Stigma related to unwanted pregnancies and abortion places millions of women and girls at risk all over the world. Not only does stigma negatively impact women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights but it also personally interferes and restricts a woman, her right to freely access safe abortion health services, with fear of being scrutinized by community members in public. In some situations stigmatization can be almost as dangerous and detrimental to women’s well-being and health as illegal abortion.
Access to abortion is an integral part of social and reproductive justice and women have to be constantly reminded about their right to access safe abortion services at health care facilities that are made available to them. Stigma and discrimination which is fed by lack of accurate and adequate information, is often what leads to women and girls who opt for the termination of their pregnancies to undergo illegal and unsafe “back street” abortions, with the hope of attaining confidentiality – which leads to a number of health complications such as:
- Risk of contracting HIV and subjection to postpartum infections due to the manner in which illegal abortion operators perform the procedure. As they operate in environments that do not conform to minimum medical standards and utilize non-recommended medical prescriptions and inappropriate surgical equipment to remove the fetus from the womb.
- Risk of excessive and uncontrolled postpartum bleeding arising from complications during and after an unsafe abortion.
- Risk of uterine perforation and genital organ damage caused by the vicious manner in which the inappropriate tools and methods used to carry out the procedure, which can lead to infertility if untreated.
It has been well documented that unsafe illegal abortions lead to a number of complications and contribute to mortality and child-bearing deaths around the world. However, it is also crucial to note that there are also some health complications and deaths that can result from safe and legal abortion, not caused by the procedure alone but other factors as well.
The Guttmacher Institute reported that nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, and nearly 98% of unsafe abortions occur in developing countries, further stating that a woman’s likelihood of having an abortion is slightly elevated if she lives in a developing country. It is vital to discard the myths associated with safe abortion, to allow women the dignity and right over bodies and sexuality, as abortion infringes upon the right to bodily and psychological integrity, the right to autonomy, the right to information, the right to health and the right to a life free from harm.
MYTH : Women who get abortion will regret their decision and live a life of depression.
TRUTH : There is no scientific evidence that undergoing a termination of pregnancy causes lasting psychological consequences or “post abortion trauma syndrome”, as there is no right way to feel after an abortion or carrying an unintended pregnancy to term. The Guttmacher Institute reported that the mental instability claims, remained undeterred. Terminating a pregnancy is a right, a personal decision and choice and the decision to have an abortion is not inherently traumatic, however can be made thematic by stigma, discrimination, judgement and undermining behaviors by others. Studies highlight risk factors which can increase the likelihood of women experiencing lasting emotional distress such as situations where a woman did not make her own decision, a woman has been coerced or pressured into having an abortion against their will and woman that holds strong cultural or religious beliefs that abortion is wrong.
MYTH : Abortion leads to infertility
TRUTH : Unsafe and illegal abortions can cause severe complications in some cases, due to the manner in which they are conducted, which often includes sharp objects being inserted into the uterus. This act can cause injury to the organs, where if left unobserved and untreated can lead to chronic conditions that include chronic pelvic pain, pelvic inflammatory pain, infections and infertility.
However, in safe and legal abortion, most women return to their pre-abortion fertility immediately following the safe and legal abortion procedure performed without complications by qualified health practitioners. While a number of other women experience a delay in their menstrual cycles post abortion, other long lasting consequences to fertility are unlikely.
MYTH : Abortion is a form of contraception
TRUTH : Abortion is not a form of contraception. Abortion is safe and often used by women when contraception fails and other factors that make contraception difficult. It is vital to learn that no form of contraception is 100% effective – including sterilisation, majority of modern contraceptives have minor to scale side effects that makes finding suitable contraception often difficult for some women, however, dual protection is advised to prevent women from unintended pregnancies and protection against sexually transmitted diseases. After a safe and legal abortion, women are encouraged to consider contraception; there are various types of contraception’s that women and men can choose from.
MYTH : Abortion results in permanent unbearable abdominal pain
TRUTH : Depending on the type of abortion method chosen, the pain associated with abortion can be experienced – however Safer Sex in South Africa reports that “some women have mild cramps like a period, and some women have strong cramps for a couple of hours”, medication is given by the service provider to the patient to take home to relieve the pain. Pain may last for a couple of hours to days however, there has been no credible sources that have reported permanent abdominal pain due to having an abortion.
In this era, contraception isn’t 100% effective but it has proved to be the surest way to curb unintended and unplanned pregnancies and ultimately reduce abortion. Thus, in all essence, dual protection should be advised to prevent unintended pregnancies and protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Where access to health care services is limited, health care providers have to work harder to establish and to diminish stigma and discrimination associated with safe abortion.
In this regard: On a national level, citizens of their respective countries, most particularly the youth, need to hold their governments accountable to effectively implementing SDG 3, target 3.1 to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services by 2030, including for family planning, information and education and integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programs. As individuals we have to allow ourselves the courage to engage in more dialogues and discussions to not only increase accessibility to various forms of contraception, but to desolate stigma and discrimination associated with legal and safe abortion.
Featured image: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr