CAIRO - "Abortion is better than scandal and the scorn heaped on an illegitimate child." This is the message behind a proposed law under consideration in Egypt's People's Assembly.
The law would make abortion a legal option for a woman whose pregnancy was the result of rape, but only after she has been medically examined and received a doctor's statement confirming rape.
The proposed law also calls for televised execution of convicted rapists.
The author of the bill is Mohammed Khalil Quweita, a delegate from Faraskur, in the district of Dumyat. "The instances of rape have started to top the list of violent crimes in Egypt," Quweita told the daily Al Ahram "There is not a day that goes by that we don't read about dozens of rape cases in the news." Egyptian authorities say only 200 cases of rape occur annually. But the Center for Social and Criminal Research in Cairo says this number represents only 2 percent of actual rapes. The Center claims most victims do not report the crime for fear of scandal.
Quweita hopes that the law will ease the suffering of rape victims. "What did the victim do wrong that she should be forced to carry a fetus that she did not want? Why should she be tormented her whole life by this child who reminds her of that awful crime?" It is society's responsibility, he says, to "free her from that disgusting and polluted sperm that was put in her womb without her permission."
Critics fear many women will exploit the new and abortions will become widespread. Quweita is quick to respond to this concern. "This law does not open the door for immorality, allowing any compromised woman to use it to demand an abortion," he says. "That's why we require a medical examiner's statement confirming that the woman was indeed raped."
Both the Imam of Al Azhar University, Mohammed Tantawi, and the Grand Mufti, Nasr Farid Wassel, have previously issued fatwas (religious decrees) to the effect that abortions should take place no later than 120 days after conception. To that extent, at least, the legislation should be acceptable to the religious authorities.
Quweita hopes that the second provision of his proposal, calling for the televised execution of rapists, will deter criminal behavior.
Justice Minister Farouq Seif Al Nasr has rejected the idea, saying it contradicts article 42 of the constitution, which calls for preserving the dignity of the accused. Quweita, however, sees this as a false interpretation of the law. "A convicted defendant who is sentenced to execution has no dignity," he says. "Such a defendant, in fact, is already considered dead in the eyes of the law."
Instead, Quweita points to Article 2 of the constitution, which stipulates that the Sharia be the primary basis of legislation. "This law does not contradict the Sharia," he says. "This is what other Islamic countries do - like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. I want the death sentence against rapists to be carried out publicly, so that - as the Quranic verse declares - believers may witness their suffering."
Quweita's new law would be an exception to articles 260 and 261 of the penal code banning abortion. Similarly, it would further extend victims' rights, building on the repeal of article 291, which formerly allowed a rapist to marry his victim to avoid punishment.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )