Abortion is a complex and controversial issue when taken in the context of a moral point of view.
One can debate equally compelling cases for abortion or against it. Although abortion is currently illegal in Sri Lanka, sources and subsequent studies estimate that, as much as 300,000-350,000 per year and roughly around 1,000 abortions are performed each day.
In Sri Lanka, women do not have access to legal abortion unless it is under life-saving circumstances. Although safe specialist services are available for those who have to, many access services available in exploitative conditions for much lower rates. For this purpose, the government is seeking to broaden the law as an Amendment to the Penal Code of 1883 and to the Code of Criminal Procedure Act.
Existing Legal Framework in Sri Lanka
It is stated thus: "Section 303 of the Penal Code provides that anyone voluntarily causing a woman with child to miscarry is subject to up to three years' imprisonment and/or payment of a fine, unless the miscarriage was caused in good faith in order to save the life of the mother. The penalty is imprisonment for up to seven years and payment of a fine if the woman is 'quick with child', a term which, while not defined in the Code, refers to an advanced stage of pregnancy when there is perception of foetal movement, as opposed to 'woman with child', which simply refers to 'being pregnant'. A woman who induces her own miscarriage is subject to the same penalties. If the miscarriage is caused without the consent of the woman, whether or not she is quick with child, the person causing it is subject to up to 20 years' imprisonment and payment of a fine (Section 304). The same penalty is imposed if the woman's death results from any act carried out with intent to bring about a miscarriage, whether or not the offender knew that the act was likely to cause death (Section 305)".
Reasons are given 'why' seeking an abortion is a two-edged sword question as one side it was due to inadequate family planning without proper orientation, lack of knowledge in sexual education, and poverty while the other reasons were rapes, incest, and serious foetal impairment/abnormalities.
As the matter has raised concern among most in Sri Lanka as well as world-wide, Ceylon Today spoke to the President of the Prenatal Society of Sri Lanka (PSSL) Dr. Kapila Jayaratne regarding the aspect of decriminalizing and legalizing abortion in Sri Lanka.
In his comments, he explained the major aspect was to provide relief to the women who are in need; for those who really want it, and not merely misunderstanding the idea of legalizing abortion in Sri Lanka in the process of amending the existing laws for decriminalizing abortion.
"We really don't want this topic to be misused. Abortion is a choice. We want to broaden the legal aspects in Sri Lanka regarding abortion to give relief to the women who are in need, giving an opportunity for women to access safe and legal abortion procedures in identified circumstances such as rape, incest, or foetal abnormalities/ impairments. There is an eligibility criterion of this concession and a doctor needs to approve it. The legal framework decriminalize abortion has been done now, and justice to be initiated."
Speaking about this issue in detail as an organization who play a key role in society for 'Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for all', Executive Director of the Family Planning Association Thushara Ranasinghe told to Ceylon Today that it was a very sensitive issue and the privilege and the priority of the abortion should be given to the most advocated scenarios such as rapes, incest, and pre-identified foetal abnormalities. She further explained that abortion was the only option women have in most sexual violence incidents, the archaic laws have abided and prevented causing abortion whenever there are foetal abnormalities as they can cause a burden to a mother's entire life.
"Family Planning Association also is a stakeholder of this pair and back in 2012-2013 we had a discussion with a panel of experts and drafted the final document and handed it over to the government authorities, but we don't know what happened thereafter, with the current movement we hope the government would do the necessary amendments to legalize the aspects that have been mentioned above."
Sex education, access to contraception, society involvement, promotion of male involvement, are major components in educating reproductive health issues, and in preventing current unsafe abortions.
Sources say that,ensuring motherhood and reducing reproductive health system related morbidity is one of the goals of the population and reproductive health policy. Eliminating unsafe abortions would be the best practice by providing access to information to men and women on preventing unwanted pregnancies, increasing the access to affordable quality contraceptive services and methods and promoting them further.
"I've noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born."– Ronald Reagan
Despite these few strategies mentioned above, there will be women who wish to terminate unwanted pregnancies even at the very moment. There are less privileged, even privileged women putting their life at a risk physically and mentally when they seek an abortion yet it is said to save a mother's life.
There is another life to consider as well as the mother's. It is another life for whom the mother has responsibility. The question is whether her responsibility extends to making the decision of life and death, or whether her self-interest undermines the legitimacy of this decision.
For a safer tomorrow, the prevention of unwanted pregnancy starts at the very beginning. How people behave sexually depends on many factors, for instance, the ethical and moral background a person has grown and acquired from home, religious teachings and preaching, school and the society. The ability to communicate the outcomes of sexual behaviour and sex education should be provided from the home itself. If parents could teach their children the morality aspect in respecting women and men both by being an example to children themselves, bringing more love and honour to the centre of their relationship, the next generation will start to do the same. The children will know what love is and the outcome of love.
The process will continue on and come to a point where school and society will start teaching children reproductive health or sex education. When schools and society adjust on sexual matters and given the relevant knowledge the next generation will be reliable and responsible in planning their future. The respect and equality among the sexes will be spoken about among the young.
There are many examples of how so-called unwanted babies being brought to life have lit up the world. They have become the messengers to the world who remind people of what love is and how to love even and accept and be held worthy, the ultimate beauty of love.
People have forgotten the purpose of life; think a minute, if my mother refused me when she conceived me, how can I do what I do today? Every life has a meaning and a purpose. I believe before we think of abortion, we should make people think about basic values and purposes of life. Then no one will be 'unwanted' and everybody will be 'accepted'. It's all of our responsibility to make every child a 'wanted' one by creating the right sphere in society. Accept life, honour women; and the world will be a beautiful place.
It is not to prosecute those who are making the dreadful decision about abortion – but it is to remind that abortion is not a normal surgical procedure involving only the mother's body. In abortion we are killing a foetus – a human life.
"The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gift – a child – as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the dependent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners." – Mother Theresa. (ceylontoday.lk)