Abortion in Sri Lanka

A debate on abortion from a moral-stand point is mostly futile. One can make an equally compelling case both for abortion and against it. Although abortion is illegal in Sri Lanka, It is said there are around 1000 abortions a day performed here. That’s at least 300,000 deaths per year – A silent genocide, if you believe that fetus is a human being.

In Today’s editorial, The Island looks into ‘Abortion Factories’:

The police have descended on a large scale abortion clinic, which had been in operation for years in Colombo 03. The number of abortions performed at this joint is startling—about one hundred a day. Perhaps, it is a misnomer to call it an abortion centre. It is an abortion factory! The police have got hold of the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of such places where thousands of fetuses are eliminated day in, day out. Worse, most of them are run by quacks who don’t give a damn about the standard surgical practices.

What we are witnessing is the fallout of a serious social problem, which cannot be solved by raids and legal action alone. The police have, no doubt, done their duty by raiding the abortion clinic concerned, which had been functioning in the guise of a family planning centre. But, such ad hoc measures and piecemeal remedies amount to that proverbial squirrels desperate effort to empty the ocean with its tail to save its drowning baby. Our ability as a nation to be calmly perched on simmering volcanoes of social problems, as if they were water mattresses, is truly remarkable.

Most of the women who visit abortion centres, especially the unhygienic ones, are said to be the FTZ workers who are being exploited in every conceivable way. ..

Poorly paid and overworked, they live, crammed into small boxes in the areas adjacent to the industrial zones. Far removed from their families and reduced to mere hands, they fall easily for the wiles of the urban youth who promise them the sun and the moon. Silhouettes of young men and women on prenuptial honeymoon in dark nooks and corners after the nightfall in and around the FTZs are a common sight. As for safe sex, the girls know little and the boys don’t give a damn. Unwanted pregnancies are the inevitable outcome. The choice that they have is between an abortion and suicide.
It is natural that they opt for the former, given the stigma attached to pregnancy before marriage. The Colpetty abortion centre is said to charge as much as Rs. 3,000 per foetal removal. But, that is a luxury that the poor cannot afford. They go to cheap places despite the risks they run, including HIV infection.
Rape, incest and the like are also causes of unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions, but the vast majority of them are said be due to casual sexual relationships prevalent among the unmarried couples and reluctance on the part of the married to practice proper family planning methods: Those who still rely on methods such as ‘withdrawal’ by way of family planning are not few. When fate catches them on the wrong foot they make a beeline for an abortion joint.

Abortions in this country may be as old as the hills as evident from the traditional methods that have been in practice over the centuries among the people to terminate pregnancies. But, the situation has definitely taken a turn for the worse during the past two decades or so. Even schoolgirls in the urban areas, especially in the city, are said to be among those who seek pregnancy terminations. This points to the need for creating better awareness among students about sex and allied matters. An observation by Dr. Victor C. de Munck of the situation here, is of relevance: “Most Sri Lankans acquire their knowledge about sex from their peers and, occasionally, through movies and magazines.” This is something that educationists should give serious thought to.

Although no official figures are available as to the actual number of abortions performed in this country, according to experts such as Dr. Sriani Basnayake, Medical Director of Sri Lanka Family Planning Association, between 765 and 1,000 abortions are done daily.
The response of successive governments to the worsening problem of abortions, almost all of which are performed illegally, has been to either to wish it away or concentrate on the question whether or not abortions should be legalized. True, evolving a solution to a social problem is something that shouldn’t be left entirely to the State. An argument is being peddled in some quarters that the solution lies in our ability to rediscover our basic traditional values such as love, compassion and the sanctity of life. (Dr. M. R. T. Wickramaratna, The Island of April 6, 2002.)

There is also an equally strong pro-choice campaign in this country.

In dealing with the problem of abortion factories, we believe, the emphasis should be on the preventive aspects of the problem. A stitch in time, it is said, saves nine. In this modern world, a pregnancy is something that can always be avoided, if there is the desire on the part of the parties concerned to do so, except in the case of rape and incest, which must be treated separately. It is unfortunate that there isn’t enough public debate on this vital issue, which is fast assuming unmanageable proportions.

As for the police conducting raids on abortion centres, both hygienic and unhygienic, however essential such actions may be legally, they look similar to an attempt to control poverty by rounding up beggars!

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I choose to remain cynical about finding ‘solutions’ to the problem in “our ability to rediscover our traditional values of love, compassion and sanctity of life.”

Perhaps a more pertinent question is whether, like the article suggests there should indeed be a more “Public debate on this vital issue”? Its an interesting question because, at least in this country – the ‘law’, and ‘law enforcement’ are two entirely different things. So there is a case whether – from a position which supports a mother’s decision to abort – it make sense to start a “public debate”, when for the most part abortion is available on demand, quality depending on the price you are willing to pay for it.

