I'm taking Gender and Law as my internal and external electives for this semester. The internal course focuses on the inadequate laws and our biased perceptions in protecting women and marginalised groups – LGBTs, natives and etc.
Based on what I'd known about the course, which requires research on an issue as part of its assessment method, I wanted to study the double discrimination a disabled woman would face. But since the topic isn't one of the issues listed on the course outline, that didn't materialise, and I didn't voice my intention to the lecturer because double discrimination might not be of interest to my group members.
But actually, I must say being timid was the main reason I didn't say I was keen on a topic the lecturer hadn't seen fit to include.
So my group ended up doing abortion – the research, that is, not the act. To be precise, our topic was 'Should We Legalise Abortion In Malaysia.' For the benefit of those who don't know our abortion laws, it's illegal to abort, and the woman, not just the doctor, can be guilty for the offense.
Nonetheless, there's an exception – a doctor can legally abort if the doctor reasonably believes the continuance of the pregnancy physically or mentally harms a woman more than if the pregnancy is terminated.
The problem is that, it's a rare situation that the physical or mental condition is so grave till the foetus needs to be destroyed. On top of that, health isn't the main factor women seek for abortion. Very often, they want to abort because of socioeconomic reasons; they're financially constrained to raise a child or not wealthy enough to provide a ‘good life’ to yet another child. Then there are women who want to get rid of ‘it’ because ‘it’ is the forbidden fruit of premarital sex or extramarital affairs. There are also victims of rape who not only don't want to reveal their nightmare, but also don't want to keep the reminder of their nightmare alive.
Not to forget the reason which resonates most with me – when the foetus is defective.
Finding out that in some countries, a woman is allowed to abort if the foetus will be seriously handicapped, made me realise that this wasn’t going to be just an assignment. Although I was the one who suggested the topic of abortion to my group members, it was merely an intuitive choice. As things turned out, the assignment was a chance for me to find an answer to the question which had been lurking within me.
When we consulted the lecturer on our approach to the topic, she told me that she was happy that I'm researching abortion because I'd understand the dilemma of giving women the right to abort their foetus to prevent elevating their suffering. She added, "Your mum may not answer it, but I want to know. Why can't we do something so that they won't need to suffer? Do you understand what I'm saying here?"
Of course I do. After I was born, my mum had excessive bleeding. Twelve bags of red blood cells and three bags of white blood cells were transfused into her. Almost all the blood in her body was lost and supplied. Yet the bleeding continued. To save her life, the doctor performed a hysterectomy, and I simultaneously became her last child and her life-long struggle.
My mum stayed at home to take care of me, cut off from her friends and the outside world. Many times she'd ask "Why me?" Sometimes, she would vent her frustrations on me and ask out loud whether I'm a punishment for something she did in her previous life. At a tender age, I didn't know what to say or do, but to just cry and ask myself, "Why me?"
Years passed, and being a law undergraduate and studying Gender and Law has brought me back to the starting point of my life, the start which I am aware I might never have had, if my mum had gone to test me – the foetus. I say ‘might’, because I'd always doubted but had never asked. So two days before submitting the report, I summed up my courage and asked my mum the question, "If you had known that I was defective, would you have aborted me?"
"Yes," she said, "because I wasn't a Christian then. I was a perfectionist and so I wanted a healthy generation. Not many are as lucky as you. I know many who are trapped in their homes and lying on their beds for the rest of their lives."
One of the unresolved questions I came across during the research was what the foetus would say. Posing this question to myself asking whether I’d want to be aborted, I'd say that it is up to the woman, because I understand the hardships in raising a child like me, not just for the mother but for the child as well. I also understand that I’m abundantly blessed just to be able to see the outside world, unlike many of my peers.
So I'd give this option, this right to choose to women by proposing to expand the exception to include cases of rape, incest and defective foetus. Nonetheless, this expansion is not to encourage abortion. It is to recognise that when these situations occur, women need help from the doctors first and foremost.
I would not, however, go to the extent of legalising abortion. Considering the person I've become, the memories I've made with those who have crossed my path, and the person I will become – fulfilling the plans God has for me, I would maintain the illegality of abortion – not to punish the women, but to persuade them that there's hope in life.
There is hope in the womb.
Looking back, I think the lecturer had already known whether we should give this right. She raised the questions for me because she wanted me to know. Regardless of whether she’d intended it, the outcome was that I confronted the doubt in me and came out wholeheartedly sure that I was born for such a time like this, for purposes such as bringing some light, some hope and some love through writing.