Source: Radio Netherlands Worldwide
After just having spent five years in prison for performing an abortion, Sudanese gynecologist Ibrahim Abdulhadi is concerned he will be forced to stop practicing his profession. Abortion is illegal in Sudan.

“I do not regret what I have done for a moment. The years I spent in the prison are the price for saving the lives of thousands of girls and protecting their families. My conscience is clear, both morally and professionally,” Abdulhadi Ibrahim said in an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

Ibrahim was released this month after serving five years in prison for conducting abortions, which is illegal in Sudan.

There were two young women, both unmarried, in his clinic when the security forces stormed in on a dusty afternoon in Khartoum, five years ago. Both patients were pregnant, one of whom had a three months old dead embryo in her uterus.

Pregnancy before marriage is devastating, not only for the woman, but for her whole extended family in Sudan's traditional society. Not surprisingly in their attempts to end unwanted pregnancies desperate young women will do whatever it takes. This often sees them turning to traditional herbal healers, illiterate traditional midwives and even well-meaning but ill-prepared friends.

“The vast majority of them end up with a failed abortion and a dead embryo in the uterus threatening their life. Most of my patients were like this,” says Ibrahim.

Sex before marriage is common place in Khartoum but there is widespread denial about it.

“Safe sex and contraception for unmarried women is a taboo subject in Khartoum”, says another physician, who asked not to remain anonymous.

There's little discussion in broader society about the issue according to the physician. The government and religious establishment focus on moral and religious values without tackling the practical issues related to sex among young unmarried people.

There are no accurate statistics but indicators suggest that one in four women in Khartoum have sex before marriage, “but when pregnancy happens it is the woman alone who has to bear its consequences,’’ says Ibrahim.

Ibrahim studied gynecology and surgery in Britain and practiced there for years before returning to Sudan. He says the court found him guilty of failing to report to the police and authorities that he was treating unmarried pregnant women.

“That is not a part of my duties and obligations towards my patients”, says Ibrahim.

He says he was the victim of a campaign launched against him by the tabloid media and conservative religious forces. Once this campaign was up and running there was little room for rational debate, according to the doctor.

"It is regrettable that the Medical Council of Sudan preferred to keep silent,” he adds.

One of the allegations Ibrahim faced was that he made a fortune by performing abortions.

Asked the question Ibrahim replies with a soft laugh: “Most of my patients were young poor female university students from rural backgrounds. For 12 years of my medical career in Sudan I treated half of my patients for free. Many of them got pregnant after being forced to have sex because they needed money. How can you get rich from this kind of patient?”

After being released, Ibrahim is facing the threat of being banned from practicing his profession in Sudan, but he remains defiant:

‘That would be unfair. I will continue my work in raising public awareness about safe sex and sex education in general. I have saved the lives of thousands of Sudanese women.’

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