The decision to terminate a pregnancy should be respected, not judged
When I was in my first year of university, a male friend asked if I knew of any hospitals which performed safe abortions.
Naturally, I asked who it was for and he answered that it was for his 17-year-old cousin’s girlfriend. I asked what the girl thought about this and he said it was his cousin who was taking the decision and the girl was too scared to talk to anyone about this.
Both of them were minors, yet the boy somehow felt that he could take the decision alone.
Society is always quick to judge a woman who wants to get an abortion. Abortion is a personal matter, not something that society ought to decide for women and girls, and this particularly makes it more challenging for those seeking abortions.
When a country imposes laws against abortion it opens up more ways to stigmatize the issue and those who choose to end their pregnancies -- for whatever reason.
Even in circumstances where society is generally more accepting of a termination of pregnancy, for example, due to rape, restrictive laws prevent women from being able to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy: Abortion remains illegal for rape victims in Bangladesh.
There are many more reasons girls and women choose to have abortions: Not being able to financially support a child, the need to focus on her other children, having an abusive and unsupportive partner, health related reasons.
The reasons are endless, but the most important reason is that a woman or girl does not want to be pregnant.
That matters above all else because women should have the right to decide about their bodies, their lives, and their futures.
A common judgment all over the world about a woman with an unplanned pregnancy is that she was irresponsible and not using birth control.
In Bangladesh, like in other countries, the need for an abortion is equated to the woman being of “bad character,” one who does not value her religion or social norms.
However, taking the decision to terminate a pregnancy has nothing to do with one’s character, whether she is good or bad, or how devout she is.
Most women who have abortions speak to the complexity of their decision -- for some, it is a straightforward decision; for others, it can be a difficult decision to reach.
The added trauma of stigma -- the fear of experiencing stigma as well as internalized stigma -- also force women into justifying their decisions to be considered more socially acceptable.
Some women choose to have children, and some women choose to not have children. That is their right to decide, and that must be accepted and respected.
Society’s duty is to support women in that decision, to break stigma -- whether the stigma is about being child-free or about having an abortion.
A woman needs to be emotionally and physically prepared for it. Society’s role should not be to judge but to help with the process and make the life of the woman easier.
To hide from judgement, some women, even with serious health conditions, feel that the abortion should be done secretly, and so seek out unsafe abortions.
A woman needs care and moral support when they seek a process of termination, but they usually do not receive this support from those around them.
Getting an abortion is a woman’s right -- to decide what she wants to do with her body and with her life. The decision to seek an abortion is multidimensional and deeply personal. Having a child is a lifelong decision, and can change the whole path of a woman’s life.
Stigmatization, discrimination, gender inequality -- all of these reasons lead to a situation where a woman isn’t even allowed to take decisions about her own body and her own future.
We need to break the stigma around abortion, to respect a woman’s right to decide, and ensure that there are policies and laws which protect that right.
Najia Nuray Jarin is a core team member of SheDecides Bangladesh. SheDecides is a global movement working on sexual reproductive health rights and bodily autonomy.