Abortion is a basic healthcare right

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Tulsi Patel, a second year medical student at GMERS Medical College, Gotri in Vadodara, Gujarat, India. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

An abortion is a medical procedure that terminates pregnancy. It is a basic healthcare need for millions of people who become pregnant. It is estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in abortion every year worldwide. While the need for abortion is common, access to safe and legal abortion services is far from guaranteed to those who need them.

About one fourth women seek a voluntary abortion. Many reasons have been cited by women that lead them to end their pregnancy. A woman may end her pregnancy if a child will interfere with her education or career plans, or if she doesn’t have the financial means to raise or support a child. Many women also wish to terminate their pregnancy citing relationship issues with their partner, or simply because they feel they are not ready for a child. Abortions may also be desired in cases of rape, or teenage pregnancies. However, many times a woman must terminate a wanted pregnancy for medical reasons, including foetal abnormalities or maternal health issues. Foetal abnormalities that necessitate pregnancy termination include chromosomal abnormalities, or birth defects like anencephaly, or in conditions like premature rupture of membranes. While pregnancy provides the gift of life, it also puts the mother at a risk of serious health issues, which can prove to be fatal or leave lifelong disabilities. These include placental abruption, infection, advanced gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. Abortions are also required in cases of impending miscarriages.

Over the last 25 years, more than 50 countries have changed their laws to allow for greater access to abortion. While developing countries like India are expanding their abortion laws to make it more inclusive for single mothers, developed countries like USA are moving decades backwards by overturning the law which provided pregnant women, and others who can get pregnant, the constitutional right to access safe and legal abortions.

Criminalising abortions does not stop abortions, it only forces people to seek out unsafe abortions. It is estimated that 25 million unsafe abortions take place each year. In contrast to a legal abortion that is carried out by a trained medical professional, unsafe abortions can have fatal consequences. It is the third leading cause of maternal deaths and preventable disabilities worldwide.

Restrictions or bans on abortion denies medical services, including reproductive health services, and is a form of discrimination. The stigma around abortion and gender stereotypes is closely related to the criminalisation of abortion and restrictive laws and policies. In many circumstances, those who have no choice but to resort to unsafe abortions also risk prosecution and punishment including imprisonment.

Access to safe abortion services is a fundamental human right. Forcing someone to carry on an unwanted pregnancy, or forcing them to seek unsafe abortions is a violation of their human rights, and bodily autonomy. Access to abortion is therefore, fundamentally linked to protecting and upholding the basic human rights of women, and others who can become pregnant, and this is for achieving social and gender justice.

About the author

Tulsi Patel is a second year medical student at GMERS Medical College, Gotri in Vadodara, Gujarat, India. She has been interested in the field of medicine since a very young age. She has always been inclined towards achieving her academic goals and was one of the top scorers throughout her school life. Other than academics, her hobbies include learning musical instruments, and journaling.

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