Abortion should be legal in Saudi Arabia

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Thesis statement

Abortion is a controversial topic in most countries especially those in the east and African countries. The west appears to be liberal enough to allow for abortion though not all members of the society support it. Saudi Arabia is one of those countries where abortion is illegal and physicians are prohibited by law to perform an abortion on pregnant women. However, with the changes in social and moral values that have seen increased sexual activities especially among young people, such laws prohibiting abortion need to be repealed. This paper seeks to justify the need to legalize abortion in Saudi Arabia.


  1. Overview of the abortion law in Saudi Arabia
  2. Analysis of the abortion law and its implication to access to abortion in Saudi medical facilities
  3. Effect of the abortion law on foreign citizens in Saudi
  4. Backstreet abortions in Saudi
  5. Infringement of sexual and reproductive right of women by the anti-abortion law
  6. Socio-economic effects of the law against abortion in Saudi Arabia
  7. Conclusion


Abortion is considered illegal and not allowed by the law in Saudi Arabia. The ministerial resolution No. 218/17/L of 26 June 1989 of the ministry of health article 24 prohibits any physician to perform an abortion on a pregnant woman unless an abortion is the only option left to save the woman’s life (Havard.edu 2017).  The law is also specific to the effect that abortion is not allowed at any stage of pregnancy unless it is legally justified by Islamic law. Being a Muslim nation, Saudi Arabia’s government is intertwined with the Muslim religion thus Islamic religious laws affect the formation of secular laws in the country. Moreover, abortion during the first forty days is allowed if it brings forth legal benefit or may prevent expected harm to the woman. However, financial hardship, the inability of the parent to educate the child and having enough children is not considered a good enough excuse to allow for abortion. Abortion is strictly allowed where serious life threatening medical conditions are present. To ensure adherence to the legal requirement for abortion, the law also specifies that for abortion to be conducted, it has to be approved by a panel of specialist who only approves abortion after all means to eliminate the danger to the mother are futile. Before undertaking of abortion, the panel which must constitute a specialist from the field that covers the illness the mother suffers who shall prepare a report on the patient’s condition and the danger faced, the report signed by all committee members then approved by the hospital director.

The effects of delayed abortion during emergency situations are visible. Given the procedure for approval of abortion in Saudi Arabia even on medical grounds, lives are lost as patients wait for specialist approval of abortion. The process for medically approved abortion as discussed above requires a panel to review the specific patient case and prepare a report on the patient’s condition and danger before approving the abortion. In cases where the patient is in serious condition in need of an immediate abortion, the procedure might delay their access to medical help. There is a possibility that the specialist might not be around the hospital at the time of patient arrival or the hospital might not even have a specialist in the given field, especially in small hospitals. What are the medical staff attending to the patient supposed to do yet the patient’s life is at risk? Such restrictive laws not only limit access to emergency services but also increase the danger to woman’s life. By the time the patient gets the approval for an abortion, the damage to their health is great compared with the time they arrived at the hospital, in extreme cases, patients die as they wait for approval from the panel.

Moreover, the anti-abortion laws not only affect local citizens of Saudi but also affect citizens of other countries working in Saudi Arabia. With globalization, interaction and movement of people across borders has increased. Saudi Arabia to be specific is benefiting from importing labor from other countries. The country’s economy is also benefiting from foreign direct investment from other countries. The increased economic activities by firms from other countries bring with it increased number of people from other countries. An example is a US based firm opening a branch in Saudi Arabia and posting some of its American employees to the new branch. Given that America allows for medical abortion, what then happens to American citizens living in Saudi Arabia and in need of abortion services? People from countries where abortion is legal are used to access to proper abortion in a medical facility thus the anti-abortion law in Saudi limits their freedom to access abortion services in a medical facility. As a result, foreign citizens have to seek medical abortion services from other countries such as china at higher cost considering the cost of travel, accommodation and the medical service (Asger 2017). Such sentiments are shared by an American lady who had unplanned pregnancy during her time working in Saudi. Given the strict laws against elective abortion, she had to travel to India to get the abortion done in a medical facility (Sarah 2017). One is left wondering what happens to those who cannot afford to go to china or any other country that allows abortion to get the safe procedure in a medical facility.

Furthermore, irrespective of the strict anti-abortion laws, one in every ten pregnancies in the Middle East and North Africa end up in abortion (Hessini 2007). These Middle East and North African countries share the common factor of being predominantly Muslim countries thus do not support abortion. Given the anti-abortion laws and the high rate of abortion in these countries with Saudi Arabia included, where do these women have their abortions done? Lack of access to abortion services from medical facilities has seen women turn to the most gruesome means of terminating their pregnancies at home and in back street facilities. In extreme cases, the women have died during the process of abortion due to excessive bleeding and other related complications. Those who are lucky to make it out alive are not assured of a normal life either, post-abortion complication resulting from illegal abortions also occur. Among the post-abortion complications are pelvic inflammatory disease, recurrent abortions, and sterility (Bailey 2012). These complications could have been avoided if the women had their abortion done in a medical facility by a qualified medical staff capable of handling complications. To help the Saudi women stop seeking illegal abortion avenues, abortion needs to be legalized in the country.

