Abortion. Even saying the word out loud in public might elicit a death stare or two.
This medical procedure has a horde of myths and misunderstandings surrounding it, almost a taboo for many women.
Thankfully, despite the stigma, the law allows it. In fact, India recorded 1.56 crore abortions in 2015, according to a study published in The Lancet Global Health. The study also stated, “Abortions accounted for one-third of all pregnancies, and nearly half of pregnancies were unintended,” pointing to the need for better family planning programmes.
In January this year, the Union Cabinet passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill 2020, making abortion a possibility till the 24th week of pregnancy. Beyond 24 weeks, permission from a medical board will be required.
However, abortion is still cloaked in layers of religious beliefs, misinformation, and patriarchal values. So, let’s clear the air.
Information you need to know
No matter how many people are against it, abortion is legal in India under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. Any woman over the age of 18 years — married or unmarried — can walk into a medical clinic and request an abortion till the 24th week of her pregnancy.
And if there is a danger to the mother’s physical or mental health, the number of weeks is irrelevant. But, you will need a doctor’s authorisation to proceed.
In the early stages of pregnancy, a woman is usually advised to opt for the oral method that’ll require her to consume tablets containing Mifepristone and Misoprostol. These are to be taken only under medical supervision.
The pills lead to severe cramping, dizziness, sweating, and heavy bleeding that can last a couple of days. But they are successful about 94-98 percent of the time. They become slightly less effective after 8-10 weeks of pregnancy. That’s when you can opt for a more invasive procedure.
There is the suction method, which pulls out the fetus from the uterus. This is used till 12 weeks of pregnancy or during the early second trimester. Once you’ve crossed the second trimester, doctors use the dilation and evacuation method that requires the cervix to be dilated to remove the fetus from the body. All these procedures are painful to some extent but can be managed with painkillers. However, early abortions tend to be the safest and least painful.
It’s a battle
Abortion, in general, goes against the patriarchal ideals of womanhood — a ‘pure’ (unmarried) woman and a nurturing mother. In the US, pro-choice and pro-life supporters are in a constant clash. “Unfortunately, even today, a woman’s right to decide is deliberated in parliaments the world over—reiterating the misconception that a woman can take rightful decisions only if her decision is endorsed by others,” Nidhi Dubey, Vice President of Global Health Strategies, told reporters.
This is exactly where the taboo stems from. Society is still coming to terms with the fact that only women have the right to decide what they do with their bodies. To conceive or abort is her choice.
Even today, most doctors tend to be uncomfortable authorising an abortion. Some even judge or question the woman about her decision. Ananya (name changed) said, “Everything took place in such a hushed manner. It felt like I was doing something wrong! To top it all, the doctor was chiding me about having sex before marriage.”
It can be a harrowing experience, one that many women in the country go through.
This often forces women to turn to unqualified practitioners and methods to abort. The last estimate from 2001 shows that unsafe terminations are the third leading cause of maternal deaths in the country — deaths that can be avoided by making sure that women have access to information and judgment-free services.
No woman should have to risk her life or feel ashamed while choosing to abort. It is her fundamental right to access information and health services, control her own body, and exercise her choice.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)