Indians Share Their Experience Of Accessing An Abortion

Kay recalls their abortion being “30 times worse than a regular period with 2-3 days experiencing a lot of pain.”

“Even with a prescription, my partner had to stand and beg the pharmacist to give [the abortion] pills, they [tried making excuses] saying it wasn’t in stock” recalls Kay*, a 24-year-old artist who had an abortion in 2019 in Chennai. Already feeling frustrated and “freaked out”, this was just one of the several hurdles that Kay, who is a trans, non-binary person, went through to end their pregnancy.

According to a 2018 Lancet study, nearly 15.6 million pregnancies were terminated in India in 2015. With countries like the United States of America limiting the right to safe abortions, several Indians have come out in praise of India’s “liberal” abortion laws. Currently, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 permits abortion upto 20 weeks of pregnancy. An abortion between 20-24 weeks requires the approval of two doctors and is only granted under certain circumstances.

Just earlier this year in July, the Delhi High Court refused to grant an abortion to a 25-year-old as her pregnancy was 24 weeks along and said that it would be “tantamount to killing the child.” However, on July 21st, the Supreme Court overruled the order stating, “a woman’s right to reproductive choice is an inseparable part of her personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution and she has a sacrosanct right to bodily integrity”. They underlined that denying an unmarried woman the right to a safe abortion violates her personal autonomy and freedom.

However, access to safe and non-judgemental abortion is still very limited in the country with a large number of people recalling unsupportive environments right from the minute they step into the gynecologist’s office.

After discovering that they were five weeks pregnant, Kay confided in their sibling who recommended a gynecologist in Anna Nagar. However, at the appointment, they were met with judgment and made to feel guilty for their circumstance. “I got slut-shamed a lot at the doctor’s; the doctor was not a good person, my friends told me to expect that,” Kay comments. Already blaming themself and their partner for the situation they were in, Kay feels that the experience at the doctor’s office added to their mental trauma.

Kay was made to get an ultrasound scan costing ₹2000, even though they felt it was completely unnecessary. “It was kind of infuriating to have to look at something that was growing inside me without my consent,” they remark about the poor experience they had during their appointment.

Echoing these thoughts, Kathakali Das, a 34-year-old fitness coach shares that when she went in alone for her abortion at 18, she was asked to reconsider her decision. Although she had wanted to keep the child, she decided against it as her partner was unsupportive and stopped communications after being informed about the pregnancy.

But once she decided to proceed with the termination, she says that the doctor and the anesthesiologist were kind enough to make her feel comfortable before the procedure. Being young and uninformed, Kathakali rushed back to attend college classes barely three hours after the procedure. Looking back, she reflects on that choice, “It was definitely a mistake as the body needed rest. I bled more than I was supposed to and the post-anesthesia side effect was bad.”

Looking back at the life-changing decision

Kay recalls their abortion being “30 times worse than a regular period with 2-3 days experiencing a lot of pain.”

However, the unwanted pregnancy actually was an eye opener as to just how toxic their relationship was with their partner at the time. “Having no partner is better than having an unsupportive partner during such an experience”, they quip. “Going through it with the wrong person makes you very resentful towards them. If it’s not the care you need at the moment, you get very resentful,” they remark.

From people in toxic and abusive relationships to people who are simply unable to afford children to people who simply never want to be parents, there is a wide variety of reasons why pregnancies are terminated. It is a myth that it is always the young and the reckless who end up getting pregnant and needing abortions.

But, like many others, the common thread between both Kathakali and Kay’s experience was the sense of failing oneself. “I constantly blamed myself for what happened. Thoughts about what if people came to know about it in the future disturbed me until I opted for counseling with a therapist,” the former remarks.

For Kay, their abortion is something that they have had to come to terms with and now view as a part of the bigger story of their life.

Looking forward to the future

Since going through their own experience, Kay has set out on a journey to help other people in similar situations. Any time they hear through their networks that someone needs support through the termination process, they try to extend a hand for help.

Kay reflects on their hopes for reproductive healthcare noting that they would like to see care centers come up for people undergoing abortions. “It would be like hotels where they could be taken care of while they go through it,” they say. They envision a community-centric model where people would be able to donate and help pay for others who cannot afford it.

Indeed, it is the concept of community that has persevered through centuries to help people access abortions despite all the infrastructural and legal barriers that countries have tried to implement. By ensuring access to safe and affordable abortions, people are empowered by the agency and opportunity to make the choices that would help them live a life that they want to and not one that they are burdened by or unprepared for.

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Sherina Poyyail (she/they) is a Mumbai-based journalist and content strategist whose work revolves around gender, mental health and the future of work. They can be found hoarding books instead of reading them or over caffeinating and ranting on Twitter at @sherinapoyyail.
Sherina Poyyail

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