Hamirpur, Jan 2 (Bureau) Eight women lose their lives due to unsafe abortion in India every single day. Stating this during a webinar Monday on the ‘Battle against Unsafe Abortion’ organised by the Sirmaur based Indian Institute of Management Dr Naresh Purohit, Advisor- National Reproductive and Child Health Programme said despite one of the most liberal on-paper abortion laws in the world there is little awareness of the law among citizens who consider ‘abortion-is-sin’. Secondly, the implementation of the law lies in the hands of healthcare providers, and a large number of them view abortion as a ‘bad thing’, not as a right or a value-neutral medical procedure. Dr Purohit said according to the United Nations Population Fund’s State of World Population Report 2022, young women aged 15–19 yrs were at the highest risk of dying from an abortion-related complication.
A 2011 UNICEF report pointed out that 67% of abortions in the country between 2007 and 2011 were believed to have been unsafe. Renowned medico stated that while India’s abortion laws have been liberal, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalises ‘causing miscarriage’. In essence, the MTP Act decriminalizes abortions when performed by doctors, and it is heavily dependent on the liberal, sensitive interpretation of the law by doctors. “When our collective morality itself is paternalistic and eugenics-based, all kinds of socio-cultural prejudices interfere with the execution of the law. In such situations, the right of the abortion seeker is hardly given any importance,” he said. He averred that the World Health Organization (WHO) defines an unsafe abortion as ‘a procedure for terminating an unintended pregnancy, carried out either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards or both’. In India, this translates to herbal concoctions and physical methods that are at best ineffective and at worst, fatal. He revealed that awareness is skewed even among healthcare providers, and most people read the law from a place of personal and cultural prejudice.
This creates a gap in the understanding of the law itself. Ignorance of the law and institutional prejudice leads to abuse of power because nobody in power is held accountable to provide abortions as prescribed by the law. “There is an assumption that abortion is morally wrong, and therefore illegal. This interferes with an objective understanding of the law, resulting in the denial of medical care to abortion seekers even by doctors. The aspect of the person’s mental health is also entirely neglected in this conversation,” he observed. Experts in the webinar opined that if we want the MTP laws to work effectively, we must look at sex, contraception, healthcare, and morality in connection with each other. “Until we take the shame out of sex, we will not be able to take the stigma out of abortion, “they said. “Sex is a human need. Young people are sexually active and we cannot gate keep culture and deny the existence of desire, “experts said. Experts stressed how to ensure safe abortions; students need comprehensive sexuality education in schools so that young people understand their bodies and have conversations about myths and misconceptions. “Medics need to speak about men taking equal responsibility and participating in contraception and sexual healthcare.” they said. Experts pointed out that healthcare professionals must make medical abortion pills more freely and evenly available, preferably through telemedicine. They explained stressing the importance of state intervention in this regard.