Most women in the Asian continent have permission to get an abortion by the law, but most countries permit it only in cases of harm to the physical and mental health of the mother, or in some cases, it can be accessed in incidents of rape, incest or fetal anomaly. But despite having such liberal laws, it is topic not spoken much about. In this article, we will see how a legally prescribed procedure of abortion is still a taboo in Asia.
According to the World Health Organisation, “Every woman has the recognized human right to decide freely and responsibly without coercion and violence the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.” And in order to achieve this goal, the WHO recognizes that access to legal and safe abortion is necessary.
Since it is broadly legal in two of the most populated countries in Asia, that is India and China, statistics state that most women do live with liberal abortion laws. However, three countries in the region, namely Iraq, Laos, and the Philippines have not permitted abortion for any reason whatsoever. According to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, 17 out of the 50 countries in Asia have allowed abortion without any restrictions of reason. But even in regions without restrictions, women face problems of unsafe procedures and accessibility.
RELIGION AND ABORTION
One of the biggest reasons that have perpetuated the taboo of abortion is widespread religious beliefs in Asia. There are large populations of people following various religions like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and many more. Religious beliefs are an influential set of principles that people follow almost blindly. In Buddhism, for example, it is believed that life starts at the conception of a child, therefore getting an abortion would mean ending a life deliberately. Due to modernization, many Buddhist countries have granted abortion rights in certain circumstances but they believe that getting an abortion is a negative deed and comes with karmic consequences.
In Hinduism, abortion is granted for a high misogynist reason, which is to prevent the birth of girls. In theory, religion does not support abortion laws but they believe that it can be overruled by cultural practices which indicate the desire to birth a son rather than a daughter. In India, it is illegal to get an abortion for the purposes of female foeticide.
There is not one but many cases in which religion plays a big role in the prevention of normalizing certain stigmas. Especially in Asia and Southeast Asia, many countries are governed by strict religious policies, thus leading to a narrow mindset and promotion of conservatism. These values are endorsed by the common public as well, thus leading to the creation of taboos not only about abortion but issues such as gay rights and sexual intercourse. Therefore, religion plays a huge role in shaping the way people think and leads to the development of the taboo of abortion.
WHAT IS THE REALITY REGARDING THE TABOO OF ABORTION?
According to research, over 27% of all pregnancies end in abortion in Asia itself. One in every five women that are pregnant, would get an abortion. These statistics are not very sparse and lead to the suggestion that abortion indeed is not as uncommon as we assume it to be. But what fuels our disbelief is the stigma revolving around it. Issues about women and especially related to their bodies have always been stigmatized. in the Asian society itself, topics like sex and reproduction are not discussed very openly. It is hard to believe that the most populated continent in the world, inhabiting two of the world’s most populated countries is afraid to openly discuss procreation and has created a dense taboo around it as well.
In most of the Asian countries, especially the Southeast Asian community, women are mostly considered a household good, which needs to be hidden in the boundary of their homes. People associate women to be a motherly figure and her primary task being a reproduction. This thought process has been instigated in the minds of the females as well, to the point that they themselves feel encouraged to get pregnant and have a child. Incapacity or unwillingness to do so insights hate from the family and the society as well. Therefore, it leads to women not talking about it openly and talking about such topics with a negative connotation. According to Marie Claire’s article, it is women coming from influential backgrounds and a certain “celebrity image” that hesitate the most to talk about abortions and issues revolving around it. They fear opposition and disregard from the people.
HOW DO WE MOVE FORWARD?
The best way to move forward with the taboo of abortion is to normalize it. And the best way to normalize it is to talk about it. If we look in the past, many women were afraid to talk about their experiences with sexual harassment, but over time an entire movement was developed around it. It takes courage to come out in the open and talk about issues that the society likes to keep hidden, but this is the only way to sensitize the people about abortion and conveying how normal it is. Children are always taught how to prevent getting pregnant, contraceptives are heavily endorsed in the market, but no one wants to endorse abortion. It is always seen as a last resort whereas, it is a choice.
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An aspiring civil servant, a curious mind but also an avid binge watcher- Prerna is currently pursuing BA Prog in English and Political Science from Kirori Mal College. She belongs to Chandigarh but really enjoys the hustle of Delhi. Her favourite pastime is taking naps and recognises herself as a pro at it.