BEIRUT—Unmarried and pregnant, Ranya gathered up her courage and confided to a friend that she was considering a drastic step: an illegal abortion.
She braced for criticism. But to her surprise, her friend disclosed that she had had one too.
Ranya asked another friend, who also said she’d had an abortion. And another gave her the phone number of a doctor in Beirut who would perform the procedure on the sly. The doctor used no anesthetic. The pain lingered for days, but the guilt engulfed her weeks later.
“It doesn’t make me feel guilty because of Islam,” said Ranya, 29, a short, brown-haired artist, struggling with her words. “It’s a very complicated guilt to explain. I tend to philosophize things. I feel guilty in a weird way. It crosses my mind all the time.”
Despite legal and religious restrictions against abortion in much of the Arab world, changing social values and economic realities as well as demographic shifts have contributed to an apparent increase in the number of the procedures in the Middle East.
“There’s definitely an increase compared to 10 to 15 years ago,” said Mohammed Graigaa, executive director of the Moroccan Assn. for Family Planning. “Abortion is much less of a taboo. It’s much more visible. Doctors talk about it. Women talk about it. The moral values of people have changed.”