Abortion – a human right

by Arshpreet Kaur, young volunteer at the Family Planning Association of India

Each year, around the world, 19-20 million women undergo unsafe abortions [Source: WHO]. Although the law in India permits safe abortion under certain conditions, here one woman dies every two hours of an unsafe abortion [Source: TIME]. The root cause for this alarming statistic is stigma around abortion and the lack of awareness about sexual and reproductive health and rights.

I have grown up considering ‘miscarriage’ and ‘abortion’ as synonyms. The reason for this misconception is the preference of word ‘miscarriage’ by society due to stigma associated with abortion. In fact, miscarriage is spontaneous loss of pregnancy while abortion means terminating the pregnancy out of choice.

Why unsafe abortion?

Most women in India view abortion as ‘illegal’ so they opt for unsafe abortion. Due to stigma around abortion, it is difficult for women to access it safely; and the fear of discrimination causes them to try unsafe methods at home to induce abortion which can be fatal. The other unsafe abortions are a result of sex-selective abortion. In some parts of India, people still prefer a male child over a female child as they consider sons as breadwinners in their old age. Another reason is young girls are often denied abortion services; hence they are left with no other choice than unsafe abortion.

The MTP Act

Abortion is legal in India under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 which allows for pregnancies less than 12 weeks to be terminated on the opinion of a single doctor. For pregnancies between 12-20 weeks, the opinion of two doctors is required for termination. Women are permitted to terminate their pregnancy by a registered medical practitioner under certain conditions – when there is a risk to the physical or mental health of woman (i.e. in the case of rape, contraceptive failure), and when there is a risk that the child would have “physical or mental abnormalities”.

If a girl is under 18 years of age, written consent from her guardian is required.

Proposed amendments to the MTP Act

In October 2014, the Ministry of Health and Welfare proposed some amendments to the MTP Act: to increase the time frame for abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks; to allow for an abortion to be carried out on the request of the pregnant woman instead of due to the opinion of the doctor; and to permit abortion beyond 24-weeks if the foetus has substantial abnormalities.

The draft amendments offer a positive step in the right direction. There is a need to immediately incorporate these amendments into an act which will save women from approaching the court, and from distress and a delay in abortion.

A human right

According to international human rights law, a person is granted with human rights only at birth which means a foetus is not entitled to human rights. It is the basic right of a woman to decide about her body, sexuality, fertility, and hence future. We have to acknowledge that stigma surrounding abortion would never wipe out demand for abortion. So, there is a need to strike a fine balance between abortion laws and the right to bodily integrity allowing women to own and decide about their bodies.

A nurse’s experience of abortion stigma

By Caesar Kaba Kogoziga, peer educator at Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana

In one of the hospitals where I had my clinical practice, a senior nurse in charge of family planning shared her story with me on abortion stigma.According to her, she had been a leader in her church for as long as five years and many of her church members sought advice from her in those days on matters of faith. Even though abortion contradicts her beliefs,that was her work in the hospital those days. She was in charge of counselling people and preparing them for abortion.

One day, the daughter of one of the senior pastors in her church came in for an abortion. According to her, she was surprised and confused but that was her job so she had to do it. She thought of informing the girl’s parents but that was against the ethics of her profession. So she did her work but in a disturbed state.

Days later, her own pastor invited her into his office and confronted her,asking her why she helped the lady go through a safe abortion. The parents of the girl were also present and expressed their disappointment in her action. Stating that she should have known better since she is one of the counsellors in the church and people look up to her. They demanded that the pastor punish her for what she did.

In church the following Sunday, the pastor announced that she had been suspended of her duties until further notice. An experienced nurse that did her job well and also functioned very well in church lost her role due to abortion stigma.

Her pastor spoke strongly against the nurse in his sermon in church. According to her, this incident made her question her position as a believer. She felt guilty and shameful especially in her relationship with her church members.

Months later, a 19 year old and a member of the church died. It was reported that the young lady died due to an illegal abortion.

“Reflecting on this, it occurred to me that the lady but for the condemnation of her pastor would have visited the hospital for a safe abortion. Coincidentally, the only near hospital was the one in which I worked.  Certainly, the young lady would not feel good seeking abortion from me again.” The nurse told me.

Abortion stigma has taken another life.
This story among others was the reason I decided to join the fight against abortion stigma.


The negative effect of abortion stigma in my community

By Alexander A. Sakyi, volunteer at Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana

One day an old man said to me, “You can’t tell me I didn’t see what I saw”. And this is very true when it comes to matters bewildering people in our communities. One such problem I would like to talk about is abortion.

