(un)Forbidden abortion Selective abortions veil under the law

Approximately 1,200 girls are not born in Armenia yearly due to sex-selective abortions. According to the United Nations Population Fund in Armenia, Armenia will lose approximately 90,000 future mothers by the year 2060.

Having an abortion after 12 weeks is prohibited in Armenia (the sex of the fetus becomes clear after this point) if there are no directions from the doctor or if evidence of poor social circumstances do not dictate otherwise. Despite this ban, families continue to abort their baby girls. Doctors carry out forbidden selective abortions after 12 weeks. Experts confirm that this is a hidden problem.


Between 2008 and 2012, 115 boys were born per 100 females. The normal sex ratio is 105 or 106 boys per 100 girls.

The reasons for sex-selective Abortions in Armenia

  • The patriarchal structure of Armenian society and its traditions
  • The superiority of the paternal and the higher role that men play
  • Men and women are not equal in society, boys are considered to be more desirable
  • Girls are considered to be less worthy than boys
  • Boys are considered to be the continuation of the family
Armenia is on the list of countries where sex-selective abortions take place most commonly (China, India, Azerbaijan, Albania).

The government made the decision to ban sex-selective abortions in 2016.

Abortions are allowed up until 12 weeks based on a written appeal made by the woman. Abortions are carried out between 12 and 22 weeks strictly under doctor’s orders (including in cases where an illness can be inherited based on the child’s sex) or with evidence regarding the social circumstances of the family, once again based on a written appeal made by the woman. If there are no directions given by the doctor or evidence provided regarding the woman’s social circumstances, then it is forbidden (including sex-selective abortions) after 12 weeks. Abortions can only be carried out with the help of an obstetrician and gynecologist in a licensed facility.

Law on Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights

How people go around the law and carry out prohibited abortions

Obstetrician-gynecologist (they agreed to give an interview based on the condition that their name would not be published)

“If a couple has decided to have a son, they wait until they find out what the sex is. The woman does not register anywhere as being pregnant. When the sex is identified after 12 weeks, and if it is not the sex they wished- usually if it’s a girl- they go to the doctor. The doctor will write that the woman was 11 weeks pregnant instead of 12 weeks for some payment (up to $100) and that is how they go around the law and carry out the abortion.”
“At-home abortions. Women either take abortion pills or methotrexate (also used to induce abortion) and they have the abortion at home. These are given only with prescription, but they can get these pills from the pharmacy, or they can get the pills from neighboring Georgia. There are times when the doctor has prescribed abortion pills to the woman once, and the woman does it again herself the second time.”
“The doctor also carries out the abortion using pills. This cannot be supervised in any way. The pregnant woman pays the doctor. Yes, this is bribery”. Obstetrician-gynecologist.
“The pregnancy is recorded as being underdeveloped, or that the fetus had no heartbeat, and the abortion was carried out under doctor’s orders. The sonographer is also given a bribe. They give a written conclusion that there was no heartbeat and include a photograph that does not show whether the heart was beating or not. Banned abortions are more expensive in this case, but this is not very widespread.”
  • “The doctor is paid very little for a registered abortion, and therefore, this causes the risk of corruption. The doctor carries out the abortion with the sonographer. The abortion cannot be supervised, but the couple demands that the abortion take place.”
“A woman comes to the hospital bleeding. It is clear that she had a miscarriage. She did not mention that she took abortion pills at home. The doctor simply had to clean the miscarriage. But statistics do not reflect that this was a self-induced abortion. The woman carried out the abortion herself.”
Ministry of Health: No case of sex-selective abortion has been registered


“One woman found out that the sex of her fetus was female. It was decided that the woman should be beaten so much that she have a miscarriage. The neighbors somehow managed to save the woman. After appealing to the appropriate bodies, they were able to get the woman out of the country,” residents of the Mrganush village explain. “Socioscope” 2018

“Many women accept the patriarchal ideal that a boy is more desirable as the continuation of the family. Her husband and her husband’s family also expect her to have a son. Therefore, many women initiate the abortion of the second or third girl themselves so they can prevent pressure from their husband or husband’s family.”

“Many women have abortions using methods discussed in society so that they don’t have to go to a gynecologist. These are not free. They need to have the right connections.” World Vision Armenia “How to Have a Son”

“This especially takes place among women living in villages whose husbands are working in a foreign country. They call their husband to let him know that they are having a girl. The husband says, “We don’t need a girl. Abort it.” And the woman has to somehow solve the problem through jumping from a high surface, taking medicine, or carrying heavy objects, so that she miscarries.” World Vision Armenia

“One woman tried to perform an abortion on herself. She said, ‘Doctor, I drank two bottles of beer, and then aspirin. Then, I ate 10 unpeeled eggs. Afterwards, my mother told me that I should put something inside of my body to induce an abortion.’ As a result, her uterus was removed.” “How to have a son” report.

Report by the Women’s Resource Center NGO: “Women’s invisible rights in Armenia: The image of reproductive health and rights for different groups of women” 2018

International research shows that the laws not only do not eliminate sex-selective abortions or the preference of having a male child, but instead, it has an affect on the availability of abortions for women...

Women in the Lori and Shirak regions spoke about cases where women have spoken to former nurses who can carry out abortions at home for affordable prices.

“There were always lines by the neighboring building. I wondered what those lines were for, and it became clear that a former nurse worked in that home. She carried out abortions at home, and she also supposedly was able to reverse infertility.”
Every year, approximately 12,000 cases of abortions are registered among women of reproductive age. Over half of these abortions are ones allowed by law, then they are miscarriages, which are frequently carried out through medications, and then they are ones done by doctor’s orders.

