According to clause 303 of the penal code, an abortion is allowed only if there is a danger to the mother’s life.
For years, doctors and women’s organizations have been calling for an easing of this requirement, but no government relented due to strong opposition by religious leaders.
The latest dialogue follows a proposal by the Perinatal Society of Sri Lanka to the government to relax abortion laws in cases of pregnancy following rape or if the child to be born suffers from a fatal defect, and with the mother’s consent.
Dr. Kapila Jayaratne, president of the society told the media that abortion in such instances should be allowed following recommendation by two obstetricians.
He said the government has responded positively to the call.
Catholic Council vehemently opposes
However, the Sri Lanka Catholic Council vehemently opposes, saying ‘no abortion under any circumstances.’
Declaring the stand of his council, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has told a mass at Basilica at Thewatte that the God planned every birth and no child would be born outside His plan.
It is an offence and a crime to do abortion saying the child is deformed or if there were too many children, he said.
Refuting claims that parents suffer due to deformed children, he said the ‘unfortunate, suffering child’ binds the mother and the father together.
Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith
‘Voices resurface calling to legalize abortion’
600 illegal abortions
Health ministry statistics say 600 illegal, unsafe abortions take place in Sri Lanka each day, causing between 10 and 15 maternal deaths a year.
Dr. Hiranthi Wijemanne
The founder chairperson of the Sri Lanka Child Protection Authority Dr. Hiranthi Wijemanne has told BBC Sandeshaya that unsafe abortions led to women suffering from various health effects and prevent them from conception again.
The existing law since 1883 should be changed to suit the times and allow abortions in especial circumstances, she said.
There have been many instances of girls aged 13 or 14 years getting raped by a family member, and abortions should be allowed in such cases.
Their lack of knowledge in reproductive health and a child born against the mother’s wishes should be considered, she said.
She proposed a limit of allowing abortion during the first three months.
She expressed hope the present government would fulfill its obligation by the public despite opposition by the clergy, whom she claimed were unaware of a family life.
Only Afghanistan has similar stringent abortion laws in South Asia, she added.
Dr. Rajitha Senaratne
Health minister Rajitha Senaratne said the government would consider the proposal, adding that no decision has been taken yet.
He said giving birth to a deformed child is a sin, and it has been proposed to take a decision if such instances could be identified during the foetal stage.
Meanwhile, ‘The Sunday Times’ has reported the president has ordered a suspension due to opposition by the clergy.
Christian religious affairs minister John Amaratunga told the media that prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has told him that the proposal would not be implemented.