Will laws, unhygienic conditions and myths stop women from accessing unsafe abortions!?
by Lakmini Prabani Perera, Sri Lanka
Under the Penal Code of 1883, abortion is illegal in Sri Lanka. So an abortion can only be performed to save the mother’s life.
Can a woman in Sri Lanka have an abortion to preserve her physical health? NO! Can a woman in Sri Lanka have an abortion to preserve her mental health? NO! Can a woman in Sri Lanka have an abortion when she is a victim of rape or incest? NO! Can a woman in Sri Lanka have an abortion because of foetal impairment? No! Can a woman in Sri Lanka have an abortion because of economic or social reasons? NO! Can a woman in Sri La nka have an abortion simply because she wants to have one? NO!
A woman who persuades her own miscarriage is also subject to three years of imprisonment and/or payment of a fine. The service providers would go through the same penalties (Penal Code 303).
Even the Sri Lankan law hasn’t mentioned any required qualifications for the medical personnel who perform abortions. Whoever performs an abortion without the consent of a woman or cause death of such woman will be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to twenty years and shall be liable to fine (Penal Code 304 & 305).
MYTH: Because abortion is illegal in Sri Lanka (unless to save the mother’s life), abortion rates and abortion related complications are low!
FACT: Even though abortion is a criminal offence, 240,055 abortions are performed annually in Sri Lanka showing an abortion rate of 45 to per 1,000 women in the age range of 15-49 years.
Abortions do take place and even in very expensive safe settings, like in private hospitals from qualified medical practitioners plus by back-door abortionists under unhygienic and primitive conditions which also results maternal deaths and ill health.
MYTH: Because abortions are illegal and not performed in hygienic and safe places and by unqualified service provider’s abortions do not happen in Sri Lanka!
FACT: More than 750 unsafe abortions happen every day in Sri Lanka.
On several occasions abortion legislation of the country was studied by different stakeholders but was not liberalized. Different stakeholders do show the link between illegal abortion and maternal mortality in terms to relax abortion law.
MYTH: Women don’t die from abortions in Sri Lanka!
FACT: 12% of the maternal deaths in Sri Lanka are due to septic abortions which is the second most common reason for maternal deaths.
Local health officials estimated the maternal mortality rate to be 250 deaths per 100,000 live births which 25% of them related to unsafe abortions (1999).
Government has sought to expand services and information on family planning to address unwanted pregnancies. But it is questionable whether women at grassroots level, as opposed to urban communities, have access to such information and services.
MYTH: All women in Sri Lanka can equally access quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health services and information!
FACT: Unwanted pregnancies are commonly due to contraceptive failures or lack of access to information on sexual and reproductive health….
Sri Lanka has a Reproductive Health Policy (1998) and a National Strategic Plan & Policy on Maternal and Newborn Health (2012-16). Sri Lanka also has ratified many international policy documents to ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and young girls including rights for safe abortion.
MYTH: Sri Lanka has very sound health policies which are inclusive and free!
FACT: Policies don’t address all the SRHR needs of women and marginalized groups such as young girls, widows, commercial sex workers, single unmarried women, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender women though the policies stand for equality and non-discrimination. In the real level of work ensuring the rights towards abortion is missed out.
OVERALL FACTS: Legal restrictions, awareness of possible complications, quality of service don’t prevent women from accessing unsafe abortions!!!