Yazidi refugees stand behind fences in the southern Turkish town of Midyat. Photo: Reuters
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Kurdish rights activists and lawmakers are demanding the regional parliament rapidly legalize abortion for women raped by the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, saying time is precious for the pregnant victims.
The proposal, which was submitted to parliament with the signatures of 11 MPs earlier this year, launched heated debate between proponents of women’s rights and the Kurdish religious establishment, which says abortion is neither allowed by Islam nor Iraqi or Kurdish law.
The issue was first raised by Khalida Khalil, the Kurdish Yezidi adviser to the speaker of parliament, in December after thousands of Yezidi women were abducted and enslaved when the their ancestral home around Mount Shingal was overrun by the terror group.
Although there is no specific number due to privacy and cultural constraints, a large number of the reported 1,380 Yezidi, Kurdish and Turkmen women who were released or escaped from the extremists had become pregnant after being raped by ISIS members.
“In the Iraqi penal code since 1969, Article 471 makes abortion illegal. Any doctors who participate in the process of aborting a child will be held in prison for three years and will have no right to practice the profession,” Khalil told Rudaw.
“The aim of this project was to have an exceptional law for ISIS rape victims,” Khalil added.
The issue gained renewed urgency this week when the current political deadlock looked set to keep parliament from meeting to discuss the abortion proposal or other critical issues.
Activists such as Suzan Safar Ismail, of the Dak Organization for Yezidi Women’s Development, say the clock is ticking and women made pregnant by ISIS rapes should not be victimized further.
“The woman who was subjected to rape by ISIS is the only one who should decide whether she is keeping the child or not. We have been involved closely with many cases and most of the women want to abort the child. It is her personal decision,” Ismail said, adding that two lives are at stake in the choice.
“They refuse to raise a ‘Daeshi’ ISIS child. Every time she will look at the child, she will die hundreds of times and remember how she was raped,” Ismail added.
Yet those opposed to the proposal to legalize abortion are just as steadfast in their positions. Siraj Ahmed Hama Amen, chairman of the Kurdish parliament’s Religious Affairs Committee, offers sympathy but believes abortion is wrong and he says the cash-strapped government can help raise the children of ISIS rapes.
“History has never witnessed such brutality and what happened to the Kurdish Yezidi women is recognized by the world. But I believe we can solve the problem without slaughtering an innocent soul. I see it as an act of violence and a failure of humanity,” Hama Amen said.
“We admit what ISIS had done to the women but we cannot follow the same approach of violence and end a child’s soul. The child is a victim,” he added.
Instead, Hama Amen feels the children of ISIS rapes should be placed in government shelters and raised as part of society.
“There are many children without a father and the government raises them. Let the case of these children be the same. Because it is a soul and we cannot slaughter a soul. I am not saying this because of religion, but because of human morality,” he told Rudaw.
Even so, there are other politicians, even some from religious parties, who do not see the abortion issue as so black and white.
“Some clerics say if the child is less than four months old, it is allowed to be aborted. And if the child is considered a shame for the family, it is also allowed to be aborted. In fact, there are many different views regarding child abortion from the clerics,” said Abdulla Warki, a member of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s political bureau and a leader of the Islamic Movement party.
And Abdullah Sheikh Saeed, head of the Islamic Scholars Union of Kurdistan, says the decision to abort a potential ISIS-father child should be made on a case-by-case determination with the woman’s safety a main concern
“We suggest holding a meeting in the presence of doctors, clerics, professors and human rights activists to discuss the issue and participate in the decision,” Saeed said.
Perhaps a better indicator of the women’s options is the heartbreaking example of a 15-year-old ISIS rape victim who spoke to Rudaw on condition of anonymity.
“I was raped by three different ISIS members with different nationalities. I had no idea I was pregnant. I felt sick all the time and one day I started to bleed. I was taken to the doctor and they told me I was pregnant. I lost the child because the child was threatening my life,” said the woman.
“I am just happy that I did not carry an ISIS child into this world,” she said.
As it stands, even the strongest advocates of the proposal are dismayed by the government’s alleged inaction and the prospect for more delays.
Hayat Majid Qadir, head of the parliamentary committee to protect women’s rights, said she was motivated to push the proposal because of the psychological state of of the victims, many of whom had been raped by several men. She said she is extremely disappointed by the lack of response.
“The MPs [members of parliament] were worried because of the Muslim community is very strict about what is allowed and what is forbidden. We spoke with many MPs but none of them were ready to sign the project. They said due to the critical situation in the region, it is better to hold the proposal because there might be women who want to keep the child.
That is why the proposal has not been reviewed by parliament,” Qadir said.
As Qadir and others pointed out, every day counts for the women who were raped by ISIS and are left in limbo by the government’s impasse. Many seek only to abide by the law and save shame from their families.
But Qadir is pessimistic.
“I don’t believe the proposal will be considered again.”