It’s an argument which can be extended to other things ‘illegal’ in this country, from homosexuality to marijuana. Although, given the health risks involved with abortion, it probably makes sense to make it an issue.



Posted on 07/30/2007, in Opinions, Sex - Sexuality - Gender, Sri Lanka, Youth-Culture-Society. Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. I was enlightened about this problem more when i read your post. It is indeed a topic which requires a lot of help from an authority… there’s no much of ignorance and lack of knowledge which needs to be addressed first.. I honestly feel sorry for people who get into these ‘situations’ and are left with no choice but to commit a sin and put themselves in danger..

    It’s sad… but think about it, who do these innocent victims eventually have that they can turn to?

  2. err.. what i meant was:

    here’s so much of ignorance and lack of knowledge which needs to be addressed first..

  3. It’s crazy that abortion is still illegal in Sri Lanka… people (regardless of age, ethnicity or religion) are always going to have sex and the resulting unwanted/unplanned pregnancies are a fact of life… The best option would be to legalize it, (ensuring that at least proper medical practitioners are involved) and making it affordable. Contrary to popular opinion that this would lead to an explosion in pre marital sex and a breakdown in that laughable concept of “cultural values”, abortion is one of the toughest decisions a couple (especially the woman) has to make. It is truly heartwrenching to see the look on the face of a woman who has to face this decision. A very close friend of mine got pregnant and although both her parents and boyfriend were there for her and supported her, she was heartbroken at the thought of terminating it. The best defence is a better sex education and the earlier the better.

  4. Yes, Agreeable. in most occasions a mother is better placed than governments to decide whether she can afford to have a child or not.

    that’s why i think its futile to take this issue from a moral point of view, (or even this popular ‘rights-based’ approach) instead it should be about pragmatic issues.

    people like Steven Levitt (the co-author of Freakonomics ) have argued with evidence that abortion lowered crime in the US.
    with unwanted children, more prone to crime, not being born, it reduces the number of troubled adolescents. When abortion was legalized in the US in the70s, a whole generation of unwanted births were averted, leading to a drop in crime nearly two decades later when this generation came of age.

    His paper is can be viewed here

  5. But it is a moral issue! how can you not approach it from a moral point of view?!

  6. Nice article. i think Mr. Anon, its not whether its a moral issue or not, it depends on individual point of view. article is trying to say it is useless in either case, because problems are deeper than moral, they are practical issues. not moral things its more than being ‘right’ or wrong.

  7. Thanks Ranjan. you largely captures what i meant.

    Also, lets say even Abortion is a moral issue, but ‘legalizing of abortion’ doesnt necessarily have to be. i could support legalizing of abortion and still oppose the act of abortion itself.

    say if you oppose abortion from a moral point of view, is it right then to impose your morality on the rest of the citizenry?

    herein lies the difference.

    the problem is how we are so used to seeing morals are made into law. which shouldnt be the case, cos you are imposing your morals on the rest of the citizenry.. which i think is wrong.. at least in principle.

  8. What’s the point? legal or moral or cultural… the woman (and in few cases her man…mind, most couples wouldn’t take the choice if there was a couple at all!)
    has to look at the pragmatic point of view. just look at your own families. It’s not the baby who will sleep when it is 7 months old… it is the naughty child at 7 and the uncontrollable adolescent at 17 that is difficult to imagine… what is a (in most cases-single, and POOR!) mother going to do…
    the recent lack of milk powder in the market alone should sum up the issue. what on earth is she going to feed a kid?
    as a buddhist, with a strong motivation of ahimsa, it was pretty difficult for me to decide i would advocate abortion… but it is a woman’s right… BUT I believe that it should only be in limited circumstances.
    I mean, imagine! everytime someone got pregnant after a merry jaunt… the unborn child will have to suffer. it is scientifically proven now that the foetus is capable of feeling pain and fear etc… so, firstly.. i think people should be made responsible for their actions. have protected sex… THEY SHOULD KNOW, AND IF NOT THOSE WHO KNOW SHOULD TELL THEM! or else… abstain. it’s not THAT hard. we are intelligent beings who can master our feelings, not animals in heat!
    so culture DOES come into play. esp. here, pre marital sex should remain as taboo as possible. call me ultra conventional, BUT, believe me, the less sex ppl have outside an extablished social structure and the less kids that are born that DONT ask to be born in the first place, the less problems this society as a whole is going to have! we do have other issues on our national conscience now don’t we?

    but, i am not advocating hush-hush policies. people should know about safe sex. the choice is theirs.
    but, becasue there is no such thing as a free lunch, it is time men and women start thinking long and hard and taking well-informed and RESPOSIBLE decisions a few nights of passion needn’t turn into lifetimes of regrets.
    so do think of it from a cultural standpoint. keep yourselves within the rules as much as possible, but know the risks. know contraception. spread the word to many people as possible.
    and let’s work to ensure that SAFE abortion is legalised while preserving the lives of those who did not choose to be born!

