Every day in India, 13 women die of unsafe abortions. It accounts for 10 to 12 per cent of total maternal deaths in Pakistan, and 7 per cent in Nepal. Unsafe abortions have increased three folds in the last decade in South Asia and this has become a pressing problem. These abortions are done without medical supervision, and include activities like inserting surgical devices or inapt herbs and spices or poison through the vaginal canal, consumption of non-OTC abortion pills without medical consultation, and perforation of the uterus. These methods are hazardous to the health of women as such abortions are performed by medically unqualified personnel and sometimes induced by the pregnant women on themselves and more often than not causes disability or worse, death.
This deliberate termination of pregnancy, abortion, is perhaps why today it is one of the most widely debated topics worldwide. The convictions on whether or not abortion should be conferred on a woman is powerfully held by groups on either side of the debate. Proponents and opponents argue for and against a worldview that focuses on rights of the people to undergo an abortion and that it cannot be curbed by the government or other violators of rights, contrasting with sanctity of the life of the foetus and that nobody should hold the rights to end a life especially when some other people fail to conceive.
The important question that should be addressed is whether rights to a safe abortion should be bestowed on a woman by formal and informal mechanisms of control or should she have the sole autonomy of her bodily rights.
Actually, there are several complex reasons for why some are against abortion but the underlying generalisation is that women, by choosing abortion, are opting an easy way out. The battle between the pro-choice and the pro-life schools of thought exists on a much larger scale than ideological. The spillovers are reflected in inconsistencies in policy making, ease of availing rights or medicinal facilities, and attitudes, knowledge and practice among various groups on a much larger scale than possibly imagined. This goes on to be reflected in inflexible abortion laws in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, non-application of seemingly liberal laws in India, and difficulties to implement very liberal abortion laws in Nepal. However, that perception may be unfair because abortion is nota cinch and women who do consider it weigh all their costs and decide to go for one atrocious procedure that changes their bodies and lives forever.
Whatever may be the underlying reason for why an abortion is sought, to address the legal complexities is not even the most difficult challenge surrounding abortion, albeit the cumbersome nature of making and amending laws. What happens actually is that existence of rigid laws only curb abortions to an extent and in turn create situations where people still find their ways around getting illegal abortions- clandestine and precarious. Thus, the most difficult challenge that exists is of unsafe abortions that take place whatever the law may be on paper. For instance, in Bangladesh, despite abortion being illegal an estimated 1,194,000 induced abortions were performed in 2014 and most of these were unsafely carried out. Abortion under any circumstances has been legal in Nepal since 2002. Yet, about 58% of the total abortions that are induced even today are unsafe.
This convenience is hampered by hindrances that make unavailable even the legally permitted abortion to women. Religious ordinances and diktats render abortion an impermissible activity. Apart from this, situations arise where women are not able to avail an abortion because of unwanted pressure exerted on them by the family. Non-awareness of the laws and medical procedures, limited reach and accessibility, societal, financial, religious, and cultural hindrances are some obstructions that need to be overcome to get a safe abortion.
Unsafe abortions put at risk the health of a woman. Abortion without the involvement of a trained medical expert will definitely lead to a difficult and unsanitary situation. Meanwhile, trained medical experts are also rare in rural areas as is the information on how to obtain abortions legally. Weak financial conditions clubbed with the absence of reach and accessibility is the biggest hindrance to getting an abortion and reasons behind posing a problem despite lax laws.
Sex selection abortion is highly prevalent in India as parents continue to long for male children over female children. Because this is a criminalised activity, women continue to choose unsafe abortions with the help of their family members. This was actually a family planning method to ensure the one-child policy in China and people preferred male children over female. In fact, 336 million abortions have been performed in China between 1971 and 2013. Only recently in 2018 have new rules sprung up where women need to get a signed approval from a medical practitioner.
In India, abortion is not readily available to women except in cases where the pregnancy results out of a rape, where the foetus is unsafe for the woman to carry, where the baby would be born with severe disabilities or deformities, and in case of married women upon the failure of contraception. A burdensome consultation permission from a doctor is required before 12 weeks, and permission from two doctors are required after 12 before 18 weeks and additionally, the court needs to permit abortions and due to legislative delays so the woman is far outside the safe abortion bracket causing health risks to herself.Similarly, so many survivors of rape, even minors, have been denied abortion in India and instead have had to marry their rapists because the best interests of the child were taken into consideration and not of the mother. The onus of proof lies on the woman where she has to prove it to the court that she deserves to be granted an abortion because she needs it.
Abortion delayed is abortion denied and state mechanisms should have no say on when or not to grant an abortion. Every person should have the right to avail healthcare as they will and abortion should be covered and talked about openly. Women should have full decisions over abortion and the choice to consult with a partner should be solely theirs because bodily rights cannot be conferred to the state by another person, even a sexual partner.