Every woman has the right to decide whether or not she is ready to become a mother. Abortion is a matter of choice. Under various circumstances such as foetal abnormalities, health and age of the woman, pregnancy as a result of sexual assault, economic instability, and others, a woman may want to opt for an abortion. Why then should it be wrong to do so when she’s not ready for it?

However, in a country like ours, a red flag is raised everytime the thought of abortion comes up.

Because it is ‘socially unacceptable’. Social norms do not let a woman take decisions like buying what she wants to for herself or for her home. But because of the stigma associated with abortion, she doesn’t even have the right to take decisions about her own body, including her right to abortion.

 

Why is abortion stigmatised?

Our society has a deep-rooted belief that abortion is morally wrong. According to the Oxford dictionary, stigma is defined as ‘A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.’ This stigma associated with abortion, plays a major role in silencing and shaming women who wish to seek abortion services. Besides, religious beliefs, cultural values, economic status, lack of adequate comprehensive sexuality education, are a few factors responsible for building and strengthening this stigma.

Many of us live with this misconception that abortion is illegal in India. Moreover, society does not hesitate to tag a woman opting for abortion, as ‘loose’, ‘promiscuous’, ‘impure’, ‘shameless’, and the list goes on. Society marks women who seek pregnancy as inferior to the ideals of womanhood.

In a project started by FPA India, in the Khunti district of Jharkhand, a survey was carried out to determine how people perceive abortion. Through the survey, FPA India found out that a woman who has an abortion is considered a bad influence on others. Even in today’s world, many believe that an unmarried, pregnant woman should marry the man responsible for the pregnancy, whatever the circumstances may be.

Not just those getting an abortion done, but those supporting it are also tagged as sinners. “Even my friends say that ‘you are doing a sin’ – but I reply saying that ‘if I do not help those young women in need – that will be a sin’, said a medical officer from the FPA India clinic in Khunti.

Such beliefs lead people to turn a blind eye to accessing or even finding out about safe and legal methods of abortion.

 

Why do we want to destigmatise abortion?

Stigma prevents women from openly seeking services, or discussing these problems with their families or friends. Hence, they go to unregistered service providers or ‘quacks’, who use unsafe methods to terminate the pregnancy. These unsafe methods may even cause untimely deaths and complications.

But why go to illegal practitioners when you can opt for legal and safe methods? If you’re not prepared for a pregnancy, it is completely alright to want to terminate it; but with the right methods.

We all know that in our country, there is high preference for a male child and sex-selective abortions still happen. Being a woman myself, I am completely against this practise. For that matter, FPA India also takes a stand against sex determination and does not support or provide such a service. There is a strict law against pre-natal sex determination in our country, under the PCPNDT Act of 1994.

However, some service providers misinterpret this law. They tend to stay away from using licensed machines for scanning or sonography, in order to avoid being held responsible for sex-selective abortions. But, these methods are otherwise necessary to determine the growth and progress of the foetus. Not all methods or machines detect the gender of the foetus. Some legal methods are simply helpful in taking precautionary measures for the pregnant woman or the foetus. There is a need to clear some doubts about abortion, for service providers also.

 

How do we deal with stigma?

For someone who is not ready for motherhood mentally, physically, or economically even, would it be fair to deny her the right to terminate her pregnancy, and shame her if she does so? Absolutely not. A woman’s family is her support system, but where will she go if they believe that she would bring shame to the family by undergoing an abortion?

To cope up with the lack of information on abortion in all strata of society, there is a grave need for Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). CSE enables making informed choices about sexual health. It also encourages people to opt for legal and safe methods conducted by authorised medical practitioners.

Abortion is a highly misconstrued concept, often wrongly tagged as ‘ending a life’ or ‘killing a child’. Awareness about the fact that the foetus is an undeveloped mass of flesh, which has not come to life yet, is the need of the hour.

In case of an unintended pregnancy, there is no harm in getting an abortion done at a certified centre by a qualified service provider. And FPA India is working for this cause with their services on safe abortions. FPA India provides such safe abortion services across their 40 clinics in 18 Indian states. They even provide counselling at every stage to ensure that women undergoing abortion, recover physically as well as mentally.

In the Khunti project, awareness programs were conducted under FPA India’s intervention, after which some positive changes were seen. But, to bring about a drastic change in the deep-rooted attitudes, long-term efforts are the only solution.

To put an end to the stigma related to abortion, there is a need for unlearning the misconstrued meaning of abortion and re-learning the right one – safe and legal termination of pregnancy. It is us, the people, the society, who need to change our mindset. We need to be more sympathetic towards a woman’s need to undergo an abortion and guide her to opt for safe and legal methods for termination of pregnancy.

 

Mitali Puthli

FPA India.

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