Sept 28: Pro-Choice vs Pro-Life

Today going through all those events which had great impact on me and people around in 2016 I scroll on one of the most interesting talk series organized by Marie Stopes Nepal in co-ordination with CREASION Nepal- Debunking Myths.

Debunking Myths is a series devoted towards bringing into light the myths that have taken a hold of our society’s image of the world around it. With our focus primarily on instilling the desire to test society’s behavior towards specific problems in young people, Debunking Myths works with experienced, yet ever-curious keynote speakers and a committed audience, this program hopes to achieve the change that CREASION always speaks of. Change that is self-sustainable and positive for all parties committed.

The episode on Pro-Choice vs Pro-Life  was all focused on different kind of myths related to Abortion. Being a neutral person participants in the hall listened to view of both pro-lifers and pro-choisers and later raised their questions. “All we want is people to know different angle of taking same thing and judge themselves about right and wrong”-Organizer. 

Every time I spoke in favor of safe abortion being woman’s SRHR, I have been hearing about pro-life organization’s existence in Nepal which has different views. I had this amazing vibe in 2016 to meet the focal person of the pro-life organization. I had known their work when they placed this annoying exhibition booth in “Children and Education” related program saying “Abortion is a crime” and their wall painting in Thapathali denoting “Abortion means killing a baby.” The debunking episode also invited representative from pro-life organization. Similarly, the event had keynote speakers from Youth Champion Advocacy Network Nepal (YouthCANN), Marie Stopes Nepal and guest speaker from Centre for Reproductive Rights- Nepal (CRR).

This person from pro-life organization is HUMAN. Yes, he is however talking totally opposite and abstract on “life in fetus”. He also handed me a sample of fetus- the sponge baby shaped miniature saying this is how the fetus looks like and feel when it is within 12 weeks in the uterus. This is ridiculous. This conversation didn’t end here. He quoted name of various researchers and acclaimed that the researches on “Life in Fetus” are evidence based and scientific. However, I had never heard of those philosophers/academic researchers name ever. These were all unauthentic I believe. The research which pissed me off was on “Rape & Pregnancy”. The presentation showed only 1% of pregnancy is resulted by rape/incest. He stressed on saying every rape/incest does not reciprocate to pregnancy- indicating rape/incest is not an excuse for terminating pregnancy. He then referred abortion is crime as it has been trend/fashion. On asking where he got all these data, he did not have any answer and started yelling on us claiming pro-choice supporters are here in group to demoralize him and his team. I did not know our presence and our questions could make him frustrated out of nothing. His arguments were baseless. Comparing to other pro-lifers he also talked about morals however, he presented pointless discussions.

The discussion on Pro-Choice vs Pro-Life was really intense. Almost all participants were young people. Most of them were bombarded with the terminologies for the first time. Each one of them had different views. However, they all supported safe & legal abortion as the young woman’s sexual and reproductive health rights. The participants raised questions when the pro-life presenter spoke about adoption even if a woman does not want to continue her pregnancy. To convince the audiences he shared the woman who has unwanted pregnancy will be totally taken care by his organization in a shelter home. Once, she delivers her child will be given for adoption. People talk about women terminating their pregnancy regret, what about a woman who does not want to deliver is forced/manipulated to and given for adoption.

I got hyper when he was talking about these nonsense. The best thing I observed during the episode was a young girl, facilitating the discussion was sharing her abortion experience. Hats off to her. I have never meet young woman as bold as her.

A woman’s decisions are her own, and it is women who live with the outcomes of reproductive choices, not the society.

 She also referred to Safe Abortion Law of Nepal being liberal and allowing young woman like her to take her own decision about her bodily integrity and autonomy. She also said that the decision she took few years back was the best decision which helped her to continue her education and career plus facilitate the very session.

We always try to compete with our competitors. We never think about getting their back or side for our cause. Here, pro-lifers and pro-choisers are trying their best to improve the woman’s life. They both believe on sexual and reproductive health rights. However, we a part when it comes to abortion. Have we ever tried to pull them in our side and make them jell with our ideology and cause? At least I don’t. I was really pissed off when the representative from pro-life organization talked about anti-choice and highlighted pro-life philosophy. Ms. Purna Shrestha- Senior Program Officer/ Advocate from CRR Nepal remind me of how our argument should be effective in terms of convincing our opponents with reasons and backing up our points with scientific evidences. This has been the best learning and will be implementing same in 2017.

