The Ongoing Fight for Abortion Rights in Morocco

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Moroccan protestors gathered outside of parliament in Rabat with hundreds of signs that read “We are all Meriem.” Meriem was the latest victim of Morocco’s strict abortion laws, a14-year-old rape victim who had sadly lost her life undergoing an illegal abortion after being attacked by a 24-year old man. They commemorated her life on International Safe Abortion Day. The #مريم (#Meriem) has since been circulating all over Moroccan social media to express support for the victim and her sexual exploitation. It also simultaneously acts as a symbol of resistance against Morocco’s abortion laws. 

Like many other countries, Morocco has imposed an abortion ban except in the circumstance where the mother’s health is at risk. In other instances, it can be punishable by up to five years in prison. Activists are now urging lawmakers to liberalize termination of pregnancies in all circumstances and make it affordable to all. However, these protests also uncover a much larger issue – the lenient sentences that abusers, like Meriem’s, face. Additionally, the recent United States Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion options up to the individual states, raised concerns globally. This issue has regressed the work women’s organizations have made and has now become an increasingly more worrisome issue worldwide. From Mississippi to Morocco, many pro-choice groups have rallied against this decision and condemnedthe reduced status of women. Banning abortions poses a much larger threat to women’s rights, with an estimated 220 out of 100,000 women dying from unsafe abortions each year.2 Given this shocking statistic and the even more disturbing horror story of abortion related deaths, Moroccans are now taking it to the streets to highlight the needs of safe abortion access being a woman’s inalienable right. 

The History of Abortion in Morocco

The ruling on abortions in Morocco has been a long-standing multifaceted issue. Initially, abortion was entirely criminalized unless the mother’s life was in danger by article 453 of the Moroccan penal code.3 According to Amnesty International, this left Moroccan women to resort to unsafe, illegal abortion practices.4 In 2015, King Mohamed VI ordered the minister of Islamic Affairs and Justice to propose a new law for abortions. This debate was initially opened up by Dr. Chafik Chraibi, who began the non-profit organization the Moroccan Association for the Fight Against Clandestine Abortion.5 In 2015, a new amendment allowed for abortion in cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment. According to Chraibi, however, much hasn’t changed. In fact, AMLAC reports 600-800 women yearly have a clandestine abortion in Morocco, which amounts to 220,000 illegal procedures yearly.6 There’s also a socioeconomic issue, where abortions are an estimate 3000 dirham, or 300 US dollars.7  For many Moroccan women, this is unaffordable. In turn, they resort to abortion procedures done by untrained medics, which further increases the likelihood of dangerous complications from abortions. 

Imprisonment 

Journalist Hajar Raissouni was arrested along with her fiancé on suspicion for carrying out an abortion. She was sentenced to one year in prison and released on a royal pardon.8 While Morocco might have legalized abortion in certain circumstances, there’s still a legitimate fear of being punished for undergoing a procedure. Being a majority Muslim country influenced heavily by patriarchal cultural practices, abortions are considered a scandal and condemned by society. Many women are coerced into marrying their rapists instead of termination. Moroccan law doesn’t consider these instances in which pregnancies can result in depression, being shunned by family members, etc. Dr. Chraibi states that in the case of illegal procedures, “As long as the secret abortion surgeries go well with no problem, the authorities do not intervene, but when something goes wrong, both mums and doctors are sent to prison”9 Women place their freedom at risk by undergoing a procedure, with the potential of being imprisoned from six months to five years. Morocco has not provided comprehensive and updated laws regarding abortions. The main battle is for Morocco to decriminalize abortions entirely. Until then, individuals will find a way around these rules.   

Solutions

On the road to fully legalizing abortion, it’s important to reduce the taboo of the topic. Providing comprehensive sex education reduces the likelihood of unwanted pregnancies for teenagers and adults alike. Research conducted by the National Center for Health statistics reported that those who received comprehensive sex education were “60% less likely to report becoming pregnant or impregnating someone.”10 While activists continue to strive for legalizing abortion, many argue against it using the principles of Islam. Morocco follows the Maliki school of Islamic thought which entirely outlaws abortion. However, Hanafi and Shafai schools allow for abortions up to 120 days of pregnancy11 only under certain circumstances. It’s crucial for Moroccan legislation to continue to liberalize abortion under Islamic beliefs, which is why many protestors advocate for the Moroccan government to shift to the Hanafi school of thought. 

More importantly, Morocco needs to implement strict and transparent punishments for rapists. In worst case scenarios, rapists are imprisoned for a few years without giving thought to the women’s psychological state. Rape victims often endure public shaming, as in the case of Khadija Okkarou. The trivialization of rape is fueled by the government’s silence, and they must take steps to address the recurring abuse of women in Moroccan society. Women’s abortion rights are a part of basic and fundamental reproductive rights. Outlawing abortion is another practiced form of violence against women and places ancient guardianship over women’s bodies. It is only when abortion is legalized that women can experience a safe procedure and detach the misogynistic belief that women are vessels for procreation. 


References

[1]“28 September.” September 28 Campaign – Official Website for the September 28 Campaign, September 13, 2022. http://www.september28.org/. 

[2]“Abortion.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization, November 25, 2021. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/abortion. 

[3]“Abortion in Morocco: A Delicate Debate.” Middle East Eye édition française. Accessed October 4, 2022. https://www.middleeasteye.net/fr/node/43413. 

[4] “Morocco: Amnesty International’s Submission in the Context of the National Debate on Abortion.” Amnesty International, June 1, 2021. https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde29/1341/2015/en/. 

[5] AfricaNews. “Moroccan Women Call for the Right to Have a Legal Abortion.” Africanews. Africanews, September 29, 2022. https://www.africanews.com/2022/09/29/moroccan-women-call-for-the-right-to-have-a-legal-abortion/. 

[6]Sharif, Sa’eeda. “Alarming Abortion Numbers as Morocco Criminalization Aggravates the Situation.” رصيف 22. raseef22.net, July 28, 2022. https://raseef22.net/article/1088853-alarming-abortion-numbers-as-morocco-criminalization-aggravates-the-situation. 

[7] admin2. “Morocco Liberalizes Abortion Laws, Amends Penal Code.” International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics, April 23, 2021. https://www.iknowpolitics.org/en/news/world-news/morocco-liberalizes-abortion-laws-amends-penal-code. 

[8] “Morocco: Release of Journalist Jailed after Being Accused of Having an Abortion.” Amnesty International, August 8, 2022. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/press-release/2019/10/morocco-release-of-journalist-jailed-after-being-accused-of-having-an-abortion/#:~:text=Hajar%20Raissouni%2C%20a%20journalist%20for,of%20carrying%20out%20an%20abortion. 

[9] Amraoui, Ahmed El, and Maha Naami. “Unwanted Babies and Backstreet Abortions in Morocco.” Women’s Rights | Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, February 25, 2018. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2018/2/25/does-moroccos-strict-abortion-law-need-reform. 

[10] Potera, Carol. “Comprehensive Sex Education Reduces Teen Pregnancies : Ajn the American Journal of Nursing.” LWW, July 2008. https://journals.lww.com/ajnonline/fulltext/2008/07000/comprehensive_sex_education_reduces_teen.13.aspx. 

[11] admin, “Morocco Liberalizes Abortion Laws, Amends Penal Code”.

Author

layla.hedroug@yale.edu