I live currently in Noyem, a village in the Birim North district of Ghana. As of 1985, Ghanaian law permits abortion in cases of rape, incest or the “defilement of a female idiot;” if the life or health of the woman is in danger; or if there is risk of fatal abnormality. In 2007 it was found that only 3% of pregnant women and only 6% of those seeking an abortion were aware of the legal status of abortion. Almost half of abortions in Ghana remain unsafe.

Abortion is a generally perceived in Ghana as an act of evil and sin because of the cultural background of the various ethnic groups present here. It’s regarded as a taboo because there’s a belief deviant girls are the ones who do it. Even so this affects all people in the communities. A lot are practising unsafe abortion to their detriment.

Several girls, out of ignorance,  have died through unsafe abortion, leaving behind their family in sorrow. Some who were the hopeful breadwinners have locked their fate in death through unsafe abortion. Girls and younger women are more likely than older women to experience unsafe abortion because they don’t have the right information and can’t always reach proper clinics.

The chiefs are silent on it, the assemblymen are also quiet, and the politicians seem unperturbed. There’s no voice of change.

What happens at the end of the day, when a young girl dies from unsafe abortion? There’s reduction in school-going youth. A family ends their day in dilemma; having lost a precious child. Girls and women who have had unsafe abortions and survived are ridiculed and despised. We need to share information about safe abortion through comprehensive sexuality education and empowerment of leaders, to make sure more young people are taught about their rights under the law so that they can stay safe.

The experience is difficult – step into our shoes

This blogpost is reproduced with permission from the Ipas Youth Act site and is part of a joint initiative between Ipas and IPPF’s Western Hemisphere Region Youth Network.

My name is Josefina*, I’m from Caracas, Venezuela, and I am 26 years old. I’m a lawyer, activist at PLAFAM, and I was part of International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere’s Youth Network.

When I was 23, I experienced firsthand what it is to have an abortion, although in previous years I encountered this issue when a friend became pregnant when we were 18 and her family would not let her have an abortion. I had one, but my family still doesn’t know all the things I lived through during the process. I’m now married and expecting a baby.

What are the main barriers in access to abortion services you’ve seen in your country or community?

Beyond the legal barrier there’s the stigma that exists around abortion, especially when those who discriminate against women who had abortions, or choose this option, are health professionals. [Editor’s note: Abortion is legal only to save a woman’s life in Venezuela.] Another barrier is economic, usually this procedure is very expensive and very few women can afford it. It gets very difficult when you find out how much it will cost, and it’s at this point where many women look for “cheaper” ways, even if it represents a threat to their life.

Why should abortion be legal? What are the consequences of making it a crime? Why do you think it is a right?

Criminalizing abortion does not mean that people will stop doing to it, prohibiting abortion only leads to its clandestine practice without health controls or guarantee that a trained specialist provides it.

We all have the right to decide, there are no second-class citizens, and women are no less than anyone else for wanting to be able to decide about their bodies and lives. No one should force you to carry an unwanted pregnancy.

What is the role of men in the movement for access to safe and legal abortion?

I agree this is an issue that concerns everyone. Men can express their opinions; it would be interesting. They can provide adequate information, empower people and give support to women both at political and personal levels. Be active players like us. However, on the subject of the decision it is something that only women can make.

What is your message for policymakers regarding the right to abortion?

I have two messages. One for women who choose to have an abortion: You should choose the best method and the best person who can do it, keeping in mind that it’s necessary to acquire family planning services to prevent another unwanted pregnancy. Equally, we must be very patient because it is not easy to be in that situation. I lived that experience three years ago and almost died because of it, and even then many judged me and said I opted for the easy way. It is not easy to go to college and work without being able to ask for leave because basically what you did is not legal in your country. It is not easy being in that situation without being able to ask someone for help or support.

And for people in political positions: The experience is difficult. Step into our shoes.

* Using a pseudonym to protect the author’s confidentiality.


My experience of working on the ‘I Decide When’ project

by Lucía Pérez, young volunteer at FPFE in Spain

When we were presented with the opportunity to carry out this ambitious project, I thought about the magnitude that it could acquire, because from the very beginning I saw beyond what the project itself involved.

In this respect, and taking into account the available budget, both I and the rest of the project’s organising team proposed a program of activities that would allow us to continue them in the future, integrating them into the Youth Centre’s daily operations.

That’s why I think the project has made a great impact, and will continue to do so, as we continue to carry out all the proposed activities, and are seeing very a positive response from the community.

At the individual level I must say that what this project has given me, as a person and a professional serving people in the field of sexuality, is much more than what I was able bring to it. I have been able to see for myself the teamwork capacity all of us working at the Youth Centre have, and I have incorporated, almost automatically, all the values that this project upheld (including shining a light on the stigmatisation of abortion, so that it can be eradicated, and the need to engage the general population in political efforts in order to reach political groups directly and present them with the necessary changes, at the legal and institutional levels). And I have been able to bring to bear my passion for people and my desire for change towards a more just society, respectful of all people.

