Abortion and the law in the UAE

As a new clinic opens in Abu Dhabi's Corniche Hospital, here is a clarification of the law on abortion in the UAE.

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According to UAE law, it is a crime for a woman to abort her pregnancy, with two exceptions: if the pregnancy endangers the mother's life or if there is evidence that the baby will be born with fatal deformities and will not survive.

In the latter case, the foetus must be aborted before it is 120 days old, which is during the 17th week of the pregnancy and one week into the second trimester. The abortion must also be approved by a medical panel.

Islamic scholars differ in their stance on abortion, depending on their interpretation of Sharia. They all agree that abortion is forbidden and a sin, even if the pregnancy is a result of rape.

Scholars agree that an abortion may be performed when there is extreme medical need, such as when the mother's life is in danger; they differ, however, on how far into a pregnancy an abortion can be performed.

The majority of scholars say the proedure cannot take place after the foetus is 120 days old; many cite a hadith by Prophet Mohammed that says a foetus acquires life - when "spirit or soul is blown into the foetus" - at 120 days. Others say abortion is forbidden under any circumstances after a foetus is 42 days old.

"The law in the UAE is very strict and very clear on when you can and cannot terminate a pregnancy," said Dr Gowri Ramanathan, an obstetrician and foetal medicine specialist at Corniche Hospital in Abu Dhabi. "Spina bifada is not a condition, according to UAE law, where you would be able to pursue the option of termination."

Studies have shown that many people with spina bifada receive good prognoses for a healthy life - more than 90 per cent of patients live past their third decade.

Other defects discovered during pregnancy, such as Down Syndrome, a limb deformity or hydroencephalitis, a condition in which fluid builds up around the brain, all offer a chance of survival for the baby and do not justify an abortion under UAE law.

Only with cases in which doctors are 100 per cent certain - before the 120-day deadline - that the baby will not survive, does abortion become an option, said Dr Ramanathan.

* Hala Khalaf and Hassan Hassan