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Busting abortion myths in India on International Safe Abortion Day

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According to a study published in The Lancet, the vast majority of India’s approximately 1.6 crore abortions took place outside a health facility.

New Delhi: Abortions are a hot button issue around the world, with probably no society where they court unquestioning approval.

Critics view abortions as murder, while supporters highlight the stigma of pregnancies arising from rape to emphasise women’s right to seek one. This argument has provoked particularly intense debate in India, where a spate of recent cases involved minor rape victims moving court for abortions after the 20-week legal threshold.

Feminists have long called for abortions to be stripped of their stigma to ensure women aren’t forced to approach quacks or possibly lethal medication in the event of an unwanted pregnancy.

On International Safe Abortion Day, marked 28 September, Friday, it is pertinent to know that thousands of women may be doing exactly that in India.

According to a study published in the global health journal The Lancet, an estimated 1.6 crore abortions took place in India in 2015, a number significantly higher than the seven lakh listed for 2014-15 in the ministry of health and family welfare’s records.

Also read: Abortion has been legal in India since 1971 but it is still not a woman’s right

As many as 78 per cent (12.3 million) of the abortions, the study added, were carried out outside health facilities.

The stigma around abortions can often be traced to myths that have been passed down generations. Here, ThePrint busts a few.

Abortion is illegal in India

Abortion has been legal in India since 1971, under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, which has several liberal provisions as well as limitations.

Among the limitations, an abortion – which the Act only refers to as a medical termination of pregnancy – cannot be performed based solely on a woman’s request.

It requires the approval of one registered medical practitioner if the term is up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, and two registered medical practitioners if the term is between 12 and 20 weeks. Beyond that, a termination is outlawed unless a registered practitioner rules that the pregnancy puts the woman’s life at risk.

This tackles another widely held myth, that getting an abortion beyond 20 weeks is completely impossible in the country.

“As far as possible, women should seek an abortion early, but even if they seek one in the second trimester, an abortion is safer than carrying a dangerous pregnancy to term and giving birth,” said Nozer Sherier, the former secretary general of the Federation of Gynaecologists and Obstetrician Societies of India (FOGSI).

“Statistically, the risk of morbidity and mortality due to a late abortion will be significantly lower than maternal mortality because of pregnancy,” he added.

Even so, Sherier said abortions could not be claimed as a right.

“In India, women do not have a legal right to have an abortion. Of course, there is a law that makes it legal but it is done on certain medical indications,” he added.

Amendments proposed to the MTP Act, which also seeks an enhanced legal threshold for termination at 24 weeks, include introducing a provision to allow first-trimester abortions on request, without a medical practitioner’s approval. The bill is currently with the ministry of health and family welfare.

According to a report published by the World Economic Forum, there are an estimated 26 countries that ban abortions altogether, with another 37 where they are only allowed when a woman’s life is at risk.

Abortions are not common in India

As stated before, this is not true. If the Lancet study is to be believed, India saw over 15 million abortions in a year. This stacks up against the 27 million births India reportedly records each year.

Abortions are unsafe

Not if conducted on the watch of a qualified doctor.

“There are two kinds of abortions,” said Sherier, “Both, the simple use of the right medication at the right time as also a surgical abortion carried out by a trained provider, are considered safe procedures by gynaecologists.”

According to Sheriar, unsafe abortions, those carried out outside registered medical facilities, account for 8 per cent of maternal deaths.

“Unsafe abortions are undertaken without proper medical supervision, and through self-medication,” Sherier said.

Also read: In SC, woman seeks abortion past 20-week ceiling, asserts right to privacy

“These can be completely avoided and each one of those deaths prevented if safe, accessible and affordable abortions are made easily available to women.”

Easy abortions will boost female foeticide

Abortions triggered by gender are a problem for India, but experts deny that easy access to medical terminations will lead to greater female foeticide.

According to the Ipas Development Foundation, an NGO working to secure safe abortion services for women, almost 90 per cent of reported terminations take place in the first trimester. And in the first trimester, the sex of the foetus cannot be determined through an ultrasound.

Sherier echoed the view. “In India, the majority of abortions are first-trimester abortions, and hence cannot be a result of sex selection,” he added, “Yes, sex-selected abortions are a problem but a very small percentage.”

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  1. My Comments about Judgement on 497: I think there is no Significance of 7 pheras in wedding now where the couple makes 7 promises to one another in the presence of God (Fire) and thereby pledge themselves to each other. Hindu marriage act should not ignore that as well while considering human rights and woman protection. It looks the only person responsible to maintain the marriage is man and woman is free from all angle and can do whatever she wants. I am not sure how it will strengthen the Hindu marriage as per Hon. Supreme Court if having sex with other partner after marriage is just fine. we have to agree that the 497 was not at all useful because it was difficult to prove in courts but the message from judgement is clear that the only law made for husbands to seek justice is scrapped and now the laws in Hindu Marriage act is only for one gender(woman).

    “tava bhakti as vadedvachacha” Means the wife pledges her loyalty to her husband and promises to not look at other men. If this is against human rights then all marriages as per Hindu customs shall be called Illegal.

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