Abortion still remains unknown to many even today, because of which it is stigmatised by society. Women opting for, or seeking abortion facilities face many issues which impact them emotionally, socially, financially, etc.
The reality of Stigma
Women have had many unpleasant experiences while trying to access abortion services. This is because of the stigma associated with it. While some may claim that they can freely and rightfully opt for safe abortion, there are plenty of women who are still victims of stigma in different ways. This technically is a violation of their reproductive rights.
In many cases, when a woman who is married, shows her will to end her pregnancy, she is considered as a lady who does not adhere to traditional norms of womanhood, who is disrespectful of elders, selfish, and morally wrong. On the other hand, families force women to undergo sex-selective abortions because they only wish for a male heir. This is completely unacceptable and we at FPA India, do not support it.
The women who decide to end their pregnancy without any support from their partner or family, go alone for check-ups and the procedure. They then become victims of this stigma and are insulted time and again for not listening to the family. Even though the law in India allows a woman above 18 years of age to get an abortion done without the consent from the father, partner, anyone else, she is emotionally or mentally traumatised by her own people. How then will a woman take her independent decision of getting an abortion?
In the case of unmarried women, situations are worse, because stigma manifests more strongly. Single girls/women are not at all meant to have a sex before their marriage as per the beliefs of an apparently ‘decent’ and ‘civilised’ society. And therefore, an unmarried woman who seeks abortion services is judged as bad, wrong, and unethical, for getting physically involved with someone before marriage. Questions are raised on her character.
In some cases, service providers raise questions such as, ‘Why do you want an abortion?’ ‘Where is your partner?’ ‘Why have you come alone for an abortion?’ ‘Why don’t you want to give birth to a child if you’re eligible?’ These questions may hurt the sentiments of women and tag them as irresponsible, leaving them feeling helpless. It can also have a severe impact on their minds, their jobs, their schedule, their emotions, their finances, and many others. In such cases, they may opt for abortion from clandestine abortion provides which may prove to be a risk to their life.
In case a rape victim gets pregnant, the family puts a pressure on her. They very clearly show how the victim has brought shame to their family name. Even women who do not belong to well-to-do backgrounds face more emotional and mental pressure, besides the financial burden. They find themselves alone, and are made to pay a high price for the abortion, along with the additional character-assassination by society and lack of support. And therefore they may take drastic and inappropriate steps, which can endanger their precious lives. Believe it or not, this still happens in many parts of our country.
What leads to Stigma?
Stigma develops only through influence. People who are constantly surrounded by those who view abortion in a bad light, also tend to adapt the same ideology. Abortion is stigmatised because of the lack of information, knowledge, and awareness, which results in misconception. There is a dire need to educate the families, partners, friends, and service providers to be sensitive to women who seek abortion services. This is possible through Comprehensive Sexuality Education and adequate counselling.
As the youth of today, it is our responsibility to hold open discussions about abortion. Awareness and advocacy for abortion play a major role in changing perceptions. We must have a warm and friendly outlook towards women who are seeking abortion services and those have done so in the past. Being sensitive to these needs is important. Most importantly, guiding service seekers to get the procedure done from certified medical practitioners with safe methods is essential.
Abortion for an unplanned pregnancy and sex-selective abortion should be placed differently. While the former is a right under certain legal clauses in our country, the latter is absolutely unacceptable.
I would like to conclude by saying, the reality of abortion will be clearly seen only when we want to see it.
Gwalior Branch, FPA India