Five Unmarried Indian Women Break The Silence Around Abortion - Homegrown

Five Unmarried Indian Women Break The Silence Around Abortion

My first confrontation with abortion took place when I was fifteen years old. Not a case of teenage pregnancy, thankfully, but a question directed towards me by the debate club head of my school forced some thought. “If a woman has an unwanted pregnancy is it right for her to abort the child or not?” This was many years before my vocabulary became speckled with terms like “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” But even without the words to articulate my thoughts, my emotions did the job for me. I believed with all my heart that a woman should be able to decide what she wants to do and nobody had a right to interfere with it. Unwilling to modify my position, I was told my opinion was too extreme. Shortly after, I was dropped from the team. While for me the stigma around abortion at the time was as inconsequential as missing out on an extracurricular credit for women across the country it can carry a deep trauma at various levels.

According to the 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act abortion in India it is legal for women under 20 weeks of pregnancy, including unmarried women (those under the age of 18 must have the consent of a guardian.) to get a medical abortion. There are two methods of of getting a medical abortion; taking an abortion pill prescribed by your doctor or an evacuation process through surgery depending upon the stage of your pregnancy and health condition. Both procedures induce unbearable degree of pain for women after the effect of painkillers or anaesthesia begins to wear off. The visceral pain is often inevitably followed by a profound sense guilt for parting with possibilities (no matter even if voluntary) that only those who go through the experience can truly fathom. In times like these what one needs the most is the support and care of one’s loved ones and perhaps just someone to lend a ear to lighten the soul. This still remains a distant dream for many women.

According to this report by the India Spend in 2016 almost ten million women in the country undergo a secret abortion each year. However our homes, education institutions and public platforms remain silent about the conversations surrounding it. Why so? At the heart of it lies two integral reasons that go against the principles of Indian family values; either premarital sex or what is seen as a denial of life. The stigma of abortion runs so deep in the collective consciousness of the country’s public that women often barter low quality services for confidentiality; unauthorised private clinics or depending on traditional remedies by midwives for abortions. In the worst cases, these methods prove to be fatal otherwise they run the risk of being ineffective, causing persistent infections and even permanent infertility. Moreover there continues to be a dearth of MTP public health clinics. According to this report by the Fountain Ink in 2013, Bihar; India’s second most populated state with the highest number of abortions along with U.P has only one MTP centre for every 4,45,000 women. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Many believe that the abortion law of the country itself is flawed and should be amended to give greater and safer freedom to women over their bodies. Especially when considering cases of minors and rape victims who are unequipped to detect pregnancy at the time seen as acceptable by the law.

At the grass-root level, the hindrances to a safe and secure abortion for women lies in breaking the stigma around it both in the public and private domain. So we decided to speak to five unmarried Indian women who shared with us their experiences of getting an abortion in India. Though each story is a personal one at some level, and all represent an urban perspective which implies better access to medical facilities itself, they all have felt a grief which the stigma around abortion didn’t allow them to shed. Many have carried fear and guilt which could have been avoided if only they could reach out to a loved one for assistance. Nevertheless each of these women have also acknowledged the strength and resilience that such trying circumstances gave them and it is truly remarkable that they have revisited their trauma to share it on a public platform. These stories are a way of normalising and sensitising a dialogue about abortion so women who choose to go through with it needn’t continue to feel a sense of alienation.

The names of all the contributors have been changed to protect their identity.

I. Ayesha

24-year-old Ayesha who is currently pursuing her law had two abortions in the span of 6-7 months in 2015. Ayesha would like to mention that she is medicated for depression and feels that her emotional reactions and understanding of her abortions might be subdued.

How It Happened

“I was 21 when I first got pregnant. Late one night I experienced really bad cramps; nothing like the ones during one’s period. It was some of the most intense pain I have ever felt-they were contractions. The next morning with my boyfriend present I took three pregnancy tests that all turned out to be positive. In that moment I wasn’t shocked as I should have been because pregnancy was already in my mind. It had happened because I was young and stupid. When my boyfriend said he would pull out and everything would be fine I believed him. I took an iPill on a number of occasions but I guess I must have taken it too late at some point.

