September 28 marks International Safe Abortion Day. Every day, every week, every year activists around the world are trying hard to make abortions legal, safe and accessible. And as everyone knows, the biggest challenge is breaking the stigma around abortion, normalising the conversation and ensuring women and girls don’t feel judged for the decisions they make about their bodies.
Time and again we say this. Time and again, we urge women and girls to speak up and speak out about their experiences with the hope that their powerful stories could empower more women to do the same. And enable women and girls, who are at the cusp of making a choice, make an informed decision so they don’t feel any shame before, during and after an abortion. Hence, I am going to start with myself.
Yes, I had an abortion seven years ago. There I said it. At that point in my life, I didn’t have a particular stand on abortion. I was consumed by the dilemma of the probable medical impact on the foetus – as I had taken a live vaccine before I knew I was pregnant, and of impending motherhood. It was a tough emotional decision, to say the least.
Since abortion laws are restrictive in the United Arab Emirates – where I was then working, I returned home to India to undergo the abortion. I visited several gynaecologists to understand the medical implications to help me decide if I wanted to go ahead with the pregnancy. Almost all of them were reluctant to assure me of a healthy outcome. However, the resounding rhetoric was – a child is a God’s gift, despite India’s relatively liberal abortion laws. Thankfully, their views didn’t impact my decision but, it did make it harder for me to find a medical practitioner who could do the abortion without taking a moral stance.
Finally, after much back and forth and several heartbreaking moments – as I had to undergo ultrasound scans, I found a doctor who seemed willing to do the procedure. Since I was almost 12 weeks pregnant, I was advised to take the mifepristone and misoprostol to induce abortion, before the dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure. Even buying these pills at the pharmacy invited judgmental looks from the pharmacist.
Finally, after the D&C at the hospital, I went home, drained by the experience & the physical effort. My partner and my family were very supportive and helpful throughout. Despite all the positive affirmations, I carried a fair amount of guilt for the first few weeks. I finally expressed this to my doctor, who angrily brushed it aside saying, “Murders always happen. We can’t do much about it.”
Fortunately, I wasn’t scarred by her words for long and was able to quickly tide over these feelings. But, when I look back today, I realise if I had heard stories from women and girls, who have had abortions, I would have been better equipped. I would have known it was a common medical procedure. If we have to normalise abortion, we have to stop shaming women, we have to speak up and speak out. Let’s start now!
By Preeti Kannan, Senior Programme Officer, ARROW