 

Denial of Abortion Service in Nepal

In 2002, abortion was legalized in Nepal and made widely available. Abortion is permitted up to 12 weeks gestation on request and up to 18 weeks in cases of rape, incest, and health risks to the woman or fetus. Abortion services were established at most government hospitals, private hospitals, and non-governmental organization clinics. The government of Nepal has taken important steps to include abortion as a component of women’s reproductive health services, enabling nearly 800,000 women to obtain safe, legal services between 2004 and 2014. The government has recently announced that abortion services will be made available free of cost in the public facilities but this will take time to implement.

We, Nepali women are living in most privilege country where abortion is safe and legal. The government of Nepal has respected the women decision to have choices and decisions on their own body. Nepali women make their own decision to terminate their unwanted pregnancy on their own consent.  However in other countries like England, Wales or Scotland a woman must ask a doctor to make that decision to her. Similarly in the country where abortion law is restricted, Government takes decision for a woman whether she could or could not terminate her pregnancy. In most cases, women are denied of abortion services. This is the violation of Human Right.

For example, Northern Ireland where women are denied of abortion. In Ireland, abortion is all but outlawed. For decades, women have traveled to England to access abortion services. You can read an article where titled: Irish woman live-tweets journey for abortion from Ireland to England. Dr. Suchitra Dalvie talks about musings on women’s right to safe abortion questioning “Is it not a modern form of slavery to force a woman to have or continue a pregnancy she does not want? Should a woman’s reproductive function take priority over her own aspirations and desires and capacity to fulfill her own highest potential?

Talking about Nepal and the situation of denying abortion, people are shocked to know when I share them about denial of abortion services in unrestricted environment like Nepal. According to our National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS-2011), only 38 percent of women are aware that abortion is legal in Nepal. In addition, their knowledge of the specific circumstances under which abortion is legal is poor. For rural Nepali women, it is difficult to identify whether they are pregnant or not. Most of the women who reach health facilities for abortion service are of high gestation which means above 12 weeks. Most of our Government certified health facilities are authorized to provide comprehensive safe abortion service till 12 weeks of gestation.

One of the leading NGO in Nepal, Centre for Research on Environment, Health and Population Activities (CREHPA) had conducted a study in 2013 which aimed to examine how often women are being denied care, reasons for denial of legal abortion, options considered after denial, sources of information about illegal abortion, experiences seeking illegal abortion and complications experienced. The study showed that denial of legal abortion is common in Nepal. It is common among women from poor family and marginalized communities. Some of the reason for denial of abortion service could be:

  1. High gestational age is the reason for denial of abortion as service providers hesitate to go against laws and they are not competent enough to terminate pregnancy of high gestation.
  2. Most of the government health facilities are authorized to provide safe abortion services. However, women have been denied of the service due to absence of trained and skilled service providers. Most of the time lack of continuous supply of medical abortion in health facilities is another reason for denial. This has led women to buy unauthorized drugs over the counter which has led to complications among women.

12289746_873703786077111_2078844530607308059_nThe study has also explained that denial of abortion service has forced women to continue with their pregnancies. Evidence has suggested that children fare best when they are wanted and loved. Similarly, rejection of abortion is leading women to access illegal abortion by self inducing unauthorized drugs and going for traditional methods which can result in incomplete abortion or complications.

This means even if the law is liberal, in certain condition we are forcing women to seek illegal and unsafe abortion. I believe that abortion should be accessible in any gestation age. However, the abortion procedure should be safe which does not keep women at the risk to lose their lives.

Recommendation for improving women’s access to legal care:

  1. High impact awareness campaign on pregnancy, abortion, abortion law and services available. For example: interactive radio programs, street dramas
  2. Reduce stigma related to abortion.
  3. Mobilizing Female Community Health Workers or community mobilizers door to door with interpersonal communication approach to orient people about early detection of pregnancy.
  4. Train more providers at all levels to provide abortion and to refer appropriately
  5. Promote free helpline numbers like Meri Saathi Free Helpline no. 16600119756 or 9801119756 in community level to call to get detail information on safe abortion, procedures, laws and service centres.
  6. Introducing mobile health application like one initiated by Marie Stopes Nepal to registered through SMS and get instruction and information on using self induced medical abortion pills.