Let’s Talk About Abortion
| By Dr. Tabinda Sarosh
We seldom hear the word abortion in conversations people have about their health issues or those of their family.
In a global village connected by the Internet, people have access to a lot of health information and we see many people openly talk about their various health problems such as diabetes, hypertension and even invasive procedures such as surgery. In fact having undergone a surgery is often a major life event and is described with much detail and received with sympathetic acknowledgement.
Not so for abortion!
A huge stigma is associated with the word abortion even when it’s being used in a third person scenario. No one wants to say the word “abortion”, it is replaced with more acceptable terminologies like “misfortune”, “incident”, “procedure”, etc. Much like vagina, another word solely associated with a woman’s body is perceived to be a shameful word and heavily stigmatized. So we use other more “acceptable” words that do not offend the sensibilities of people. When I searched the Internet I found a large assortment of words from “twinkie” to “minnie” to “mi-mi”. But that is a discussion for another blog post.
Imagine, if only speaking out the word abortion carries such stigma what would be the stigma of actually having an abortion, particularly an induced abortion? Women have paid for abortion by suffering lifelong social boycotts, isolation, ostracization, humiliation, patronizing attitudes as well as forced marriages, physical violence and diminished socio economic options. This is in stark contrast to treatment meted out to those who have waged, financed and endorsed wars and conflicts that have resulted in tremendous pain, devastation, misery and loss of human lives at a global scale. No stigma seems to be attached to these actions that have caused so many “extra-uterine” deaths.
Sea Change, an organization working on transforming the culture of reproductive stigma, defines abortion stigma as, “as a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable”. Naturally, the implications of this stigma are multiple in countries where abortion is prohibited by law. According to data compiled by the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), out of 22 countries examined only 4 have legal provisions for abortion on all grounds. However, this does not prevent women from seeking abortion services, both safe and unsafe. E.g. evidence indicates that often married women resort to abortion as a means of contraception.  In Pakistan alone, where the law around abortion is vague, approximately 800,000 women per year were reported to have availed post abortion care services. In reality however, this figure of 800,000 is only the tip of the iceberg as this data was collected from formal health institutions.