RABAT (AFP) - A conference in the Moroccan capital Rabat on Tuesday launched a call for the legalisation of abortion in the north African country to end the "real tragedy" of backstreet terminations.
"Clandestine abortion is a taboo subject but a very real tragedy," said Chafik Chraibi, president of the Moroccan Association of the Fight Against Clandestine Abortion (AMLAC), which organised the conference.
"We estimate at 600 the number of abortions carried out by doctors each day, and some 200 non-medical abortions," Chraibi said, stressing the risks run by women, especially the poor.
In Canada, where abortion is legal and whose population is slightly larger than Morocco's 32 million, the daily rate is under 300.
AMLAC "does not encourage abortion but wants to ensure that it is done in good conditions, while as much as possible avoiding unwanted pregnancies, the source of much harm" to society, said Chraibi, a gynecologist.
The conference was attended by doctors, members of civil society and lawmakers -- though none from the Justice and Development Party (PJD), the Islamist party that is the senior partner in the ruling coalition.
Deputy speaker of parliament Khadija Rouissi, a human rights advocate and opposition member, criticised the PJD for shunning the meeting -- including Minister for Women Basima Hakkaoui -- saying they were "playing ostrich."
"We should shift the debate to parliament. How can we ignore reality like this?" she asked, asserting that the abortion ban contradicts the women's rights inscribed in the country's new constitution adopted in July.
She called the ban "reactionary," noting that the women who seek backstreet abortions usually do so because they cannot afford a medical one.
Campaigners also say some of those resorting to illegal abortion are the victims of rape, driven at least in part by the social stigma attached not just to having a child out of wedlock but even having suffered rape.
The victims include girls forced to work as maids and women trapped in forced marriages, they say.
"Abortion is the fourth cause of death for women, and this is a major public health issue," said Alaoui Belghiti, a doctor representing the health minister.
"Criminalisation of abortion does not prevent this potentially fatal practice from increasing," said Driss El Yazami, president of the National Human Rights Council, a state body.
Chraibi noted that the daily abortion rate in neighbouring Tunisia, where abortion was legalised in 1973, is around 40.