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12 Reasons India Really, Really Needs To Start Talking Openly About Abortion

It's about time.

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1. Because it's legal.

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The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (1971, amended 2002) permits abortion within up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, under a variety of circumstances.

2. But stigma and taboo has convinced a LOT of Indians that it isn't.

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A recent survey of post-grad students at Chandigarh's Institute for Research and Social Development (ISRD) found that 90% of participants thought abortion was totally illegal in India. In Bihar and Jharkhand, fewer than half of women knew abortion is a legal option, and in Madhya Pradesh, only 15%.

Among youth, 39% and 46% of young men and women, respectively, know that abortion is legal for unmarried women, and only 23-26% know abortion is legal for married women.

3. Because women who don't know about legal abortion options end up going to unqualified people to terminate their pregnancies.

4. Because the fear of discrimination drives many women to try unsafe and medically unsubstantiated methods at home to induce an abortion, which can prove fatal.

5. Because the stigma surrounding abortions has made them dangerously difficult to access.

According to a National Facility Survey, only 3% of primary health centres and 19% of community health centres provide induced abortion services. Abortion by medication is one of the safest ways to terminate first-trimester pregnancies but public sector health centers in most states don't offer medical abortion pills.

6. Because the stigma often results in women facing violence at the hands of their own families.

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In one survey, 24% of adolescent abortion-seekers reported facing punitive measures at their parents' hands, including beatings and starvation that lasted for days.

8. The law gives a lot of power to medical providers, who end up perpetuating stigma by asking women for their husband’s consent and other not-actually-required-by-law requirements.

11. Because A LOT of Indians are having casual, consensual, premarital sex... And we're ALL pretending we don't.

17.5% of pregnancies in young, unmarried Indian women are a result of forced sex. And yes, that's 17.5% too many. But that number also implies that the vast majority of young, unmarried, pregnant women – 82.5% of them – are having consensual pre-marital sex. Abortion stigma shrouds this fact. In fact, 40% of unmarried Indian men and 20% of unmarried Indian women report having sex with at least one romantic partner. Casual sex is far more common than most Indians believe, and therefore knowledge of abortion should be too.

12. Because pregnancies are tough. Unplanned pregnancies are even tougher. And women going through them – for whatever reason – deserve support, information, and acceptance.

For more information about abortion in India, contact CREA, a feminist human rights organisation which provided research for this piece. Research, ideation, and writing support was provided by Jasmine George and Kristin Francoeur, along with Surabhi Srivastava from CREA.

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