Along with my boyfriend I went to the Gynecologist who made me go through an ultrasound to confirm my pregnancy. After which she started on a medical abortion with a course of two pills-one of which had to be vaginally inserted. It was done in a couple of moments. I had a ton of paperwork to get through which to be honest was probably the most intimidating. After that was done I spent the day at my boyfriend’s house. We watched movies and smoked a lot of pot to get me through my pain; I was bleeding continuously and even had cramps. Two weeks later we got back to our normal lives.

The second time round the same contraction pains followed. My boyfriend tried to dismiss it as accidental though it was our collective irresponsibility. I went along with his emotions because this time I was in shock. We did the same Gynac drill again, though I did not tell this new doctor of my previous abortion.”

Arriving At The Decision

“I was in not in a stage or position in my life to have a child and nor was my partner was even less ready to be a parent. It was the most natural sequence of events in my opinion; I found out I was pregnant and the next minute I was like okay, I need an abortion. Even today I know it was the right decision for myself and for the children that would have been.”

Sharing Your Experience With Others

“At the time my boyfriend and I had decided we wouldn’t tell anyone else about my abortions. Though later I found out that he hadn’t kept to the promise leaving me to deal with it in silence when I could have spoken to a friend about it. Once when my best friend was telling me about how traumatised he felt accompanying his female friend for her abortion I opened up to him about my own experience. This was the first time I had spoken about it.”

Treatment Received By Medical Personnel

“I went to a very good hospital. They were very professional; no preaching no judging (as far as I know at least).”

Making Arrangements For The Procedure

“I decided to go the same hospital in which my psychiatrist works. I just looked up the Gynaecologists at that hospital and picked the first one on the list.”

Getting Financial Resources

“If I remember correctly the entire process - doctors fee, the ultrasound, pills, all cost me approximately Rs. 10,000. I was lucky because at the time I had just received quite a bit of money from my parents. So I paid for both the procedures myself.”

Involvement Of Your Partner

“My boyfriend went to each medical consultancy with me.”

Immediate Aftermath Of The Experience And Present Feelings

“Immediate aftermath of the first abortion was just resuming normalcy. After the second one my boyfriend told me the next day that he’s going off on a holiday for a few days because HE needed to get away and clear his head. I felt this was just such a dark joke because I needed him to be there for me.

Honestly, I think you don’t really think much about what’s happening to you when you’re actually going through the it because you just want it to be over both smoothly and quickly. Though personally I still don’t think about my experience even now-at least consciously. I just don’t want to risk adding another thing that might fuel the list of my mental ailments.”

A Positive Outcome Of The Situation

“I was among the lucky privileged few that could afford to go to a good facility and get proper medical care, which most women don’t have access to. Also right before my boyfriend and I broke up, (a month after my second abortion) completely by chance I happened to adopt two puppies. At times when I feel that something is missing from my life, things that would have been there if I had made a different decision (no matter how right my decision was) I’m just grateful for my dogs because they fill that something missing, for the most part.”

II. Gunjan

Gunjan is currently 24 years old and a professional writer. She underwent an abortion in 2015.

How It Happened

“Getting pregnant was the most unexpected thing to happen to me. Not because I was safe, but because I have PCOD and I’d taken the iPill. I was so sure that I waited 10 days to take the test. After a blood test and sonography the pregnancy was confirmed. I had terrible morning sickness that lasted through the day, so I stayed out of the house. Once I took the abortion pills it was extremely painful. It was my humour and my best friend’s care who helped me get through it all.”

Arriving At The Decision

“When I told my boyfriend that I was pregnant he said he would support me for the decision I took. I was very clear that I didn’t want to be a mother. I always knew that if it ever comes to this, I would be getting an abortion. So I did not think twice before deciding on going ahead with it.”

Sharing Your Experience With Others

“At least eight people knew about it when it was happening. I told another 5 after it was done. Except for two people who told me how I should be careful, every other friend was only supportive and understanding.”

