East Timor Penal Code Approves Emergency Abortions

Bishops Protest in Predominantly Catholic Country

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DILI, East Timor, JUNE 3, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A new penal code implemented in East Timor this week is adding an exception to allow emergency abortions, despite opposition from the predominantly Catholic country.



Thus far, abortion has been penalized in the 97% Catholic country, but it will now be allowed in cases where the mother's health is in jeopardy.

The law states that the mother's life should be prioritized over that of her unborn child in an emergency situation, UCA News reported Tuesday.

After discussions in last week's parliament meetings, the lawmakers added a provision that three doctors and the parents must agree "to extract an embryo from the mother." However, in rural areas where there are few doctors, midwives are allowed to perform the abortions.

An April 15 pastoral letter from the heads of both Timorese dioceses, Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili and Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau, stated their opposition to the law.

The prelates clarified the Church's position that the doctors should try to save both mother and baby in an emergency.

Bishop da Silva met with the prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, on March 9 to discuss the draft penal code.

Similarly, Bishop Nascimento met with Deputy Prime Minister José Luís Guterres on March 13 to emphasize the Catholic teaching on abortion.

"The Catholic Church will never change its stance toward abortion," the prelate said, "because one of the Ten Commandments says 'you shall not kill.'"

The bishops' letter affirmed the "sacred and inviolable nature of life from conception to death," and noted that this is based both in Church teaching and traditional Timorese culture.

It appealed to the country's leaders to provide for the needs of mothers and children, and punish those responsible for violence against them.

East Timor became independent in May 2002 after more than two years under the temporary administration of the United Nations.

The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute reported last month that the country is under U.N. pressure for its abortion laws.

It stated that despite general support in East Timor for the continued criminalization of abortion, several non-governmental organizations such as the Alola Foundation and Rede Feto, with the support of the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Children's Fund, have been lobbying for more liberalized abortion laws.