A word which we all understand by its dictionary definition but actually know nothing about. A word we simply react to by raising our eyebrows whenever we hear of any one around us opting for it. The reason is simple, because from the beginning we have seen our society responding abortion either by judging someone’s character or by expressing sympathy. Hence, in the majority of cases, abortion takes place under a veil.
There could be many reasons due to which a person opts for abortion: pregnancy out of wedlock; an unplanned child; a foetal abnormality; pregnancy as a result of rape; or female foeticide. In India, there exist rural pockets where social evils like child marriage and female foeticide still persist. Minor girls, who are completely unaware about both pregnancy and abortion, are forced to conceive at very young age. Also, in many cases they are pressurised to undergo an abortion in want of boy child, where neither mother nor family understands its effects on a pregnant person’s health. For that matter, even urban areas are no less in count of female foeticide. There is an advanced and well educated population of urban youths who are opting for live-in-relationships and having sexual relationships outside of the institution of marriage. But both these populations (rural and urban) have one common trait, which is their non-cognizance of issues like reproductive healthcare or voluntary and safe sexual and reproductive choices. This obliviousness hints at an ample flow of information on pregnancy but paucity of information on abortion.
Abortion and its subsequent experiences are hardly a topic of conversation—other than for gossiping. Still, in our society, mothers or aunts prefer not to discuss these issues. This somehow further discourages those women who themselves have undergone this experience from talking, and being a potential source of information for the coming generation.
Today, in this convenient world of knowing everything with one click, we know about politics, science, fashion, medical science, sports, the entertainment industry, legal rights and more. But we are left ignorant about a medical incidence which could happen to any women, no matter if they are married, single, divorced, or widowed. We learn so easily about pregnancy and post-pregnancy care, but nothing about abortion due to the fact that pregnancy is so visible, desirable, and talked about. But discussing issues like abortion is still a taboo.
As many of us know, before the enactment of The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, abortion was criminalised in India under Section 312 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. Cheers to the Shantilal Shah Committee whose efforts helped in decriminalising abortion, subject to a few conditions like termination of pregnancy can only be up to 20 weeks of gestation, and only the mother’s “yes” is sufficient for termination. In addition to this, there are clear guidelines about facts regarding who can terminate a pregnancy, where it can be terminated, and more. Also, there are a few amendments pending to the MTP Act, 2014: increasing the gestation limit from 20 weeks to 24 weeks, increasing the base of medical practitioners who can perform a safe abortion, and making access to legal abortion to unmarried women, to prevent them from falling in trap of fake clinics.
Bringing awareness about reproductive health care can be done both at the macro as well as micro level is a must. At the macro level government’s efforts can be most efficacious.
The government has taken up many initiatives to spread awareness about institutional delivery, female foeticide and more. Now, it’s time to launch a campaign where both girls and boys should be made aware about safe abortion facilities available in India, its due process, legal validity of that process, and women’s right to reproductive justice. Also education about post abortion dietary and medical care should be emphasised.
The government should fasten the judicial process where plea for termination is filed so that pregnant women don’t cross the legal limit of abortion waiting for a response, and not, as a consequence, head towards quacks in both rural and urban areas. Also, our judiciary should design stricter laws and penalise illegal abortion clinics.
Sex education can be an efficient tool as well. In schools and colleges, basic concepts about abortion and its consequences can be shared with students to make them aware about when and how to have safe sex, and whom to approach in case of any event like needing an abortion or miscarriage.
Corporate houses can also start offering individual medical counselling facilities, where employees may come and discuss issues regarding family planning, and reproductive health, with their privacy respected. Civil societies may also participate in organising awareness weeks at these houses.
The supply of contraception should meet its demand by young married couples so that they can effectively manage their family planing.
At the micro level, family and friends should take the responsibility of guiding their acquaintances towards information. Mothers should talk openly to their daughters, both married and unmarried, about an incidence like abortion and educate them how to handle it maturely and safely. Also, girls who themselves have undergone abortion should feel safe enough to share their experience with their friends or siblings or on social media so that this can be a learning for others.
My heartfelt thanks to all those girls who have dared to come forward and shared their experience of abortion which shows that undergoing abortion can be traumatic, if it’s not a well-informed decision. Therefore women (of any class, status, age, or profession) should be well aware about their body and their choices. No one else than a woman herself should be given the right to take decisions about both pregnancy and abortion as these decisions will affect her sexual and reproductive health in future.
Ultimately, it’s My Body My Choice.