  9. sajini uthpala

    it is illegal why i said like that sri lanka is buddist country

  10. abortion should be legalized under strict rules

  11. Sajini: No, Sri Lanka is not.

    Christy: Huh?

  12. I have several responses to the commentary above.

    First, “established social structures” were formed by white men who wanted to exercise control over everything including women’s bodies. These oppressive and sexist practices transcended geographical borders, becoming the corollary aspects of colonialism, taking shape as “established social structures” within our (and others) society. Just because something is an “established social structure” it doesn’t mean it is RIGHT!!! In this modern day, the 21st century, how can we continue to conform to these archaic practices that only perpetuate a destructive and repressive culture? Also, why should any woman give up her rights simply because such a part of culture must remain taboo?

    Second, issues related to women’s health, reproductive rights and abortion stem from women’s struggles to end this form of sexist oppression. One cannot be a feminist or advocate feminism and be anti-choice. The root of the feminist movement is focused on eliminating sexist oppression towards women, liberating us from the clutches of patriarchal power(s) and progressing towards more equitable impacts and outcomes of social policy for women as a whole. You can, however, be a feminist and feel strongly that abortion is NOT FOR YOU, but that does NOT entail being anti-choice, in fact, it means you ARE pro-choice!!

    Third, yes, we ARE all “animals in heat” and we do have carnal needs that need to be fulfilled, just like any other need (such as breathing, eating etc.). However, like much else, the choice around how to get around these needs comes down to the individual. And, therefore, the basic response to this so-called ‘problem’ of hundreds of unwanted babies should be a sound sex education at a young age, so that when you have highly hormonal youth going at it like bunnies, they are actually making informed and educated decisions about their sexual activity. Abstinence-only sex education does NOT work!

    Fourth, it is not ONLY young women and men with uncontrollable libido who have a few “nights of passion” and cannot “master [their] feelings” that seek abortion. There are hundreds of women who conceive – unwillingly – as a result of domestic abuse, rape and even in the most mundane of cases where women (who are married & are raising families) cannot afford another child. And then, what about the women who are married, have children, are using contraceptives and still get pregnant? What then? Are they all supposed to just DEAL WITH IT? Nobody should have a say in what a woman does with her body, except HER!

    Fifth, if access to abortion is a woman’s right and we believe this is the FAIR thing to do, then is it FAIR to say that ONLY certain categories of women in “limited circumstances” can have this right? It’s so easy for anti-abortion factions to advocate that an unborn baby’s life should be preserved, without knowing anything about the circumstances (all of them) that will impact the child, if it is to be born full-term. What about poverty? Education? A decent life? Do these parties look to ensure that these things are in place for this “unborn” child to flourish? NO! This is why it is so convenient for someone to make an ill-conceived and premature statement such as, “…everytime someone got pregnant after a merry jaunt… the unborn child will have to suffer”. Not always is it a “merry jaunt” and not always are the subsequent circumstances friendly enough to allow for another child, who, it is likely will live in complete misery, especially if sustenance is inadequate and more importantly, if this child is UNWANTED! Think back to when you were a little child. All you wanted was to be LOVED, to be WANTED and to be important to someone. Shouldn’t that be the case for EVERY child that is born? Why the hell not?

    Sixth, policies around abortion should be far from “hush hush.” In fact, if abortion were to be legalized, there is an assurance that the procedure is being handled professionally and with care. Under legalized abortion policies, there would be guidelines under which the procedure is conducted, ensuring the patient’s safety and also allowing for any kind of medical treatment beyond the abortion itself. Additionally, the facilities will not only be safe but sanitary and, if the performing medical practitioner were to make a mistake or falter in some way, there would be legal proceedings and such that could be resorted to.

    Finally, the issue of abortion/ anti-abortion is not only connected directly to the issues on our “national conscience” in Sri Lanka but also the results of it in many ways. It is not an issue that is any less important than civil strife, displacement or terrorism. And, it is, a social problem that many societies face on a NATIONAL and even GLOBAL scale! The issue of abortion stirs great controversy mostly because many aspects of our culture and society come into play. It cannot be given just one label, for it reflects many things: economics, politics, ethics, social constraints, laws, rights & freedoms etc. etc. If we are to address the issue of abortion, we need to take into account ALL of these aspects and work on policies around abortion that are beneficial and not harmful to the basic human rights of an individual (in other words, the LIVING).

