Social stigma refers to extreme disapproval of a person or group on socially characteristic grounds that distinguish them from other members of a society. Every society may have certain preconceived notions and set norms. Individuals or groups who may not completely act as per these deep-rooted cultural practices are stigmatised by society. Social stigma is seen manifested in simple aspects of daily life. Stigma may come into play in case of mental disorders, physical disabilities, illegitimacy, sexual orientation, gender identity, sexuality, beliefs, values, education, nationality, ethnicity, wealth, occupation, class, religion, beauty, relationship, sexual assault, and with abortion as well.
There is a lot of stigma that surrounds abortion. There are a number of misconstrued ‘beliefs’ ranging from ‘killing a child’ to ‘not being able to conceive again after an abortion’ or that ‘abortion brings shame to the family’. Negative associations tend to cling, not only to abortion itself, but to the women who choose to have an abortion. Stigma leaves women in the shadows, making them feel like they have committed a crime. Abortion is not considered an acceptable option to an unwanted pregnancy because it does not adhere to the social norms. In the Indian context especially, stigma associated with abortion, makes the woman feel guilty, scared, and ashamed. She may develop self-doubt and even be emotionally and physically drained because of the pressure that stigma puts on her.
Women do not have the right to make an important decision regarding their body: to carry a pregnancy to term or not. In spite of the fact that abortion is a common experience during women’s reproductive lives, stigma persists and abortion is seen as wrong or deviant. Without the support from families and friends, women who decide to have an abortion often feel isolated. Stigma can impact a woman’s self-worth, making her feel like she is somehow less able to make her own best decisions. Young and unmarried women are particularly vulnerable to this stigma. Questions are raised on their character, and tags like loose, promiscuous, and shameless, are associated to them for being sexually active before marriage.
The Indian MTP law of 1971 allows for termination of pregnancy under certain conditions. However, despite being legal, abortion is something that is not discussed openly. And if it absolutely has to be done, then they prefer to secretly go to unknown, unregistered service providers who may use unsafe and illegal methods. For young people, the problem is even more convoluted because they have poor access to safe abortion services, which leads to delays in obtaining services and reliance on unregistered providers. These unregistered service providers use unsafe methods that could create complications for women and even prove fatal.
Statistically speaking, 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Abortion happens; it is common, even. However, there is a lack of awareness and information on sex and sexuality which results in unwanted pregnancies. Hence, it is important to ensure that information on abortion and sexual health, reaches as many people as possible.
Ancient and unhygienic methods may still be prevalent in our society. It’s necessary to make people aware of the safe, legal, and modern methods of abortion. Moreover, guiding people to government-approved, authorised clinics where registered practitioners conduct safe abortions, is absolutely important. FPA India’s safe abortion service centers across 18 states in India, have handled many abortion cases successfully.
FPA India’s campaign, #DestigmatiseAbortion aims to create a platform where young people can openly talk about sexual and reproductive health and rights, including abortion. Young people have the power to gain and grasp information and share it with others to change perceptions. Ultimately, our campaign is all about helping young people who have been silenced by stigma to find their voice, to speak about their own experiences, share their queries, and get support to create an enabling environment for access to safe abortion services. Because, abortion is available, acceptable, and legal when conducted according to the criteria laid by the law.