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An amendment to the existing UAE law concerning abortion has brought about significant changes, particularly regarding the consent requirements for the procedure. This legal development, enacted through Federal Decree-Law No. 18/2023 amending Federal Decree-Law No. 4/2016 concerning Medical Liability, represents a pivotal moment in the protection of women’s rights and autonomy in matters concerning their reproductive health.

UAE Women's Autonomy

UAE Women’s Autonomy

Understanding the Legal Framework

The Federal Decree-Law concerning Medical Liability lays down the legal obligations and responsibilities of medical practitioners in the UAE. It emphasizes the paramount importance of upholding patient dignity, autonomy, and overall well-being. Among the key duties prescribed for medical practitioners are accurate diagnosis, confidentiality, and obtaining informed consent from patients prior to initiating any treatment.

Comparison of UAE Abortion Laws: Before and After the Amendments

Old Law (Federal Decree-Law No. 4/2016 concerning Medical Liability)

Consent Requirements:

Husband’s Consent: Under the previous law, obtaining the husband’s consent was mandatory for any abortion procedure.

Hierarchy of Consent: If the pregnant woman was unable to provide consent, the law stipulated a hierarchy where the husband’s consent took precedence, followed by that of a male relative (tutor) in the absence of the husband.

Circumstances Permitting Abortion:

Endangerment: Abortion was permitted if the life of the pregnant woman was in imminent danger.

Deformation: Serious fetal deformation, posing a threat to the life and health of the fetus post-birth, constituted grounds for abortion.

Time Restriction:

120-Day Limit: Abortion was only legally permissible within 120 days of gestation.

Authority to Expand Permissible Cases:

No Provision: The law did not provide for any specific authority to expand the circumstances under which abortion could be performed.

Protection Against Illicit Abortions:

Practitioner Accountability: Medical practitioners found to have performed unauthorized or illicit abortions were subject to legal penalties, including imprisonment.

UAE Women's Autonomy

UAE Women’s Autonomy

Amended Law (Federal Decree-Law No. 18/2023)

Consent Requirements:

Pregnant Woman’s Consent: The amended law prioritizes the consent of the pregnant woman herself, thereby eliminating the requirement for spousal consent.

Hierarchy of Consent: In situations where the pregnant woman is unable to provide consent, the hierarchy remains, with the husband’s consent taking precedence, followed by that of a male tutor if the husband is unavailable. However, the woman’s consent is deemed paramount whenever feasible.

Circumstances Permitting Abortion:

Endangerment: The amended law upholds the provision allowing abortion when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk.

Deformation: The criteria for permitting abortion in cases of serious fetal deformation remain unchanged.

Time Restriction:

Removal of 120-Day Limit: The amendment abolishes the previous temporal restriction, thereby affording greater flexibility in accessing abortion services.

Authority to Expand Permissible Cases:

Cabinet Authority: Federal Decree-Law No. 18/2023 empowers the Cabinet to issue resolutions determining additional permissible cases for abortion, demonstrating the UAE’s commitment to adaptability and responsiveness to evolving societal needs.

Protection Against Illicit Abortions:

Practitioner Accountability: The legal provisions holding practitioners accountable for unauthorized or illicit abortions are preserved, ensuring that medical professionals adhere to the law under penalty of imprisonment and other legal consequences.

Application and Implications

The amended law applies comprehensively to medical practitioners in the UAE, delineating the circumstances and procedural requirements for conducting abortion procedures. By centering on the pregnant woman’s consent and expanding access to abortion services, the law reaffirms and advances women’s autonomy over their reproductive health decisions.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the recent amendments to UAE abortion laws signify a significant milestone in advancing women’s autonomy and safeguarding their rights to make informed choices regarding their reproductive health. By prioritizing women’s consent, removing restrictive temporal limits, and granting regulatory flexibility, the UAE’s legal framework aligns more closely with international standards and underscores the nation’s commitment to promoting women’s rights and well-being.

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