Biggest Fear On Being Pregnant

“The procedure (would it be painful? Would I need to be admitted to a hospital?), the expenses involved, and the fear of my parents finding out.”

Treatment Received By Medical Personnel

“When I arrived at the hospital and the doctor wasn’t in yet. I told the staff that I was uneasy and needed to lie down. The nurses guided me to a room and gave me a bed. Then they asked me if I was pregnant and followed it up with inquiring about how long I had been married. Then there was silence. The doctors were better, albeit they did mention a line on safe sex.”

Making Arrangements For The Procedure

“I knew both the gynaecologists that I went to see for my abortion. I was able to collect all my medicines from the hospital itself after signing a register with my name and other details. I had decided to not give a fuck about anybody’s reactions, which was very obvious in my body language. I think this helped me with dodging a lot of shit that could have come my way.”

Getting Financial Resources

“My best friends lent me the money I needed. I didn’t have a job then, and didn’t want to answer my parents’ questions. I repaid the loan when I got a job.”

Involvement Of Your Partner

“He took me for a film before I went through with the procedure (much needed as it was the only time I managed to eat something). After that he was there once it was all done. I cried and I fought with him then, but today, almost a year and a half later we’re together and very happy. If it were to happen again, I’m sure he’d be there. Personally, I think it’s possible for the man not to be able to deal with abortion. For me it’s alright if they make up for it later.”

Immediate Aftermath Of The Experience And Present Feelings

“Today, I wish I never have to go through it again. I’m certain I don’t want to be a mother, but I don’t think I will be able to deal with losing my child again. I would probably end up regretting either decisions.”

A Positive Outcome Of The Situation

“The strength I had in that situation to take good care of myself surprised me, for the better. I was calm and collected through those days. It was only after a year that I finally shed those tears with my boyfriend.”


IV. Aarushi

How It Happened

“I was 19 and in a long distance relationship when I had an abortion. I always had irregular periods so when I missed two consecutive cycles I didn’t make much of it though when I started to feel nauseous often I decided to take a pregnancy test. I bought four to be sure and all four came positive. To say I had an out of body moment would be an understatement. I bought six more tests the next day somehow trying to convince myself that this was some mistake, but they all were positive too. I sat alone in my room for hours not knowing what my next move should be. You see this in movies, you hear about it but can’t really process that something as natural as getting pregnant could happen to you. I eventually made the dreaded call to my boyfriend and he was as scared as I was if not more. He couldn’t help me, he wasn’t here. I waited a few days until everything really seeped in and then called a friend had been through the same thing. She took me to the clinic she had gone and after a thorough check-up the by a female doctor I was told that it was too late for me to take a pill to induce the abortion. I would have to have a surgery. I was booked for the procedure a week from then. Those seven days were honestly the longest seven days of my life.”

Arriving At The Decision

“Staying pregnant was absolutely not an option for me. It was more of a necessity than a choice; I was in no way ready to even think about taking care of anyone else but myself. Moreover this would have gone down badly with with my parents, even though I consider their thinking to be quite modern.”

Treatment Received By Medical Personnel

“For the surgery two male nurses took me to a private room and then proceeded to help me on cold, steel table where the procedure would take place. The doctor walked in and assured me that everything was going to be all right and that it would be over quickly. There was god-awful Bollywood music blaring in the room, which made me very uncomfortable, and I remember everything slowly fading before I knocked out from the anesthesia, my last thoughts being, ‘you may not wake up from this.’ But I did. After the anesthesia completely wore off I felt a burning pain in my womb, like someone had set me on fire. I rested for a bit at the hospital before taking a taxi back home.”

Getting Financial Resources

“The clinic was not one that I could blindly trust, but the only one I could afford. The entire procedure cost me 10 thousand in total, which at the time was a lot for a college kid to produce. A friend of mine had owed me the exact amount for a while so I just had her pay me back.”

Involvement Of Your Partner

“After the surgery I called my boyfriend letting him know that everything was fine. We ended our relationship soon after because of his sheer aloofness towards all I had been through.”

