NEW DELHI: For 15-year-old Garima, happiness and cheerfulness disappeared the day she was raped by a family member and she became pregnant as a result of the assault. To avoid the subsequent shame and stigma, Garima’s mother took her to many health facilities, both public and private, seeking an abortion.
But provider after provider turned them down because Garima is under 18, and also because laws require doctors to report any case of rape or abuse to the police, and no doctor wanted to risk facing the legal process afterwards.
A native of Maharashtra, Garima had no option but to approach the Supreme Court seeking permission to abort her over 20-week foetus. as under the law, doctors can conduct abortion only when the foetus is under 20 weeks. By the time the legal process began, it was too late.
The panel of doctors formed after the court direction advised against the abortion citing the possible threat to her life. Left with no option, she had to carry on and delivered the baby in a hush manner, and then gave it to a child home for upbringing as her family couldn’t afford the cost of raising a child.
Garima is not alone.
Studies show that a considerable proportion-one-fifth-of young abortion-seekers delayed the termination of pregnancy until the second trimester. The unmarried ones were significantly more likely to have done so than the married: one-quarter of the unmarried, compared to nine per cent of the married, delayed abortion until beyond 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Last year, Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar died in Ireland after being denied a second-trimester abortion because of Irish law.
Though India is demanding changes in Ireland’s abortion law, second-trimester abortions in India are difficult, life-threatening, and require approval from two doctors. They are also costly and far harder to obtain.
So, many like Garima approach the shady abortion centres, risking permanent damage since these operations are done in an unsafe manner and often harms the fallopian tubes. In many cases, girls who opt for these surgical procedures lose their chances of conceiving again.
“Because of the court’s order in recent past in few cases, a medical practitioner who used to conduct abortions in a safer manner are now advising them to approach courts for relief,” says Dr Nozer Sherier, former secretary general of the Federation of Obstetric & Gynecological Societies of India.
“And to be honest, not everyone can approach the court, so many women end up having illegal abortions which is more harmful to them rather than any good.”
Advocate Anubha Rastogi concurs. Pointing out that as many as 80 requests are filed in the country by women seeking an abortion, including 21 before the apex court, she said: “Abortion is no longer a right of women.”