As weaknesses of the project I would cite the lack of time to carry out some activities; more specifically, the training courses for peers. Though having done several, we would have liked to do more, and with more people, to create a broader and more solid base. In this area we continue to train peers, and will continue to do so even after the project’s scheduled end date.

Finally, I would like to say that I think that these kinds of projects are absolutely necessary, and I really believe in the ability of the teams trained at the Youth Centre to carry them out, because we do it with enthusiasm, motivation for change, and a desire to work.

Sharing the Peer2Peer project with the Youth Action Movement in Africa

by Akosua Agyepong, volunteer and council member at the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana and National Treasurer of the Youth Action Movement – Ghana

Ghana’s law on abortion is considered one of the most progressive in Africa. However, statistics have shown that the number of unsafe abortions is increasing at an alarming rate mainly because of the stigma surrounding abortions. This was one of the staunch reasons why the Youth Action Movement in Ghana designed and implemented the Peer2Peer project, which was aimed at tackling abortion related stigma on the University of Ghana campus.

At the IPPF Africa Region Youth Forum, I had quite a discussion with the participants and delegates present, on the Peer2Peer project. I explained the law on abortion in Ghana and they were shocked at the fact that despite the liberal nature of the law, women and girls still opted for unsafe abortions. However, I elaborated furthermore that in the Ghanaian society abortion and conversations surrounding it are regarded as taboos. As such it made it difficult for the laws to function effectively.

I illustrated the need for the project, how it was done, our successes and the challenges we faced. Peer education and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, YouTube) were the most powerful means of reaching the students of the University of Ghana with the information on Comprehensive Abortion Care (CAC), as well as the law on abortion. Both means as well as the use of traditional media (T.V and radio) led us to reaching over 2000 people. At the end of the project, through a survey, we gathered that knowledge on safe abortion and the law had increased which in turn led to an increase in the number of people who said that they would not stigmatize individuals who have had abortions.

I shared my personal challenges with the Youth Forum. The name-calling and stigmatization that I personally went through for implementing this project wasn’t at all easy. Participants were curious to know how I dealt with such frustrations during and after the project. The answer to that was simple; “Was the name-calling worth it? Well, yes it was! Because, in the end I would have saved one more girl from an unsafe abortion that could have cost her her life. As long as it’s worth it, I’m cool with it.”

The Youth Forum gave me an amazing opportunity to share this success story and I am ready and willing to share it anywhere at anytime. Over and over until all abortions are kept safe and legal!

Have a look at Akosua’s presentation on the project here.

What I learned about fighting abortion stigma in Macedonia

by Monika Dragojlovic, H.E.R.A

What I learned from our ‘It’s About You’ project is that fighting against any kind of stigma is a very hard task . In Macedonia we have this controversial abortion law that has negative impact on our society. So from a political point of view, changing the law would be enough to change the whole situation. But is that really enough? Changing the law would be the ultimate goal in our long journey to do so. But we have a long way to go.

In order to bust the stigma it is necessary to change public opinion. Our idea was to bring people together to talk. And it was important to find people with different backgrounds. This turns out to be very difficult task. People in general don’t feel comfortable to talk about these kinds of questions. But we think this is an important step. Why? Because by talking they might affect other people’s perceptions of abortion, in a community they belong to by the media. And then at the end the law can be changed. By shooting short videos we can work to achieve this goal. Stigma works on many levels at once, so there is a lot of work to do.unsafe abortion.png

I learned that fighting against the system itself might not be the hardest part. Sure, the system is helping this process of stigmatizing abortion. We had this aggressive media campaign funded by the government, supporting pro-life views. Conservative values, lack of information and not having sex education seems like a winning combination for making pro-life views even more popular amongst people. So the hardest part is to change people’s mindset. Abortion is not murder but it is a human and legal

Finally, I learned that abortion stigma affects all of us. In order to improve our situation we must raise our voices and speak out loud, not only about abortion but about every other issue we think matters.


My experience at Women Deliver

By Dennis Glasgow, youth volunteer and peer educator at the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association

In March I was told that I had won a video contest on ‘Talking About Abortion’ that was facilitated by IPPF and the prize was attending an international conference that deals with issues I am particularly passionate about. Luckily for me, Women Deliver was suggested and after doing some research I decided to take the once in a lifetime opportunity to go to Copenhagen, Denmark.

I was asked to speak at two IPPF events at Women Deliver about my experience in Guyana with Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and it was indeed an honour for me, my organization and my country.

