Religious, professional and non-governmental organisations said they need more time to study the government proposal to make changes to the law regarding abortion before making their stand on the issue.

The Health Ministry has proposed to legalise abortion for exceptional cases such as rape and incest victims. Malaysian law now allows abortion only when it endangers the mother's life.

The ministry said it will get the feedback from the public before amending the Penal Code.

Many of the organisations contacted by malaysiakini today said they were either unable to provide an immediate response or they were unaware of the issue.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS) secretary-general R Thiagaraja said the council could not make a comment on the issue yet.

Not top priority

He said the council will meet to discuss their stand on the matter before making a collective statement, adding that the council does not regard the issue a top priority.

"We are more concerned about the Islamic state issue," he stressed.

Malaysia's Hindu Sangam president A Vaithilingam said the matter would be raised at the association's meeting next month.

"The Health Ministry is not seeking an opinion straightaway. At the moment, there is no urgency," he said.

The Sikh community representative to MCCBCHS, Harcharan Singh, declined to comment but said he was shocked by the announcement. "I was shocked to read it in the papers," he declared.

The Malaysian Muslim Scholars Association and the Malaysian Buddhist Association said they will give their views later after they get more details on the proposed changes.

Women groups

Women groups were also not particularly vocal on the issue.

Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) executive director Ivy Josiah was non-committal on the proposed amendments though she questioned the need to change the present law.

"Our understanding is the present law already provides an exception that states abortion may be carried out when a medical doctor believes that the pregnancy would put the life of the pregnant woman at risk, or injure her mental or physical health," she said.

She said a rape or incest victim can be considered "mentally injured".

"In practice or common sense, the pregnant woman should have the option to decide whether she wants to abort or not," Josiah said.

"Based on humanitarian ground, we cannot expect the woman [who has been raped] to carry the pregnancy [to full term]. We should leave the law or the discretionary to the woman and the doctor."

Zaitun Kasim of Women's Candidacy Initiative (WCI) concurred with Josiah that women should have the right to make a choice.

She declined to comment further until she has more details on the proposed changes.

Favourable

Yap Swee Seng, a coordinator in human rights organisation Suaram, said he is in favour of the proposed amendments as it will give women the option to decide what to do with pregnancies that resulted from incest or rape.

He called for a support system to be put in place so that women are able to seek vital information and make an informed decision before undergoing the procedure.

He also added that it would be timely to look at the larger issue of illegal abortions which were dangerous for both mother and child.

The Malaysian Medical Association said it may issue a press statement on the topic next week. A research officer with the association, Alice Joseph, said there is no scheduled meeting by the association to discuss the issue.

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