Abortion – A pro-choice decision.

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.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                   Sebastian Roy

Youth Champion,

Nagaland Branch, FPA India

 

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The Dangers of Stigma around Abortion

 

Millions of women die every year across the globe, while undergoing abortion. The root cause of this is unsafe abortion, which women opt for due to the stigma attached with the word “Abortion” in society. This stigma persists since decades and has affected health of women from all walks of life. There is a huge societal pressure which forces them to opt for unsafe methods to terminate pregnancy. This affects not just the physical, but the mental health of women as well.

 

Abortion is considered a big taboo in society due to which it is often looked upon with shame. It’s a universal social fact. There are many myths and preconceived notions, which need to be shunned. There is immense psychological pressure on women undergoing abortion, to such an extent that they can’t talk about it even with their families. The entire process of abortion then becomes a traumatic experience for them. It takes immense energy and will power to be able to cope up with the mental impact that abortion-stigma leaves on them.

 

Despite abortion being legal in India under the MTP Act of 1971 (amended 2002), millions of women opt for secret and unsafe abortions, which is alarming. Many in India consider it as illegal, due to lack of awareness. Women, themselves, are unaware of their sexual and reproductive rights. Many believe that abortions are dangerous and have long-term health effects. However, what they don’t understand is that abortion creates complications only when done using unsafe methods. Medically Terminated Pregnancies are safe and legal, even. Opting for abortion from a service provider who is not qualified, definitely involves high risk.

 

It is the right of a woman to decide if and when she wants to have children or if she doesn’t want to continue with the pregnancy. The lack of awareness about her own rights is what encourages many unregistered service providers to take advantage of this and ask women humiliating questions about their character. The stigma surrounding abortion has made safe abortion services difficult to access. And the impact that this emotionally-draining process has, along with the physical impact of unsafe methods, is what prevents women from even talking about abortion to anyone. This in fact, reinforces the stigma.

 

Another major issue is that, most people believe that in India, women opt for sex-selective abortions, which is not always the case. Access to safe abortion is a human right that every individual deserves. We need to do away with this social evil, which is adversely affecting women across the globe. All individuals have a right to their bodies. A person is responsible for his/her future. Women are often judged for the decisions they take with regards to their own bodies, health, and family. We need to end this discrimination by talking about it and spreading awareness about the safe and legal methods of abortion. Most importantly, counselling for women, before and after the procedure, is very important to help them cope. Let’s work together to end our silence towards abortion stigma by working for a better tomorrow, free from injustice and discrimination towards women.

 

Arshia Sethi

Youth Champion

Mohali Branch, FPA India.

 

Addressing Stigma Related to Abortion.

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.

It’s time to #DestigmatiseAbortion

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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.