Secrets of Society
Young Women Choose Self-Induced Abortions
Rather Than Break Taboo
By: Hammad A. Kolarov
Nervous, with circles around her eyes, Sara couldn’t look me in the eyes. With each new question, her body seemed to draw into itself. I wasn’t surprised. Few in this conservative Muslim country will admit to what she was confessing. Even fewer would explain how they did it.
It was a year ago, when I first found out I was two weeks late. I got the at-home (pregnancy) test and did it at a friend’s house. Then I called my boyfriend and panicked! I didn’t know what to do, my family is more open than most, but there’s a line: Me seeing a guy, and worse, being pregnant? No, I could not face them with this. So my boyfriend asked around and he found out about these pills. I researched on the Internet and decided I had no other choice,” the 22-yar-old college student explains.
What happened? “It worked,” is all she will say. Afterwards, Sara’s (not her real name) boyfriend broke up with her, telling her he wasn’t okay with what she did. “As if I’m f***ing okay with it? You know?” she added angrily. “You can go online, read everything you want, but it can’t prepare you for what happens afterwards. You don’t even want to consider the what ifs; not considering the what ifs is what put me in that situation. But when I was there, I felt horrible because on TV you always see women bei ng able to tell their family about it. It doesn’t matter what the outcome of the discussion is, but remaining silent about it is the worst part! Being alone, sure I had my best friends, but it’s not the same, there was, and still is, the fear of people finding out?
This young lady, who requested that her name and nationality not be revealed, is one among a growing number of women in Kuwait who suffer in silence. Among younger Kuwaitis and expats, dating and sexual relations have become increasingly common. While still not accepted publicly, dating and sex are widespread. More teenage and unwanted pregnancies are unintended consequences.
But the taboo against unmarried sex and unwanted pregnancies remains so strong that, despite the changing relationship trends, many young women are turning to back alleys or self-induced abortions as their only solution. Legally, a woman in Kuwait can only have an abortion if it is medically proven that the pregnancy is life threatening or that the child will be born with serious birth defects.
Pregnancy out of wedlock is also illegal and children born out of wedlock in Kuwait do not enjoy equal rights. Unmarried pregnant women face the risk of being stigmatized. Indeed, even talking about the issue is taboo. No one interviewed for this article wanted their full identities to be revealed.
If someone is caught aborting their own pregnancy, or assisting someone in the act, they will be heavily fined and even face time in prison. More importantly, in a small country as this, they will be shunned by society and possibly even harassed or harmed by male members of their own family. That’s why many young women today are turning to self-induced abortions. Several drugs on the market can help this process and some are available in Kuwait. In fact, obtaining abortion-inducing drugs is quite easy.
Posing as a customer, Kuwait Times sent a reporter to buy the popularly known ‘abortion pill’. A foreigner in his late 20s offered them for sale. He provided details on the medication and instructions on usage. When asked about the risks, the man said that if the instructions were followed properly, there were no risks involved. “I’ve never heard of this causing anyone any problems, it doesn’t hurt at all,” he said.
But that wasn’t the truth. According to medical literature on the subject, such medication is used during normal chemical abortions. However, when someone attempts self-abortion, it can result in hemorrhage. In case of failure, serious birth defects could take place.
Many young women would rather risk death than let anyone, especially family or friends, find out about their unwanted pregnancy. The taboo is hard to break. Coupled with the strict Islamic prohibition against unmarried sex is the tribal issue of upholding family honor.
Once your reputation is ruined, that could be like the end of your world. If opened up to my family with that, I don’t know how they would react, and I don’t want to find out,” says one female Kuwaiti college student in Kuwait. “It’s the fear that blinds people into making these kinds of choices, we just have to remove the fear.” But the fear is reasonable. Fathers and brothers, especially among the more conservative, tribal families, may react violently.
Some families would kill their daughters in this situation. We hear about it all the time, and with that kind of fear, this becomes a viable solution because on one hand, there is a high chance of the abortion working properly, and everything being okay, with only a small chance for death or severe bodily harm to happen. On the other hand, they may feel like they will be facing certain death or worse if they were to approach their families with this issue,” explains an older foreign woman.
Indeed many families and much of the society prefer that the matter be handled within the family. What happens to the woman involved is the concern of the father and brothers, not outsiders like doctors or the police. “If people make mistakes this big, they deserve whatever happens,” argues Nasser. “They should be afraid, they knew what would happen, but didn’t think of that when they started to play with fire. People only learn after they are punished.
The biggest problem is that no sex education is received at all.” Says Sara, a young Kuwaiti girl in her late teens. “I got my sex education through friends, and TV. My parents kept hinting at it, ‘don’t go out with boys’ my mother keeps telling me. That’s not sex education, that’s just embarrassing.” She added. Many young Kuwaitis feel that the lack of any kind of proper sex education is harming society at a rate which people do not realize. Mohammed (not his real name), a sharply dressed man confessed “My wife had to teach me everything about sex. I was ignorant, and it was deeply embarrassing at first. Thank God I met my wife when I did, I don’t think any other woman would want an ignorant man.” He told me this while his wife blushed. Of all the young people I spoke to, everyone agreed that sex education is vital, be it at home, or in school.