Abortion has been a topic of long-standing debate in the world for decades now. The government controlling the decision-making about what is legal and illegal for women to do with their bodies is a topic for another time. But in the meantime, we can destigmatize abortion by first understanding the meaning of abortion, the stigma attached to it, and the laws pertaining to it in India.
Abortion is a medical procedure to terminate the pregnancy at an early stage. There can be several reasons for women/couples to seek an abortion, such as unfavorable financial conditions, mental and physical health, unplanned pregnancy, etc. In India, unplanned pregnancies are the major cause of abortion and account for one in every seven of the 121 million unintended pregnancies that occur worldwide each year. This has given rise to unsafe abortion methods which is a leading cause of maternal mortality resulting in approximately eight women dying every day, and many others suffering from long term problems.
Despite abortion being legal in India under certain circumstances, practices like back street clinics that provide abortion pills and home abortions still exist, owing to the stigma and shame attached to it. Even today, Indian society looks down upon women getting pregnant out of wedlock, and married women are assumed to want to have the baby whenever it is conceived. Abortion, in India, is not seen as a matter of choice at all.
But why would a married couple choose to terminate a pregnancy?
For starters, it could simply be a matter of choice to not want to have children. Other reasons include unplanned pregnancy, contraceptive failure, risks to physical and/or mental health, or just not being ready to be parents yet. MTV Nishedh Season 2 explores this in depth when the young married couple, Ajay and Sushmita, are faced with an unplanned pregnancy just when they are up to the brim with challenges. The couple is fully aware of not being ready to be parents yet but still find themselves struggling to opt for an abortion because of the fear of repercussions from the family. The show also touches upon the social stigma around the same theme.
In real life, however, the social stigma attached to abortion can be seen in the form of:
- The family as well as society rejecting the woman/couple for the decision
- Healthcare providers denying abortion based on personal bias against it instead of medical grounds
- The grief of giving up the child and the guilt of making the choice experienced by the woman/couple
- Glorification of motherhood
- Making it an issue of morality, responsibility, and duty, by guilt-tripping the woman/couple
A 2019 study by Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT) painted a vivid picture of the barriers faced by women while seeking an abortion even when they are victims of rape/domestic abuse and the pregnancy is caused due to the assault. While the study pertains to a specific sample, the barriers are not limited to just rape survivors or victims of domestic abuse; it also extends to the larger population of women. Some barriers cited in the study include:
- Healthcare providers denying abortion because it was their first pregnancy
- Giving misinformation about abortion pills
- Posing unnecessary and unlawful conditions such as agreeing to sterilization after abortion
- Insisting on spousal consent
- Insisting on D&C (dilation & curettage) abortion procedure, even though it is no longer recommended or mandated by the WHO
Considering the above and with the latest development of the USA’s Supreme Court eliminating the right to abortion altogether in 2022, we are left to wonder about the state of Indian abortion laws. Voluntarily choosing to get an abortion is still a criminal offence in India with Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act being an exception to the law. Under the 2021 amendment of the MTP Act, women/couples can seek to terminate the pregnancy up to 24 weeks by a registered medical practitioner. The Act also dropped marital status as a condition for seeking safe abortion by women.
Even after all of these provisions, there are still ways in which women are denied and remain inaccessible to safe abortion. Legalities aside, the primary concern while addressing the issue is that of awareness. Major rural populations of India still consider abortion to be a sin and are unaware of the laws as well as advanced medical abortion procedures. MTV Nishedh Season 2 focuses on creating this awareness through characters like Ajay and Sushmita.
Watch MTV Nishedh Season 2 now to witness a powerful story of young men and women navigating their way around topics like sex, abortion, tuberculosis and more. If you or anyone you know is seeking help for abortion/contraception/family planning, call 18001806789 today.