Talking About Abortion – Youth Perspectives
by Aisha Lovely George, Hidden Pockets
“When was the last time you visited a gynae? Do you know any good ones?” I asked my friend. She replied, “Hey, I am not pregnant. I’m not even married.”
We live in a country where most people are comfortable seeking out gynaecologists only when they are pregnant. My friend’s comments also revealed the norm that unmarried people cannot possibly be pregnant! There is a stigma around women's sexuality but assumptions like these make young women’s sexual and reproductive health even more invisible. We hear these comments from our peers, communities and very often, inside service facilities too. It can’t be that Indians think that young unmarried women don’t have sex?
“Where can one go for an abortion?” I asked. My friend responded with another question: “Is it even legal?”
The majority of youth today have very little knowledge on the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act which makes abortion legal in India under certain conditions. Regardless of your educational background, knowledge of this act is scarce and abortion stigma is high. It is as if abortion is something which is done in hiding. Based on the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare’s Annual Report from 2006-2007, this lack of information on rights to legal and safe abortion is seen as a major contributing factor for unsafe abortions. Similarly, the World Health Organization in their 2008 report “Unsafe Abortion” said the following:
“...it is recognized that still some two thirds of abortions [in India] take place outside the authorized health services, in effect contributing [to] a large number of unsafe abortions. These numbers are unlikely to decrease until women become informed of their right to legal and safe abortion and expanded services and postabortion care become available..” – World Health Organization (2008)
“Where can one go for an abortion?” I asked another group. “Obviously private hospitals. Who goes to government hospitals anyway?”
Government hospitals have been associated with many negative images over the years. Most of us have ‘lost hope’. They are often seen as the ‘last place’ to seek services. Some of it is warranted, in that there can be long queues, judgmental attitudes, and in general can feel intimidating. Most of us approach private clinics and hospitals under the assumption that we will get the best facilities, highly trained doctors, and confidentiality. Sometimes though, it is even more difficult to predict how private facilities approach abortion and confidentiality, because there is no standardization across them. Private clinics are, of course, also more costly, which brings up issues of accessibility for many young people. Spaces that most of us young people are unaware of include community and public health centres. These places are underutilized. They are often free or very affordable and are legally required to provide abortion according to the MTP Act.
Young people are surrounded by numerous layers of stigma - from religion, community members, government messaging and the list can go on and on. Even if one wants to learn more about sexual and reproductive health, stigma serves as a barrier to accessing this knowledge. Organizations who are working for reproductive health and freedoms are essential in bridging the knowledge gap and countering social stigma.
Hidden Pockets, CREA, and many other NGOs are producing research, resources and tools that can be utilized to spread awareness among youth. As part of the new Hidden Pockets mapping study on safe, affordable and accessible abortion services, we are producing interactive GIS maps to map out different legal services related to SRHR and abortion across India. Let’s continue to abort the stigma against abortion and ensure that young people’s sexual & reproductive health is indeed realised as a human right.
Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (India). Annual report 2006–2007. New Delhi, Ministry of Health &
Family Welfare, Government of India, 2008.
World Health Organization. Unsafe abortion: global and regional estimates of incidence of unsafe abortion and associated mortality in 2008. World Health Organization, 2008.