Abortion, the act of ending a pregnancy, has long been a source of considerable debate. Global abortion laws are diverse. Religious, moral, and cultural sensibilities continue to influence abortion laws throughout the world. People are divided into two groups depending on whether they are against or in favour of abortions. Anti-abortion groups or individuals who favour greater legal restrictions on abortion, including complete prohibition, often describe themselves as’ Pro-life’, while abortion rights groups who are against such legal restrictions describe themselves as ‘Pro-choice’.
The World Health Organization recommends safe and legal abortions be made available to all women. Globally, around 19-20 million unsafe abortions are performed each year. Abortion rates changed little between 2003 and 2008, before which they decreased for at least two decades as access to family planning and birth control increased. However, very few women had access to legal abortions. In countries that permit abortions, the limitations on the rule vary.
Abortion laws are different around the world. In some areas abortion is legal only in specific cases such as rape, problems with the foetus, poverty, risk to women’s health, etc. In many places there is much debate over the moral, ethical, and legal issues of abortion. In ancient times, abortion was done using herbal medicines, sharp tools, with force, or through traditional methods. These are not the right methods and in fact can be harmful. However, with safe and legal methods made available in today’s world, many still opt for illegal methods. Staunch opponents of abortion often maintain that an embryo or foetus is a human with a right to life and may compare abortion to murder. This is the reason why the stigma around abortion is strong, especially in our country. Those who favour the legality of abortion often hold that a woman has a right to make decisions about her own body.
Abortion in India is legal up to twenty weeks of pregnancy under specific conditions and situations. A legally major woman requires no other person’s consent except her own. The Indian abortion law is called the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, which was enacted by the Indian Parliament in the year 1971 with the intention of reducing the incidence of illegal abortion and consequent high maternal mortality and morbidity. The MTP Act came into effect from 1st April, 1972 and was amended in 2002.
But even after being permitted under the Indian law, abortion is considered a taboo in society or a sin which should not be committed. It is considered ethically wrong and women are usually advised against doing so. Abortion is equated with murder. And at the same time, the society questions the character of women in case of a pre-marital pregnancy. Women in such cases are put through a lot of mental trauma. A situation arises where a woman is not allowed to terminate her pregnancy, yet is constantly ridiculed.
Though we say that times have changed and the society is more broad-minded than a decade ago, it cannot be denied that the stigma related to abortion is still prevalent. An unplanned pregnancy may not only bring chaos in the family, but also become a traumatic experience for the woman. Some cases have also been reported where cases of pre-marital pregnancy has led to violence among the family. With the pre-conceived notion of the apparent ‘shame’ it is supposed to bring, people may opt for abortion secretly, through unregistered service providers. This, despite the fact that there are government-approved centers for legal termination of pregnancy. All this is a result of the stigma associated with abortion, which prevents families from supporting women in their own household to get an abortion done.
In such a situation, where the society cannot accept both pre-marital pregnancy and also abortion, it is quite difficult for women. Ultimately, however, there is a need to acknowledge that it is a woman’s body and she must have the authority to take decisions about it. Abortion is definitely not an alternative to contraception. However, in the times that an unwanted pregnancy occurs, a woman should have total control over deciding whether she wants to go ahead with the pregnancy or opt for abortion conducted by registered practitioners. The law of the state as well as the unsaid norms in society, must thus try to incorporate a ‘pro-choice’ initiative.
Nagaland Branch, FPA India