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.