Sun, Nov 14, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Abortion age to be reconsidered

OUTMODED The bureau wants to lower the legal age for getting an abortion from 20 to 18, saying the current law only leads teenage girls to try other, more risky methods

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

In the face of widespread teen pregnancy, health officials are edging closer to lowering the legal abortion age from 20 to 18, a move that would open the door for younger girls to seek help from licensed doctors.

The Bureau of Health Promotion is working on revisions to the Genetic Health Law (優生保健法). A majority of the bureau's law committee wants to lower the threshold, arguing that the law's definition of adulthood as starting at 20 is outmoded.

"We are working to achieve a consensus on the definition of adulthood," the bureau's Director-General Lin Shio-jean (林秀娟) said. "The problem is that different laws had different definitions of adulthood. We need further discussion to make sure the Genetic Health Law is tailored to the needs of the changing society."

In Taiwan, civil law defines adulthood as 20 and above, but criminal law specifies that those aged over 18 must take responsibility for their own actions.

Under the current Genetic Health Law, girls younger than 20 need their parent or guardian's consent before they can have an abortion in a hospital. Yet many choose to keep their pregnancy a secret and resort to abortion pills or other methods.

The official figures from 1999 to 2002 show that at least 11,600 teenage abortion cases are reported every year. But that figure is just the tip of iceberg, gynecologists said.

"The hospitals only report therapeutic abortions for insurance reimbursement," said Hsu Jenn-jeih (徐振傑), a gynecologist at the Chung Kung Memorial Hospital. "But in fact we are forced to turn away many teenagers who come in without their parents."

Barred from hospitals and lacking parental guidance, many pregnant teens opt for buying the abortion pill RU 486 on the Internet. The Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology estimates that the easy availability of RU 486 may contribute to some 12,000 cases of abortions by girls younger than 20.

The situation is worsened by the fact that some of the pills offered online are potentially dangerous fakes. Since RU 486 entered the Taiwan market four years ago, the Department of Health has reported 3 cases of deaths due to ingestion of bogus RU 486 pills. It warned that about 40 percent of the popular pills hawked on the Internet are counterfeit.

"Fake pills can lead to many pregnancy complications, including partial miscarriage, hemorrhage, septicemia, pelvic inflammatory disease and even death," Hsu said.

Lowering the legal abortion age will greatly reduce these risks and protect women's right to abortions, women's groups say.

"These girls [between 18 and 20 years old] are the victims of a stringent law, and the rules drive them underground," said Taiwan Women's Link President Huang Shu-ying (黃淑英). "If the revision is passed, they will be able to go to the doctor on their own."

The bureau is expected to hammer out a consensus and submit a draft revision of the Genetic Health Law to the Executive Yuan by the end of next month.

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