“I knew from the moment I found out that I didn’t want to carry the pregnancy to term, but I was overwhelmed by images everywhere telling me that it was “wrong” to consider abortion.
When I searched for information on the Internet, I was bombarded by religious websites with brutal pictures of aborted fetuses. When I tried to go to my friends for help, I was told they were “so excited” and couldn’t wait for me to have a baby.
My boyfriend kept saying how much he wanted a son. No one asked me what I wanted. I felt robbed of choice, like my body was being controlled by everyone but me…” Anonymous.
Many in India treat unborn foetuses with more respect than they do living, breathing women, often seeing the latter as only important in the roles of wife and mother. As a result of our attitude towards children being multifaceted (from being resources to inheritors of lineage), a woman’s reproductive capacity is tightly controlled by the needs of society, and she is often under pressure to have children she can’t afford to care for or doesn’t want.
Actively choosing to terminate a pregnancy is not a right society believes women should have, in the same way that it perpetuates the belief that women’s bodies belong to everyone but women themselves. The decision to undergo abortion should then be seen in the context of a woman’s right to her body. So what choices are actually available to women? What are some common misconceptions that prevent women from exercising their options? There are 7 that come out tops:
Although abortion is not completely unrestricted, it is legal within the framework of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act. A woman can get an abortion for a pregnancy under 12 weeks with the consent of a medical practitioner or up to 20 weeks with two physicians’ consent, if there is a risk to her life or grave injury to her mental or physical health. Abortions are also permitted in cases of rape or severe fetal abnormalities. For married women, if the pregnancy is due to contraceptive failure, they can also legally access abortion. These conditions prohibit some women, especially young unmarried women, from accessing abortion services. According to one study though, only one-fourth of women who have an abortion do so according to the reasons allowed under the MTP Act; most women choose to have an abortion to reduce family size and space pregnancies.
FALSE. The claim that women will experience intense grief, emotional trauma, and regret is simply untrue for the vast majority of women. One study discovered that 95% of women who had an abortion felt that it was the right decision for them. In addition, women do not experience higher rates of depression after an abortion.
Although it is possible to experience mental stress after an abortion, it is extremely rare, and many women instead report relief and even an increase in mental health. It is not shameful to have an abortion; some women simply are not ready to have children or do not want them at all.
Emergency contraception (EC), also known as the morning-after pill, does not end a pregnancy. The EC pills contain high doses of Ulipristal acetate or Levonorgestrel which stops the release of the egg, prevents the sperm from fertilizing the egg, or stops the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus lining. Emergency contraception should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex and is most effective within a 72-hour window, but can be used up to five days after.
No form of contraception is 100% effective. Even if everyone used contraceptives perfectly, never forgetting a birth control pill and always using condoms – accidents happen. Condoms break. Not all sexual encounters are planned or consensual – meaning contraception might not be an option in these cases. Abortion will always be a necessary component of comprehensive sexual health care.
Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures. If performed with the advice of a trained medical provider the risk of complications is very low. Abortion will not affect future pregnancies and less than 1% of women develop an infection or have heavy bleeding after a medical abortion via pills. There is no scientific link between abortion and infertility or breast cancer.
Only 9% of abortions in India happen because of sex selection. Sex-selective abortions can only be performed once the sex of the foetus can be determined, which only becomes possible in the second trimester. The vast majority of abortions are actually first trimester abortions.
Due to the limitations of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, an abortion performed under the guidance of a trained medical profession, in an equipped and hygienic facility may not be legal. If the doctor or the facility does not have government approval, the abortion is illegal. If a woman is getting an abortion for reasons other than those outlined in the MTP Act, it is illegal, even if the procedure was medically safe.
Laura Robinson is a Fullbright-Nehru scholar, and a consultant with CREA.