A Positive Outcome Of The Situation

“If anything good came out of this experience, it would definitely be that it left me with a deep sense of strength and resilience.”

V. Sana
Sana is currently 28 years old and works as an assistant director. She underwent an abortion in 2009 in Mumbai.

How It Happened

“When I found out I was pregnant at almost eight weeks, I shouldn’t have been shocked but I was. Chalk it upto youthful ignorance or a complete refusal to listen to the millions of signs my body and behaviour had been giving me but I truly couldn’t believe the test. Even after doing three home kit tests I only really accepted it after getting a sonography done and hearing the words from my gynaecologist’s mouth.”

Arriving At A Decision

“There wasn’t really much of a question in my head about it. When I found out, I sort of went into a practicality overdrive which involved me speaking to a handful of people I thought would be able to help me figure out the best decision/ doctor/ and could potentially help me financially if I needed it. Luckily, my best friend’s mother was a doctor so she put me in touch with her own gynaecologist friend who was shockingly kind and supportive through the entire process. I scheduled an appointment took two pills over the course of two days and started bleeding almost immediately. Basically, very seamless and quick within a matter of three days. But I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that would catch up with me later.”

Sharing My Experience With Others

“While it was ongoing I told only a handful of people. Two of my close friends, my friend’s mother, my sister, my boyfriend of course who couldn’t really do much since he was living in New York then, and I told my mother between my two pills when the process was already underway just because I couldn’t bear the thought of keeping something this big away from her. It wasn’t just that I felt she’d know what was going on, we were and are still extremely close. She was there in a practical sense, ensuring that I was physically ok at all times but it really affected our relationship for a while. Like some weird wall had come in between us. But in the years since, i’ve told many more people when it’s come up in conversation. It’s not something I think of as taboo and it’s been especially helpful to other women friends (there have been many) who found themselves in similar situations.”

Treatment By Medical Personnel

“I was unusually lucky with my doctor. Because I was referenced by my best friend’s mother, I ended up getting the kind of medical treatment I didn’t even know existed. Not in the sense that the facilities were any better than other hospitals but the fact that she was so kind, thorough and entirely non-judgmental. When this happened I had never even visited a gynaecologist before, let alone had a sonography, and I had heard millions of horror stories about what these doctors were like so it was a huge relief to be treated humanely and made to feel like this didn’t have to be the end of my life. In many ways, she counselled me without realising it. Or maybe she did, who knows.”

Getting Financial Resources

“Here too I was extremely lucky. Obviously as a college student I didn’t have much money of my own. Luckily there was always a lot of scouting in our college for groups of college friends and we’d all been selected to be in a commercial a few months ago. The payment was a pittance but it was sizeable enough to cover a large part of it, and I had plenty of help around me to take care of the rest. There is a lot of privilege to be in a situation as comfortable as mine, I can’t even imagine what it must be like for people who can’t afford it because it wasn’t cheap. Even without needing surgery, between consults and tests and the pills themselves which weren’t actually too expensive, it adds up when you’re young.”

Involvement Of My Partner

“Emotionally, I don’t think I could have asked for anything more - he was 100% available and there for me. I could hear his guilt over the phone at the time but I can’t explain exactly why but I completely withdrew from his in the aftermath of all of it. A couple of months later I broke up with him. We’re still extremely close and even discussed this ‘incident’ quite recently. He thinks the experience was more traumatic for me than I admitted to myself and it made me physically withdraw from him. I suspect he’s right but what’s done is done.”

A Positive Outcome Of The Situation

“Like all other tough situations in life, a huge amount of internal resilience and strength came of it. But at a more immediate and important level, it made me think about sex much more maturely. Before it happened, I was so callous towards my body, protection, and so much more. I still enjoy sex just as much, I just take responsibility of my own body now completely. If something happens to me, it’s on me, and I don’t think I would have learned that so easily, or so early on, if I hadn’t gone through this.”

Feature image illustrated by Anjul Dandekar for Homegrown


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