Safe Abortion Access and Gender Biased Sex Selection - What’s the Link?
By Anubha Singh
Pleasure is an important aspect of our lives and essential for well-being. For most people, sexuality becomes a very personal form of seeking pleasure based on which they make many of their life choices. Our sexuality and sexual choices are as diverse as there are people in the world and that too is not constant throughout our life stages. The diversity of sexuality is probably part of the reason why it has remained under a working definition for the World Health Organisation since 2006.
There is no right or wrong way to practice or explore sexuality. To uphold human rights, discussions about sexuality have to be free from judgement and stigma and inclusive of the many ways sexuality is practiced. That brings us to two very important conclusions: 1) Not all sexual relations are heterosexual; 2) Not every heterosexual sexual act is for procreation. As strange as it sounds, if people got pregnant every time they had sex… the rest is up to your imagination.
Our sexual choices are not made in a vacuum and are interconnected to our civil, political, economic and cultural rights. They are also made according to our life circumstances and the resources available. However, not everything goes according to plan all the time. This means there are happy endings, heart breaks and unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. Consider a few of these real life situations:
My boyfriend’s condom broke during intercourse and so I need an abortion.
I already have a kid and cannot afford another child.
I am a working women and at this stage in my career I cannot take care of a child and hence need an abortion.
We had planned for a baby but now my husband will not be in the city for 2 years and so I want an abortion.
My boyfriend broke up with me while I was pregnant and so I want an abortion.
I cannot have a child before marriage, my society doesn’t allow for it.
If we spend 5 more minutes thinking about different life situations, we realise how diverse and unique pregnancies can be - both unplanned and planned. In all of these situations, if we place abortion seekers at the centre, we realise that irrespective of universal contraceptive access, safe abortion access too is necessary and should be available as part of public health.
What about gender biased sex selection? What is its link to the right to abortion in India? Well, in my opinion - there is none! If all the myths related to safe abortion access in India were to be ranked, the myth of ‘all abortions in India are gender biased sex selective’ would be at the top. This perception in fact helps create a negative environment for people seeking access to safe abortion. As a result most abortion seekers resort to unsafe methods that pose a greater risk to their health and in some cases can even cost them their lives.
So how should we solve this problem? By targeting its root causes or by engaging with its symptoms? Let’s start at the root. A recent study by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare informs us that out of all the abortions performed in India per year, about 9% are sex selective. This means that 91% of abortions have nothing to do with sex selection and may fall under some of the categories listed above. The same study informs us that 56% of abortions performed in India per year are unsafe and is the root cause for an annual 8% maternal mortality in India. Even legally, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) does not mention gender biased sex selection at all. Also, the Pre-natal and Pre-Conception Diagnostics and Techniques Act (the only Act for gender biased sex selection in India) does not say anything about safe abortions.
These numbers give us a sense of how grave the situation in India is in relation to unsafe abortions. We also understand how all or most abortions in India are not sex selective. In fact, understanding the alarming picture of the large number of women putting their lives at risks or dying because of unsafe abortions in India - I think we should put more efforts in making abortions safe and easily available.
Not all abortions are sex selective and by propagating this myth or by subscribing to it, we stigmatise many other abortions and abortion seekers and unknowingly become part of the cycle endangering their health and lives. Let’s break that cycle of Stigma, Discrimination, Norms, Myths, Shame and Fear. Let’s abort the stigma associated with abortions and advocate for safe and easily available medical health services for abortion seekers.
Once again - is there a link between safe abortion access and gender biased sex selection? Not really.