‘Woman of bad character’ is one of the phrases we often hear when the word ‘abortion’ is mentioned in our country. Abortion means the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion sparked a debate after the United States (US) Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, a landmark ruling that granted the right to abortion. The court determined that there is no constitutional right to an abortion, leaving it up to the states to decide whether or not to allow abortions.
According to a 2020 article in ‘Soch writing’, Pakistan has an annual abortion rate of 50 per 1,000 women as per a 2012 survey, the highest in South Asia and one of the highest in the world. (A previous study estimated a rate of 27 per 1,000 women in 2002).
So at present, we understand the meaning of abortion but what we don’t understand is why is it required. A woman conceives a child, but somehow her circumstances lead her to the “choice” of not having the child anymore, and “she ends up deciding of quitting the will to bring a child into this world”. What happens next? She decides to “abort” the baby. Will she be “allowed” to do so? What if the woman was raped and conceived the child as a result of sexual assault? What if she is in an abusive marriage and doesn’t want to risk another life at the hands of her partner? What if the child conceived is a serious threat to the mother’s health? What if both parents are drug addicts? What if they don’t have the financial means to nurture a child? What if both parents carry childhood traumas that they haven’t fully recovered from? What if they are simply not ready? The situations are plenty but they all lead to one word, “choice”. A choice that a woman and her partner must have. A choice to decide when to bring another life into this world and their lives.
Women in Pakistan are no different. They are clearly seeking abortions, and medical practitioners often refuse to perform them or do so only in secret, which are very risky and at times, very expensive —in general, both seekers and providers of abortions tend to believe the procedure is against religion or Pakistani law, or both. So where does it lead us? Education on abortion must be taken up as a priority by the health practitioners and by the individuals involved. Yes, abortion is a big step and comes with its own weight and worries but one’s mind and body should be allowed to make a choice. A choice that doesn’t lead to a judgement about a woman’s character but will only be considered a choice which she freely made for herself. Her body, her choice.