 women aged 35 or over were responsible for more than 25 percent of abortions, but by the 2020s it had declined to only 7 percent.

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Apart from economic motivations, women also reportedly chose abortion in the 2000s because contraceptives were expensive. For example, a good quality contraceptive product that will not harm a woman’s health costs 7,000-8,000 Uzbek sum per month in the mid-2000s; the monthly minimum wage in the country is set at 10,800 sum in 2006. Because abortions were (and still are) provided in public hospitals (and either very cheap or free), it was an obvious choice for many local women. This may be a factor, even if the use of contraceptives has officially declined as well. In 2007, 51.1 percent women aged 15 to 45 used IUDs while another 5.3 percent used hormonal pills, but as of 2021 only 46.9 percent of women use contraceptives (44.1 percent IUDs and 2.8 percent hormonal pills). But because hormonal birth control pills are available everywhere and women don’t have to register with local health institutions to acquire them (unlike IUDs), it’s safe to assume more women are on hormonal pills than officially reported.

Decreases in abortion may be due to the increasing influence of Islam in the community. Although Hanafi Islam, which is practiced by the majority of Uzbeks, allows abortion in certain circumstances (if a pregnancy threatens the mother’s life or the fetus has dangerous defects that cannot be treated), Islamic leaders are generally. admonish Muslims against it, especially after the first 120 days of pregnancy. The online spaceused successfully by local Muslim scholars and preachers, it made it possible for millions to relearn Islam after seven decades of Soviet atheism and it included warning against abortion.

Uzbekistan remains one of the safest countries for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Not only are women not punished for choosing an abortion, but the wider society does not condemn or confront them for their choices. Yet women often share their experiences only within their inner circles, and abortion is not widely discussed in public.

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