Thursday, December 21, 2017

Abortion and the law in Sri Lanka

Abortion is legal in Britain, but only when carried out under conditions of strict medical control. If not carried out under medical supervision it is still a criminal offence in the UK under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

As this article explains:

"As things stand, a terrified teenager, who takes abortion drugs that she has bought over the internet rather than tell anyone that she is pregnant, is committing a crime that is punishable by life imprisonment."
This clearly inhuman. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has voted strongly in favour of supporting the removal of criminal sanctions associated with abortion in the UK.  

Sri Lanka has similar, archaic laws on abortion that should be revised.The Government has proposed some minor amendments that have been vehemently opposed by the Catholic church which has lead a successful campaign to have this blocked.

A study undertaken in the late 1990s estimated that 125,000 to 175,000 induced abortions,mostly illegal are performed annually in Sri Lanka (1). A subsequent study estimated a much higher figure of 658 induced abortions per day, giving an abortion ratio of 741 per 1000 live births (2). The latest study applying Bongaarts’ models estimates an induced abortion rate of 0.035, 0.147 and 0.087 per women in years 1993, 2000 and 2007 (3). In other words 8 out of every 100 women are likely to have an abortion at some point in their lives.

Illegal abortions are dangerous. In the year 2013, the percentage contribution from abortion to maternal mortality was around 10%, making it the third most common cause of maternal death (4).

Clearly, prohibition does not prevent abortion but drives women to seek dangerous illegal abortions. There are sound moral and public health reasons for ending the legal prohibition on this matter.

Catholics make up only 6.1% of the population of Sri Lanka but the Church’s role in influencing public policy  affects everyone—Catholic and non-Catholic—by limiting the availability of reproductive health service to all citizens.

To deny access to certain medical services to over 90% of the population who are non-Catholics on the basis of the church's teaching is unfair and unjust.

Even in a predominantly Catholic country, laws governing access to abortion need not adhere to the official Catholic position. Portugal voted to allow abortion in 2007. The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom called Catholics to respect other faiths. This is significant, given that the Catholic church’s position on abortion is more conservative than other major faith groups. Catholics can and do support public policies that appreciate the Catholic tradition while honouring others’ freedom."

The Church should cease its campaign against the propsoed legislation while calling upon its flock to follow the teachings of the church. Christianity is a religion of faith, the church must trust its flock to follow its teachings not rely on secular law to enforce an article of faith.

A group of Catholics who dissent with the church's official view has organised a petition to the cardinal.

If you are Catholic of Sri Lankan origin and would like to sign and support this, please send your name to along with any titles and affiliations you would like to include.

The statement explains using theology and social consciousness how supporting the current amendments to the Penal Code are not in contradiction with the faith.


1. De Silva IW. The Practice of Induced Abortion in Sri Lanka, Harvard School of Public Health: Takemi Program in International Health 137, 1997.

2.Rajapaksa LC. Estimates of induced abortion using RRT Technique. Colombo, 2000.

3. Abeykoon ATPL. Estimates of abortion rate in Sri Lanka using Bongaarts model of proximate determinants of fertility. Colombo: The United Nations Population Fund, 2012.

4. Family Health Bureau. Annual Report on Family Health 2013. Colombo: Family Health Bureau, 2014.

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