Women, married or unmarried, need to recognise and fight against the labels that come with getting an abortion, because at the end of the day it’s ‘my body, my choice’.
One of the biggest myths Indian society has propagated since time immemorial: being a mother is synonymous with being a woman.
Um, no. As women, it is our right to choose to decide whether we want to become mothers or not. And if we don’t, then society has no right to shame us for it.
Too often, women, especially married women, are forced to uphold the taboo around the word abortion. The practice is often deemed “dirty”, “shady”, “impure”—and too often reserved for women of “loose character”. Anti-abortionists in India have a myriad of arguments against abortion, going blue in the face stating that not only is the practice “illegal”, it is also “dangerous” and almost fatalistic to the very life of a pregnant woman.
Coupled with this lies the censure directed towards an unmarried woman—sometimes even by the medical professionals she has sought out to perform the abortion. And it is this stigma that often forces women to turn towards unsafe, unhygienic practices instead. In fact, a study by The Lancet estimated that about 15·6 million abortions occurred in India in 2015, out of which most are ‘medication abortions’ obtained outside of health facilities.
However, it’s time to debunk the many myths that surround the stigma around abortions in India. Women—married or unmarried—need to recognise and fight against the labels that come with getting an abortion, because at the end of the day—”my body, my choice”, remember?
Myth: Abortion is illegal in India
The staunch hypocrisy of the Indian society towards women making their own choice propound in one dangerous big fat lie: that abortion is illegal in India. According to research from 2018, about 80 percent of women are not aware that abortion is legal in India and as a result, resort to seeking help from backstreet providers.
The truth is that abortion has been legal in India since 1971, when the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was introduced. However, the Act comes with its own set of limitations. For instance, if a woman seeks an abortion within the first 12 weeks of her pregnancy, she will need to garner the approval of one medical practictioner. If she is well within 12-20 weeks of her pregnancy, however, she will have to gain the official approval of two medical practitioners. Beyond 20 weeks, an abortion will not be allowed, unless a medical practitioner states that the pregnancy can be fatalistic for the woman.
However, this does not mean that a woman will not be able to abort if she were carrying beyond 20 weeks.
Nozer Sherier, the former secretary general of the Federation of Gynaecologists and Obstetrician Societies of India has said: “As far as possible, women should seek an abortion early, but even if they seek one in the second trimester, an abortion is safer than carrying a dangerous pregnancy to term and giving birth.”
Despite the many amendments that need to be implemented into the Act, the foremost being that a woman in her first trimester be allowed to seek an abortion without the approval of a medical practitioner—the Act at least ensures that the practice is not deemed “illegal”.
Myth: Abortions are dangerous and risky
There is an ill-informed widespread belief that abortions can pose a risk to the life of the woman seeking it—and may even damage her fertility levels in the long run, affecting her chance to procreate in the future. This is untrue. There is no link between an abortion and infertility, and most women can get pregnant immediately after an abortion.
And this is why there is an urgent need to remove the stigma around abortions in India, so that instead of turning towards unlicensed backdoor healthcare providers, women can seek safe medical support from authorised healthcare professionals.
Dr Sherier says abortions taking place outside of proper healthcare facilities account for about eight percent of maternal deaths.
“These can be completely avoided and each one of those deaths prevented if safe, accessible, and affordable abortions are made easily available to women,” she says.
For about 100 women using the correct medical pill to terminate a pregnancy in the first 12 weeks, less than even five of these women would need a further medical consultation.
Myth: Easy access to abortions furthers female infanticide
Another fear that attempts to challenge the normalisation of seeking abortions in India is that easier access to the practice will further the evils of female infanticide. However, media reports have stated that about 80-90 percent of reported abortions in India take place in the first trimester, when it is hard to determine the sex of the foetus through the ultrasound. The ‘gender reveal’ usually takes place in the second trimester.
Myth: Abortions lead to regrets in the long run
While there isn’t substantial data to back up the challenge to this highly dramatised myth, it is seen from personal accounts of Indian women who have sought an abortion and faced prejudice for what should be their right—that the overriding feeling for them after the procedure—was relief. Not regret. Another diabolical cap in Indian society’s hypocrisy is the need for emotional blackmail. This probably explains the emphasis of equating a fairly common and safe practice with “murder” and “taking away the right to live”.
As stressed on before: a woman’s body is her own. And if she decides that she doesn’t want to be a mother, it’s her choice alone. Don’t shame her for it.
(Edited by Teja)