In addition, laws against abortion infringe on the rights of women to exercise their reproductive and sexual rights. One of the conventional rights recognized internationally is the freedom of choice as long as it does not cause harm to others. Women have the freedom of right to choose the number of children they wish to have and when to have them (Roudi-Fahimi and Monem 2010). As a result, the anti-abortion law in Saudi interferes with the freedom of choice of these women. Moreover, debate over whether a fetus is to be considered a child or not cannot be concluded, different experts have different views. As a result, terming abortion as illegal and murder is passing a judgment purely based on religious belief (Albar 2001).  Moreover, not all citizens of Saudi Arabia are Muslims thus raising the question of forcing Muslim religious teachings on none Muslim citizens. Irrespective of religious teaching right to reproductive health should be upheld. Furthermore, abortion is considered one of the family planning methods thus denying women right to elective abortion is as good as limiting their family planning options. Women should be allowed to select a family planning option of their choice which may include abortion. The advantage of abortion is that it has no hormonal effect on the woman unlike the hormonal based family planning methods thus the woman is able to remain in her natural state even after abortion. To reduce cases of unwanted pregnancies, it is necessary to include legalize abortion in Saudi Arabia thus allowing women the choice of safe abortion in a health facility.

Additionally, the social-economic effects of the anti-abortion laws cannot be ignored. Saudi Arabia has the third-highest population growth rate the in the eastern Mediterranean region. Saudi Arabia and other the Middle East and North African countries have their girls getting married early thus increasing fertility rate of the population. Most of these early marriages place the women at higher risk of unintended pregnancy. Unintended pregnancy is mostly associated with lack of access to a preferred method of contraceptive, improper use of the contraceptives and social pressure from their family robbing them the right to decide when they want to have children. The high rate of unintended pregnancies put pressure on the government in the process of providing social resources. Provision of education and healthcare services has proved challenging to Saudi Arabia given the high rate of population growth (Roudi-Fahimi and Monem 2010). If abortion was legalized, the rate of population growth rate would decline enabling the government to improve on social services offered to its citizens. Additionally, the individual mothers are also affected by the unintended pregnancies. Data shows that majority of single parents would prefer to have an abortion in the case of unintended pregnancy to enable them continue fending for their other children. Prohibiting abortion not only denies these women the freedom to decide on the number and timing of children but also put a strain on their health and wellbeing. The spacing of children if another social affecting practice of abortion; though most married women in Saudi prefer having many children, the spacing of children is a matter of concern. Having little interval mostly less than two years not only endangers the life of the mother but also increases risks to the children (Abdel-Fattah,  Hifnawy, El Said, Moharam and Mahmoud 2007). If abortion is legalized, women can freely abort unwanted pregnancies allowing for desired spacing of children and desired number of children while reducing the economic pressure on government resources due to high population growth rate.


In conclusion, this paper has looked into the anti-abortion law in Saudi Arabia and its effects on the population and proved that it is necessary to legalize abortion in Saudi Arabia. First, the actual implementation of the abortion law that allows for abortion on serious medical grounds causes a threat to the health of mothers in emergency situations.  Citizens of other countries where abortion is legal are also denied access to abortion in Saudi Arabia unless on medical grounds thus infringing on their freedom of choice they enjoyed back home. Through the illegality, women are deprived of their sexual and reproductive right. The social economic impact of unintended pregnancies warrants the legalization of abortion. Therefore, all factors considered the government of Saudi Arabia should take a liberal approach to abortion and allow women the right to have an abortion thus allowing medical practitioners carry out safe abortions in a medical facility.

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  1. Abdel-Fattah, M., Hifnawy, T., El Said, T. I., Moharam, M. M., & Mahmoud, M. A. (2007). DETERMINANTS OF BIRTH SPACING AMONG SAUDI WOMEN. Journal of Family & Community Medicine, 14(3), 103–111.
  2. Albar, M. A. (2001). INDUCED ABORTION FROM AN ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE: IS IT CRIMINAL OR JUST ELECTIVE? Journal of Family & Community Medicine, 8(3), 25–35.
  3. Asger M. (2017). Illegal abortion a fatal choice. Gulf news.
  4. Bailey, J. (2012). Abortion. New York: Rosen Central.
  5. Havard.edu (2017). “Saudi Arabia: Rules of implementation for Regulations of the practice of medicine and dentistry: Ministerial Resolution No. 218/17/L of 26 June 1989 of the Ministry of Health”.
  6. Hessini L. (2007). Abortion and Islam: policies and practices in middle east and north Africa. An international journal on sexual and reproductive health and rights, volume 15, 2007, issue 9.
  7. Roudi-Fahimi F. and Monem A. (2010). Unintended pregnancies in the Middle East and North Africa. Population reference bureau.
  8. Sarah (2017). Abortion experience: American lady in Saudi Arabia. Abortion in Mumbai india.
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