Both the 2012 and 1973 versions of the Constitution of Syria require the state to “protect mothers and infants,”1 “protect the citizens’ health and provide them with the means of protection, treatment, and medication”2 Additionally, the 2012 version of the Constitution of Syria retained the language in the 1973 version that requires the state to guarantee “health services.”3
Both the 1973 and 2012 versions of the Syrian constitution also require the state to “guarantee women all opportunities enabling them to fully and effectively participate in the political, social, cultural, and economic life,” and to “remove the restrictions that prevent women’s development and participation in building the society.”4
The 2012 version of the Constitution of Syria also includes protections not found in the 1973 Constitution including an express prohibition of “discrimination on the grounds of sex.”5 The 2012 version also provides that “[t]he inviolability of private life [i.e., security from assault] is protected by law.”6
Although the above provisions from the recently approved Syrian constitution are sufficiently broad and arguably cover certain women’s health care rights, the Constitution itself does not define the extent to which the provisions are intended to cover a woman’s right to contraception, abortion, and/or other reproductive and maternal health care services. Moreover, because of the resource limitations described above, it was not possible to determine the extent to which these broad constitutional provisions have been further defined in Syrian laws, regulations, or other authoritative documents to guarantee a woman’s right to contraception, family planning, abortion, and/or other reproductive and maternal health care services, or whether Syrian laws otherwise protect such rights.
Secondary sources report that the Syrian penal code prohibits the advertising, promoting, selling, obtaining, or facilitation of contraception use.7 In practice, however, the Syrian government does not appear to adhere to these penal code prohibitions, and reportedly pays for – and even promotes the use of – contraception and family planning.8 For instance, the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs operates a family planning program in its medical centers throughout the country, and “the government pays for 40 percent of the country’s reproductive health tools and services, while the private sector accounts for the remainder.”9 Syrian law reportedly severely restricts the right to abortion, which is permitted only to save the woman’s life (and which requires spousal authorization as well as possibly parental authorization or notification).10 Some women nonetheless are able to find physicians who are willing to perform the services (usually for a fee).11
With respect to maternal health care, Syria reportedly provides “virtually free” health care to both men and women through government clinics and medical centers operated by the Syrian Ministry of Health.12 Private hospitals are also subject to a government imposed price ceiling.13
Islamic law also plays a role in Syria’s legal system, which is comprised of both civil and religious courts.14 According to one Islamic legal scholar, “the majority view among Muslim scholars on contraception has been that it is permissible with the wife’s consent, though perhaps disliked in certain cases. The wife’s consent is required because Islam recognizes the wife’s right to sexual enjoyment and procreation.”15 Similarly, “[t]he majority of Muslim scholars permit abortion, although they differ on the stage of fetal development beyond which it becomes prohibited.”16 Once “ensoulment,” the last stage of fetal development as described in the Qur’an, is in process or has occurred, abortion is prohibited.17 Most major Islamic schools of thought, however, would permit abortion in order to save the mother’s life, even after “ensoulment.”18
- 1. Syria Constitution art. 20(2) (2012); Syria Constitution art. 44(2) (1973).
- 2. Syria Constitution art. 22(2) (2012); Syria Constitution art. 46(2) (1973).
- 3. Syria Constitution art. 25 (2012); Syria Constitution art. 47 (1973).
- 4. Syria Constitution art. 23 (2012); Syria Constitution art. 45 (1973). With respect to the latter provision, the 1973 version refers to “the socialist Arab society” in lieu of “the society.”
- 5. Syria Constitution art. 33(3) (2012). The 1973 version of the constitution includes a more general guarantee of equality, providing that “[t]he citizens are equal before the law in their rights and duties.” Syria Constitution art. 25(2) (1973).
- 6. Syria Constitution art. 36 (2012).
- 7. Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance (Syria) 22 (Sanja Kelly & Julia Breslin eds., 2010), available at http://www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/inline_images/Syria.pdf.
- 8. Id. Based on 2011 data, the prevalence of contraceptive use on a nationwide basis is at approximately 58%. World Health Org., Syrian Arab Republic: Health Profile, http://www.who.int/gho/countries/syr.pdf.
- 9. Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance (Syria), supra note 11, at 22.
- 10. See Center for Reproductive Rights, The World’s Abortion Laws – Fact Sheet (Sept. 2011), available at http://reproductiverights.org/sites/crr.civicactions.net/files/documents/AbortionMap_2011.pdf.
- 11. Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance (Syria), supra note 11, at 22.
- 12. UK Border Agency, Operational Guidance Note: Syria 17 (Feb. 2009), http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/category,POLICY,,,SYR,499aa06f2,0.html.
- 13. Id.[/fn] Free services include maternal and child health care services, family planning, and health education.Id.[/fn] Approximately 93% of women in Syria “give birth in the presence of trained medical staff.”Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance (Syria), supra note 11, at 22.
- 14. See UK Border Agency, supra note 16, at 3 (Feb. 2009).
- 15. Azizah Y. al-Hibri, Family Planning and Islamic Jurisprudence 2, http://www.karamah.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/AlhibriFamilyPlanning.pdf.
- 16. Id at 4.
- 17. Id
- 18. Id. at 4-5.