This article was written exclusively for The European Sting by Ms. Tulsi Patel, a second year medical student at GMERS Medical College, Gotri in Vadodara, Gujarat, India. She is a member of the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), a warm partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IFMSA or The European Sting on the subject.
An abortion is a medical procedure that ends a pregnancy. It is essential health care for millions of people who become pregnant. It is estimated that every year one in four pregnancies worldwide ends in an abortion. Although the need for an abortion is widespread, access to safe and legal abortion services for those who need them is far from guaranteed.
About a quarter of women seek a voluntary abortion. Many reasons have been given by women that prompt them to terminate their pregnancy. A woman may end her pregnancy if a child interferes with her education or career plans, or if she does not have the financial means to raise or support a child. Many women also want to terminate their pregnancy because of relationship problems with their partner or simply because they feel they are not ready for a child. Abortions may also be desirable in cases of rape or teenage pregnancy. However, often a woman must terminate a wanted pregnancy for medical reasons, including fetal abnormalities or maternal health problems. Fetal abnormalities that necessitate an abortion include chromosomal abnormalities or birth defects such as anencephaly or conditions such as premature rupture of membranes. While pregnancy is the gift of life, it also puts the mother at risk of serious health problems that can prove fatal or leave lifelong disabilities. These include placental abruption, infection, advanced gestational diabetes, or preeclampsia. Abortions are also necessary when there is a risk of miscarriage.
Over the past 25 years, more than 50 countries have changed their laws to provide greater access to abortion. While developing countries like India are expanding their abortion laws to make them more inclusive for single mothers, developed countries like the US are moving back decades by repealing the law giving pregnant women and others who may become pregnant the constitutional right of safe access legal abortions.
Criminalizing abortion doesn’t stop abortions, it just forces people to seek unsafe abortions. It is estimated that 25 million unsafe abortions take place every year. Unlike a legal abortion performed by a trained medical professional, unsafe abortions can be fatal. It is the third leading cause of maternal death and preventable disability worldwide.
Restricting or prohibiting abortion denies medical services, including reproductive health services, and is a form of discrimination. The stigmatization of abortion and gender stereotypes is closely related to the criminalization of abortion and restrictive laws and policies. In many cases, those who have no choice but to resort to unsafe abortions also risk criminal prosecution and punishment, including imprisonment.
Access to safe abortion services is a basic human right. Forcing someone into an unwanted pregnancy or forcing them to have an unsafe abortion is a violation of their human rights and physical autonomy. Access to abortion is therefore fundamentally linked to protecting and upholding the basic human rights of women and others who may become pregnant in order to achieve social and gender justice.
About the author
Tulsi Patel is a second year medical student at GMERS Medical College, Gotri in Vadodara, Gujarat, India. From a young age she was interested in the field of medicine. Always inclined to achieve her academic goals, she was a top scorer throughout her school life. Aside from academics, her hobbies include learning musical instruments and journaling.