Egypt has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. The law, which has remained largely unchanged since the 1930s, punishes women who intentionally abort a pregnancy with imprisonment. Abortion is not permitted on any grounds, including rape or incest.
The only exception is that a woman does not face punishment if she attempts to abort unsuccessfully. The Doctors Syndicate Code of Ethics also allows physicians to perform an abortion if the woman’s life or health is threatened, but this is a moral, not a legal, duty.
While there is a widespread assumption that this restrictive stance to abortion is rooted in religion, the origins of the law are colonial in nature. Articles that are still in force today were based on items in the French Penal Code.
There are a small number of physicians who perform abortions without reporting the women who undergo the procedure. These doctors charge a lot, making this option inaccessible to most women. But if the woman develops an infection or other complication, she cannot hold the doctor accountable. Knowing they can act with impunity, sometimes physicians blackmail women, demanding large sums of money or sexual favors.
The prices doctors charge compel many women to opt for home abortions using medication. These drugs are not available at most pharmacies, and those who do sell them are able to raise the price significantly. These drugs do not always work and often cause ulcers.
This inaccessibility may drive women to induce an abortion through the use of herbs or alternative medicine, jumping up and down and lifting heavy objects, or inserting sharp tools, such as needles or spoons, into her vagina to scrape the uterus. In some cases, a woman may resort to beating to induce an abortion.
Whatever the method, if a woman suffers complications, such as excessive bleeding, she may fear seeking medical assistance.
As in all countries where abortion is criminalized, abortion is not prevented but driven underground in an unsafe framework.
Here, Mada gathers stories of women’s experiences of abortion in Egypt, as they seek to navigate the myriad social and legal restrictions.
The articles on abortion are to be found in Law 58/1937 and are as follows:
Article 260: Anyone who intentionally induces a miscarriage in a pregnant woman with a blow or similar type of harm shall be subject to a defined term of hard labor.
Article 261: Anyone who intentionally induces a miscarriage in a pregnant woman by giving her medication or by using means leading to such or by directing her to them, with or without her consent, shall be subject to imprisonment.
Article 262: A woman who willingly and knowingly takes medication or willingly uses the aforementioned means, or enables another party to use such means, thereby inducing a miscarriage shall be subject to the aforementioned penalty.
Article 263: If the person inducing the miscarriage is a doctor, surgeon, pharmacist, or midwife, he shall be subject to a defined term of hard labor.
Article 264: There shall be no penalty for attempted induced miscarriage.