    One last thing, making the decision to terminate a pregnancy is not something that people do haphazardly or free of any reservations. A great deal of thought and contemplation goes into the decision-making process and, it is a heartbreaking experience that is not only remembered for the rest of your life, but also one that is very powerful. It is by no means an EASY task. But, having the choice to either go through with a pregnancy or terminate it is something that liberates women, families and societies.

    I am married and I have a 21-month-old child. Eight months ago, I found out I was 5 weeks pregnant. We had just started out our lives and we were not ready for a second child. We were a single income household just making ends meet and, we knew that if we opted to see the pregnancy to term, our resources would be much more limited and we would not even be able to properly care for our then 1-year-old. So, after much deliberation, heartache and tears, we decided to have an abortion (legally). The experience itself was difficult and heart-wrenching. My husband and I grieved for a very long time and to this day, we talk about the tough decision we had to make, keeping the memory alive. We believe this is important. However, we also believe we did the right thing and we have no regrets. We want more children in the near future and we are much better prepared for another child now, than we were 8 months ago!

    But, it makes me think about the alternative route that we could have taken and what our lives would look like. In our struggles to keep two children alive and well, feeding, clothing and providing shelter to them, would any anti-abortion advocate or group have helped us out with the medical bills, the monthly household bills and the general ability to sustain our family? I highly doubt it. All that would have come from an anti-abortion faction would be the glorification for not being a baby killer! Yay! to that.

  13. pissu perera

    agree with sanaman. motherhood (or fatherhood for that matter) shouldn’t be a punishment. that goes for even those who “get pregnant after a merry jaunt”.

    @ nipuni- FYI, every unplanned pregnancy is not the result of “a merry jaunt”. some are from within “established social structures”. people, within and without the institution of marriage, like (for lack of a better word) having sex without the consequence of pregnancy, which is why they use contraception. these however, are not 100% effective and with our 18th century sex education system, most don’t know about contraception to begin with. our absurd and archaic laws prevent even victims of rape and incest from seeking an abortion which is why we hear of 12-13 year old mothers. from what you i gather your response to them would be “tough yo, you did the crime you do the time”.

    “it is a woman’s right… BUT I believe that it should only be in limited circumstance” that’s a contradiction if i ever saw one. who are you and i to judge who is to have the right and who is not? are we assuming that sex within marriage is not a merry jaunt? what of couples who have been together for a long time (sometimes even longer than some of these marriages last) but decide not to get married? are we going to deny them the right of sexual intercourse because they’re not married? sex, whether pre-marital or not, is a personal choice.

    why do we always label the women who are not married and end up pregnant as hussies who should’ve kept their legs shut? i know someone who had to get an abortion. it wasn’t easy, physically or mentally. it WAS a responsible choice, but not an easy one.

    whether one takes culture and morals into account when making personal choices is one matter, whether these things should be considered when making policy is another.

    you’re on a slippery slope to moral policing, my friend, and that goes against all notions of liberty and democracy in the modern world.

  14. aappathachchiya

    great post – and glad to see the issue being discussed so openly. The recent crack down on abortion clinics in sri lanka is farce and a shame. just a knee jerk reaction by some moral police. no evidence needed. just ban. ban everything. ban mobile phones in school, ban women from buying alcohol, ban abortion clinics, ban porn, ban adult movies….
    morals are made into laws as previously said and this should not be the case…

  15. wow . . . it always amazes me what people will say . . . and as one not very good at watching what i say in response

  16. Between me and my jelous wife, I won the argument on this subject because she did not agree with you.. lol

  17. some1whocares

    I just hope people who are aware of this, for instance people who have written paragraphs and paragraphs here are actually getting off their computers and doing something about it.
    You do realize that people who are actual victims of this arent reading this right?
    Since we are not able to change the law…………..well not in the near future, we should think of alternatives.
    Sex education is a simple concept which could save so many lives.
    We just need people to come foward and volunteer and organise awareness campaigns or posters or just teach at least one person who is unaware. Its not hard to teach people where babies come from and family planing??….just someone has to do it because some people donot have educational privilledges we have.
    Why do people cringe at the thought of talking about sex in general with others??
    Isn’t the idea of saving people from future abortions and risk to their lives enough to surpass any public humuliation you fear???
    Its not that hard to save lives, you dont have to be doctors, have alot of money or have to change the law. You just need to come foward share what you know

  18. sad situation, need to decrease these numbers soon

  19. thai tattoos pictures,

  20. rukmal bandara

    Whear is place?

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