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Taiwan amendment would give married women autonomy on abortion decision

Supporters laud advancement of women’s rights, opponents worry family trouble will arise

File photo showing a woman holding a pregnancy test. (Pexels, Tima Miroshnichenko photo)

File photo showing a woman holding a pregnancy test. (Pexels, Tima Miroshnichenko photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A public debate is brewing as the Ministry of Health and Welfare's (MOHW) Health Promotion Administration (HPA) considers amending the Eugenic Health Law to allow married women to get abortions without spousal approval.

UDN reported that aside from renaming the legislation as the “Fertility Health Law” (生育保健法) to avoid discrimination against those with disabilities, the HPA has also called for experts in various fields to discuss two major changes: abolishing the requirement that married women get their spouse's approval before having an abortion and allowing pregnant underage girls to have a say in whether to have one.

Additionally, the proposed amendment would abolish the exception in which a parent has a severe heritable, contagious, or mental illness or extended family members on either side have a heritable illness. Huang Ming-chao (黃閔照), president of the Taiwan Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said that in the future, the decision will depend on medical considerations.

While the draft of the amendment will not be ready until January at the earliest, the HPA already expects a heated debate, as the decision to allow married women to get abortions on their own will deeply impact traditional marriage values in Taiwan. However, UDN cited HPA Director General Wu Chao-Chun (吳昭軍) as saying that the amendment follows the international trend of respecting gender equality and women’s rights.

Wu also said that underage girls should have the right to decide and that others, including legal guardians, should respect such a decision. In the event of conflicting views on the matter, there should be ways to mediate and facilitate further consideration, the official said.

The Taiwan Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology is supportive of the initiative, as it has observed over 20 women dying from or suffering pregnancy-related complications yearly. UDN cited Huang as saying women’s inability to make autonomous decisions about abortion according to their own health is not necessarily good for women or fetuses.

Women’s rights groups have expressed strong support for the proposed amendment, particularly regarding married women’s abortion rights. Taiwan Women’s Link Chair Huang Shu-ying (黃淑英) told UDN that the final decision to have an abortion should not have involved husbands in the first place, as it leads to family tragedies such as domestic abuse and extramarital affairs.

On the other hand, Birth Reform Alliance Secretary General Chen Mei-i (陳玫儀) said that in terms of underage abortions, involved parties must engage professional psychologists with proper humanitarian and gender awareness who are familiar with various obstetric and gynecologic resources.

However, Family Mainstreaming Alliance Chair Tseng Hsien-Ying (曾獻瑩) labeled the amendment as “individualist,” reported UDN, and said there are various reasons to get an abortion, such as accidental pregnancy, familial stress, and exhaustion.

The government should help families resolve the challenges of raising children rather than “irresponsibly” providing women with the right to make abortion decisions independently, he was quoted as saying. He accused the proposed amendment of disrupting the harmony and communication between married couples and the government of creating “chaos” and social problems through various amendments.

Chen Kei (陳科), secretary general of the Chinese Regional Bishops' Conference of Taiwan, said abortion is against Catholic beliefs and that while fetuses are not yet fully formed, they possess human dignity and autonomy. With this amendment, men would longer bear responsibility in pregnancies, which is a form of disrespect for women as well, UDN cited Chen as saying.

Chen also asked who would bear the physical and mental health risks for women who get abortions.

Taiwan currently allows married women to get abortions under certain conditions, including the approval of their spouse. However, if one of the parents has a serious heritable, contagious, or mental illness, or extended family members on either side have a heritable illness, married, pregnant women may make the decision alone.