pregnancy seriously affects the pregnant girl or woman, particularly in
societies where opinions are fueled by dogmatic values. In these societies, laws
criminalizing abortion are successful in penalizing practitioners and women who
seek abortions, but fail to reduce the number of abortions. To make
things worse anti-abortion laws have forced hapless girls and women to
resort to clandestine means of unsafe abortions making them vulnerable to fatal
On the flipside of wanted or planned pregnancy lies
the threat of a stigmatized pregnancy. This mostly happens out of wedlock, and
affects teenage girls, unmarried women, and married women who might be in other
relationships. In societies where social norms are severe, men often abandon
these women when they learn about the pregnancy. Family and friends of these
women are afraid to step forward, support or care for them. An unplanned
pregnancy also results from violence against girls and women who become primary
targets, especially in conflict regions. Such pregnancies could cost a woman
her health, well-being, career, education and any other productive growth in
any area of her life. While contraception is available it is not always
effective, or accessible. Some couples do not use contraceptives at all.
In India, many women delay abortion, due to ignorance of the Medical
Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) law. Some cannot access health care facilities
or providers because of their poor economic standing, lack of privacy and state
of confusion arising from guilt, stigma and poor family support.
Row over Sex Selection:
reason for the current agitation in India over abortion is sex-selection, which
is a symptom of gender discrimination. Preference shown to male children, and
the aversion shown to female children, spring from the resulting misogyny.
Banning the termination of pregnancy is not a solution to reduce sex selective
abortion. A lot more has to be done to make girls and women well accepted in
societies that deny them their rightful place. The interest that sparked
in enforcing strict laws against sex-selective abortion is mostly not out of
appreciation for girls and women, but propaganda solely driven by the
imbalance in the ratio of men and women.
To maintain gender balance,
laws against abuse of girls and women should get stricter and people should be
educated about the importance of the most neglected and abused human resources.
It is important to remember that most women seeking abortion have other
reasons and not sex selection.
Criminalization of abortion only forces
women to seek illegal and unsafe methods to abort their pregnancy.
Lack of awareness on
access to safe medical procedures and fear of stringent laws interfering with a
woman's reproductive right has caused many girls and women to use sharp
instruments or even throw blows on their stomachs to terminate pregnancies
Married women actually constitute the majority of women desperate for an
abortion, and often travel to neighboring cities to get the procedure done.
Unsafe abortions have been fatal in many cases which is why the Shantilal
Commission was established in 1961 and the following Medical Termination of
Pregnancy Act (
MTP Act) was passed
in 1971 by the Indian Parliament. As long as abortion remains severely restricted,
girls and women will continue to fall prey to unsafe means to terminate
Access to safe abortion
ensures girls and women get pre- and post- abortion care in a well equipped
medical facility. Women have the right to choose if and when they want to have
children, because it is they who have to undergo physical, mental and
psychological changes, and endure pain whether the pregnancy is sustained or
terminated. Unsafe abortions leave a woman facing long term adverse effects and
even fatal complications which are almost negligible with safe abortions. In
emotionally charged societies guilt, remorse, lack of confidentiality and
privacy are intense. Hence Ministry of Health, medical facilities and health
care professionals must be sensitized to treat safe abortion with
open-mindedness and utmost sensitivity.
for the reasons justified by a woman who wants it for herself, is a desperate
cry for help. Society should ensure safe abortion respecting a woman's need to
assert her reproductive right, her desire to have control over her body and
thus her life.
- Dr. Suchitra Dalvie MD MRCOG, of Asia Safe Abortion
- Dr. Shweta
Krishnan MBBS, MS Science Journalism
- Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy
Guidance for Health Systems