“Those terrible abortion pills. We fought against them… and they became available through prescription. Then, it is frequently used again and again. This method is very widespread. We spoke about this issue with the minister. We said that when a woman goes to the pharmacy, she is given the abortion pill. In many cases, this is given in incorrect circumstances.” Vahe Gyulkhasyan, United Nations Population Fund Reproductive Health Officer.

“Abortions are allowed up until 12 weeks based on the woman’s desire. It is even impossible through ultrasounds to know if a pregnancy is 12 weeks or 13 weeks along. The doctor asks the woman, and it is based off of when her last menstrual period was. So, if the sex of the fetus is known at 13 weeks, and if the woman says that she is 12 weeks pregnant and simply does not want to carry the pregnancy to term, the doctor will carry out an abortion.” Vahe Gyulkhasyan

Head of the Maternal and Reproductive Health Department of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Armenia, Gayane Avagyan

“If a woman took medication to miscarry and went to the hospital due to excessive bleeding, and she does not explain what happened, no one can clarify if the miscarriage took place due to the medication, or if it took place on its own. If a woman goes to a doctor when she is 12-13 weeks pregnant and does not say that the fetus is a girl, and she demands an abortion, the doctors will do it. It is impossible to clarify whether that was a sex-selective abortion or not. It is impossible to supervise this. It is possible for there to have been cases of miscarriages which took place due to the fetus’ sex. It is impossible to know.” Gayane Avagyan

“A woman can take abortion pills when she finds out the sex. She will then have to go to a medical facility for them to clean out the miscarried pregnancy. That is a miscarriage. They use different types of abortion pills. We do not have any statistics as far as how many women drank these pills at home and miscarried as a result. Special research needs to be carried out among women in order for us to know such information.” Gayane Avagyan.

“I cannot exclude the possibility of 1, 2, or even 10 of the abortions that took place under doctor’s orders being due to the fetus’ sex.”
“Obstetricians can carry out an abortion at 13 weeks. We can cause danger through this ban. Through banning abortions, the number of women who die during pregnancy will rise. In obstretrics, a 12 week pregnancy plus 7 or 14 days is acceptable, therefore, it is possible for there to have been cases where an abortion was carried out at that time. It is not possible to clarify if the abortion took place due to the fetus’ sex, since the pregnant woman does not say anything about that.”

The Ministry of Health official excludes the possibility of doctors faking documents in order for sex-selective abortions to take place. “No sonographer would do something as stupid as writing off a healthy fetus as having problems. If they have abortions based off of doctor’s orders, that needs to have some kind of basis, including conclusions based off of ultrasounds, two pictures, and the woman’s name and last name. The picture shows the heart problem, which might not be visible on an ultrasound done in a village. If it is an undeveloped pregnancy, they should not have to find a basis for that. Doctors are careful, and they would not allow for this pregnancy to not be registered. But if the woman came back with problems, what is the doctor supposed to do? It’s better to write that a 13 week pregnancy is a 12 week one instead of writing a fake prognosis. That can lead to criminal charges.”

“Since abortions are not allowed after 12 weeks, we do not have information as far as how many women carried out sex-selective abortions or abortions at home through taking pills. In order for us to have such information, special research needs to be conducted among women.”

The official statistics

Although the number of legal abortions (Armenian law states that abortions can be carried out for any reason before the pregnancy is at 12 weeks) that took place in 2017 was less than the number that took place in 2016, it increased from 2015. Doctors confirm that women often conceal the true length of their pregnancies, and sometimes, for example, a 13-week pregnancy is registered as being an 11 or 12-week pregnancy.

Although the number of abortions that take place under doctor’s orders decrease every year, experts do not exclude the possibility that some of these abortions are sex-selective.

According to official statistics, self-inflicted abortions that take place before 22 weeks decrease every year. But the ministry does not have statistics on how many women have carried out self-inflicted abortions at home. Experts confirm that selective abortions are largely concealed.

The Ministry of Health has started a campaign against selective abortion in 2013, initiated a campaign among the population, a legislative amendment in 2016.

Between 2008 and 2012, 115 boys were born per 100 females. The normal sex ratio is 105 or 106 boys per 100 girls.
Gayane Avagyan. “We have noticed a change. 113.4 boys were born to every 100 girls in 2013. If we take into consideration the fact that 40,000 children are born on average, we saved 800 girls in 2013.” But the positive changes in statistics were mostly due to us spreading awareness.
Gayane Avagyan.“No law can be carried out completely all at once. We should not only place the main emphasis on the bans, but on changing people’s behavior and mindset.”

P.S. Our program was ready for publication when the Police of the Republic of Armenia informed us that on March 30th, Hasmik Harutyunyan, a 27-year-old pregnant woman, died at the Gavar Medical Center. The director of the hospital informed us that, before the woman was taken to the hospital, she took medicine- most likely abortion pills- in order to have an abortion. Then, after having severe pains, she went to the medical center. She was diagnosed with a life-threatening abortion, so it was decided that the doctors would clean her uterus and remove the fetus. However, after she was given painkillers, the woman went into anaphylactic shock and died.

Producer and Editor: Nelly Babayan

Journalist: Lusine Budaghyan

Images: Noro Harutyunyan

Video Editor: Levon Taksildaryan

Translator: Lena Kirakosyan

This production was supported by OPEN Media Hub with funds provided by the European Union

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