Two female parliamentarians representing the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) have announced plans to introduce legislation that would ban abortions except in cases of medical emergency.
“I know that many will say every woman and family has the right to terminate her pregnancy, but an unborn child also has the right to live,” one of them, Naira Zohrabyan, wrote on Facebook this week.
Zohrabyan said that she and fellow BHK lawmaker Shake Isayan will circulate in the coming days a “draft law on unborn children’s right to life.” She did not say whether the initiative has been endorsed by their party led by businessman Gagik Tsarukyan.
Abortion has been legal in Armenia since Soviet times. Armenian law currently allows the procedure during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Citing official statistics, Zohrabyan complained that as many as 434,000 abortions have been carried out in the country of about 3 million since 1991. “The real number is definitely higher because in many cases terminations of pregnancy have been done illegally and not registered,” she said.
Zohrabyan, who chairs the Armenian parliament committee on human rights, defended her initiative when she spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Thursday. She said it is also necessarily for tackling the chronic problem of gender-based selective abortions in Armenia.
Health experts and civic activists strongly objected to the proposed ban. Vahe Ter-Minasyan, a Yerevan-based gynecologist, warned that it would force many women to undergo illegal and unsafe abortions or take abortion pills that can also be dangerous to their health.
Ter-Minasyan further argued that selective abortions are already illegal in Armenia.
Tsovinar Harutiunyan, the head of the Yerevan office of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), likewise insisted that a blanket ban on abortions would not prevent widespread gender-based terminations of pregnancy.
“We believe that we will solve this problem in the long term if we increase the role of girls and women in the society,” Harutiunyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
She said that recent years’ government and civil society efforts to curb selective abortions have already borne some fruit. The disparity between the numbers of newborn boys and girls in the country eased from 115-to-100 in 2015 to 110-to-100 in 2019, she said.
Zaruhi Hovannisyan, a women rights activist, was even more critical of the proposed anti-abortion law, accusing the BHK of exploiting the issue for political purposes. “It’s an attempt to solve political issues by rallying reactionary masses around that political force,” she charged.
The “Hraparak” daily quoted Zohrabyan as saying on Friday that she is planning to meet next week with representatives of non-governmental organizations concerned about her initiative.