On the first day I gave a presentation at the IPPF Member Association in Denmark called Sex & Samfund (The Danish Family Planning Association) on sexuality education in Guyana where I spoke about what I believe young people need to know about their sexual and reproductive health: ‘’what counts as ‘sex’? , we want to know more about contraceptives, how to use condoms correctly and how to access them, we want to learn about relationships, how our body changes, we want to be told that having sexual urges is normal and tell us ways in which we can deal with it, we want to know more about abortion and finally, I think virginity should be a topic we pay more attention to, especially to the myths around it.” The presentation was well received by participants and we had a very interactive session with the audience afterwards. The Conference officially commenced with an astonishing opening ceremony which saw the participation of thousands of conference delegates who came from all over the world and people who have been working in various areas that promoted Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Maternal Health and my personal favourites, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Abortion Stigma Reduction. My personal favourite was the “Abortion Stigma Reduction” workshop which was facilitated by Inroads.

I also spoke at the launch of IPPF’s report ‘Everyone’s right to know: delivering comprehensive sexuality education for all young people’ and the best part of the entire experience was being able to be a normal peer educator and volunteer and being afforded with the opportunity to sit and speak alongside Tewodros Melesse, Director General of IPPF, Martin Bille Herrman who is the Danish Secretary of State for Development Policy and Joanna Herat of UNESCO. At the end of the presentations the Minister approached me on his way out and congratulated me for all the work I’ve been doing and shook my hand. He also encouraged me to keep doing what I do, and hearing from him was truly one of the best moments for me at Women Deliver. The Guardian had a representative at the launch and she approached me for an interview and I was like “Why not?” and we spoke about the experiences I had with CSE and eventually it was posted on their website as a podcast.

After the week was over I got to share my experiences with my peers back at the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association. I got to meet some inspiring people and share my personal story as a young peer educator at the Member Association. I can personally pledge to always stand up for my fellow young people and I will always be an advocate for Comprehensive Sexuality Education to be accessible to all Guyanese youth.


Abortion and Reproductive Justice Conference – The Unfinished Revolution II

By Marianne Forsey, youth intern at IPPF Central Office

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend an international conference on Abortion and Reproductive Justice  at Ulster University, Belfast. It was the second conference of its kind which brought together academics, medical professionals, performers and activists from many different countries and contexts. Attendees had the opportunity to present on, share and question issues relating to abortion and reproductive justice and to build new networks of knowledge and activism.

Across the wide range of presentations, there was a theme of looking at the way abortion stigma is experienced through varied aspects of a person’s identity and experience. Things such as age, race, ethnicity, whether or not a person is living with a disability, sexual orientation and being in sex work can all affect the way a person is affected by abortion stigma. Speakers addressed how being poor, or a member of an indigenous group, or living in a remote area prevents people from accessing safe abortion services, even in countries where abortion is provided for within the law.

I had the opportunity to present on the IPPF funded youth-led project, ‘Yo Decido Cuándo’ which explored and tackled young people’s experience of abortion stigma in Spain. The project found that a key element for combatting young people’s experience of abortion stigma is education and those who took part in the educational workshops called upon politicians to provide better sexuality education. One of the most innovative branches of the project was the collaborative work with local abortion clinics. This collaboration has allowed the clinics and the young people’s centre to facilitate young people’s access, improve their experience of abortion services and has tackled stigma related to accessing these services.

Furthermore, speakers addressed the need to tackle stigma experienced not only by recipients of abortion services, but also by providers. For example, Dr Suchitra Dalvie from the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership explained how doctors in India are sometimes unwilling to provide abortion services for fear of harassment by anti sex-selection IMG_20160603_112603campaigners. Dr Dalvie expressed the need to separate the right to a safe and legal abortion from the campaign against sex-determination, so that the root cause of sex-determination (gender discrimination) can be addressed without restricting access to safe abortion. Dr Dalvie also called for better collaboration between the medical profession and pro-choice or feminist movements so that trainee doctors receive stigma-busting training on reproductive health.

Similarly, Kulapa Vajanasara and Kritya Archavanitkul from Mahidol University discussed how the attitude in Thailand that abortion is a sin can result in abortion providers experiencing the stigma of ‘associated sin’. As a result, the speakers noted that providers can face obstacles to career advancement and can find themselves marginalised within the medical profession and their communities. The stigmatization of providers is therefore a major barrier to accessing safe and legal abortion services in Thailand.

Overall, it was highlighted that the diversity of people’s experiences needs to be addressed in order to ensure full access to sexual and reproductive health services and that greater collaboration across sectors is needed to work towards eradicating abortion stigma.

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