We’re pro-choice, because we believe that women should be able to decide if they want to go through a pregnancy or not. There are many instances where the pregnancy is unwanted—not just because it’s unplanned, but because of being forced to have children, or as a result of rape. It also occurs because not many people know of contraceptive methods.
Given the lack of comprehensive sexuality education, many Sri Lankan women don’t know that they can refuse sex, and that they can demand the use of contraceptives. This becomes a bigger problem when accidental pregnancies occur—especially as there is no (legal) way to end it. Abortion is, as many of us know, illegal in Sri Lanka.
This leaves women with little to no choice. Some go through with the pregnancy and put their baby up for adoption. Others are forced to marry and avert ‘shame’. For married women, having a baby is considered the natural course of events, so few end up with postpartum depression.
Women should have a choice.
Abortion shouldn’t be criminalised. This only leads to unsafe practices in unsafe environments.
Here are a couple of lived experiences of women who have spoken to us about their plight.
Chathuri* (36) is from a semi-urban area. She has three children already. She said she cannot afford for another child as her family faces financial difficulties. Her husband works as a laborer on day’s wages. On days he doesn’t get work, it is a struggle for them to figure out how to get through to the next day. Chathuri make string-hoppers and sells them to shops, and sews clothes to earn a bit of extra cash. This helps keep them going and it helps her to cover some of the kids’ educational expenses. This was not a planned pregnancy and they cannot afford another kid right now or even in the future. She and her husband had met medical practitioner for an abortion but they couldn’t afford it as well. Now, they don’t know what to do.
Nathali*, from Colombo, is 24.
“It was after nearly one and half months only I realized I was pregnant. I was going through a pregnancy scare and was so stressed out. This affected my daily life and my productivity. I remember pressurising my boyfriend as well as I thought he didn’t take this as seriously as I did. But I think he was going through something too, especially as we didn’t plan or want this. We both were young and still studying and was not planning to marry anytime soon. We didn’t know what exactly we should do when we knew we were pregnant but the only best option we had was to go for an abortion and it was even more scary as we had to do it illegally and in unsafe conditions. We Googled and learned about medical abortion and I thought that would be the best for me.”
These are just two such instances. There are plenty more. Reports state that nearly 700 abortions take place every day in Sri Lanka. The Health Ministry has also noted that illegal abortions account for the second or third largest cause for maternal mortality rates in the country.
We cannot stress enough that criminalising abortion doesn’t stop it from happening. Add to that, legalising abortion isn’t promoting it either. It is merely creating a safe and controlled environment for women to seek healthcare.