Zeba Hisam
(Published in DAWN Magazine on Friday December 15, 1995)

As a doctor, I have to deal with several shocking situations that indicate the moral decadence that has taken hold of our society — situations that smack of anti-Islamic practices. However, in order to rid our society of these wrongdoings, we should not turn a blind eye to what is happening around us. Facts have to be faced and dealt with in a principled way.

I work in a slum area. Among my patients hailing from low-income families, I haven’t come across any married woman patient who is happy when she learns she is pregnant. Rather, these women are so troubled that they insist on being given some kind of pill, which can abort the fetus.

Many of these women belonging to low-income classes are uneducated and already have several children. I often ask them why they don’t practice contraception. Many answer that they don’t know how to. The majority say that it is against Islam and that, moreover, their husbands won’t hear of it. When I ask them to explain that if they regard contraception as un-Islamic how they can want abortion, they keep quiet for a while. Then they say they cannot afford another child. Already, they have too many mouths to feed. Many times, their husband urge them to have an abortion, although these men do not want to take any contraceptive measures.

This is the situation with married women. Now let’s get on to the topic of unmarried women and men. I was once sitting in the OPD when a well-dressed young boy of about 20 to 21 years entered my room. He appeared embarrassed and stammered, “Doctor, one of my relations has missed her menstrual cycle this month. What test should be carried out?” I asked him whether or not she was married. Obviously, he was not expecting the question because he turned a bright shade of pink. Then, hesitantly, he said that she was.

I told him to bring her to me or to consult a lady doctor nearby. He insisted again on the test and requested that I should prescribe one on my letterhead. The lady in question, he informed me, was not well and could not come. I wrote down “urine for pregnancy test” on the paper and gave it to him. He disappeared.

Many days later he returned with the report that showed a positive HCG and inquired what it meant. I told him that the lady was pregnant. All of a sudden, he turned pale and in a very weak tone said, “Doctor! Please help us, that girl is my friend and we are not married.” That was exactly what I had figured out in the first place. I simply told him that he was in the wrong department.

Another time, a well-dressed, educated thirty-year-old man entered my room saying that he wanted to talk to me in private. He said he wanted to consult me when I had finished with all my patients. When the last patient had left, he said, “Doctor, I am engaged and my fiancée has missed one menstrual cycle.” He continued bravely, “The pregnancy test is positive”. Please abort the pregnancy, as we can’t get married now since she has just been selected as an airhostess and has to join an airline. I asked him to leave the hospital.

Many women come to the hospital in a miserable condition after abortion attempts by unskilled hands. They are brought in with life-threatening hemorrhage. They develop severe infection and septicemia due to the retained products of conception. Among rich and educated families, who are religious as well, even when contraception is practiced but fails and a woman becomes pregnant, with the consent of the husband the women seek help to get rid of their untimely and unplanned pregnancy.

In this regard I remember a part of the speech by the Swedish PM at the Cairo conference on population welfare. She said that whether abortion is legalized or not, people will be committing this crime in secret, if not through skilled hands then with the help of unskilled hands. These mothers-to-be, she said, are doomed to death.