Abortion is legal in India up to 20 weeks, but the cloud of stigma around the medical procedure has led to widespread ignorance of when a woman can have one, where to get one, what it involves, and what happens after.
To help dispel the many myths and normalise conversations around abortion, CREA, a feminist human rights organisation, has launched the #AbortTheStigma campaign.
Speaking to The Quint, Anubha Singh, Program Coordinator at CREA and expert on sexual reproductive health and rights, answered some of the common questions women (and men) may have about abortion.
Where should you turn if you find yourself in need of an abortion?
Abortion laws in India are not restrictive – they’re quite enabling. But much of it depends on the service provider. In India, we’ve not seen the kinds of issues with it that America has, for example.Anubha Singh, Program Coordinator, CREA
- CREA partnered with Hidden Pockets to curate locations of registered, safe services from where one can get abortions. Here, you can find maps of Delhi and Chandigarh.
- Another is this crowd-sourced list of gynaecologists.
Hospitals and some gynaecologists provide these services, but unfortunately no abortion services are provided for free in the country – neither medical nor surgical abortion. Oral pills that can be taken within 9 weeks of pregnancy can range from Rs 400-700, and are manufactured by private companies. The Family Planning Association of India charges about Rs 200 as consultation fee and provides the combi-pack at a subsidised rate, but they provide only first-trimester abortions.
Is allowing abortion just encouraging sex-selection of foetuses?
“This is another big myth. There’s a major conflation with the gender-biased sex selection lobby. Women who seek or provide abortions are targeted because it is believed they just want to get rid of female foetuses. But gender-biased sex selection only forms about 9% of total abortions, which is in a study by the Ministry of Health. The rest are genuine abortions needed to get rid of unwanted pregnancy, and there can be a thousand reasons for a pregnancy to be unwanted.”
How safe are abortions?
Having an abortion through any of the methods – either through medical or surgical abortion – is much, much safer than carrying a pregnancy to term. That abortions as a procedure are unsafe is a myth. Through the last 30-40 years, technology has advanced to such an extent that we don’t need to worry about the safety aspect anymore.Anubha Singh, Program Coordinator, CREA
However, due to the time-sensitive nature of abortions, the attached stigma and the desperation of women and girls caught in such situations, back-alley clinics and untrained quacks take advantage and perform dangerous procedures.
“Despite it being legal since 1971, abortion is the third-highest cause of pregnancy-related deaths in the country.”
“It shows what a sorry state we live in, where the stigma is so much that women are not able to access safe abortion services,” Singh laments.
What are the barriers to access?
The stigma around the issue is such that women, especially young women, just don’t know that these services are legal and available. [...] They don’t know that they can get these services in hospitals and government-approved facilities. It is not something that is talked about.Aubha Singh, Program Coordinator, CREA
The stigma and shame around abortion – leading to desperation – is often prohibitive in smaller cities.
When it comes to small cities and towns, everybody is known to everybody. You don’t want to go to a gynaecologist who could be known to your family. You want to go to someone completely unknown, and you don’t even want to research the background of the provider because you’re desperate and just want it over with.Anubha Singh, Program Coordinator, CREA
Indian law enables women to avail of abortion services at reasonable cost and within a reasonable time-frame. The bigger problem is the social cost that women are made to endure through shame.
Only with open discussion around abortion can women make use of the laws to exercise their reproductive choice.
Join the conversation.
(Illustrations by Trip Eggert, AIF Fellow at CREA)
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