The Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS) today published an article with the headline ‘Rampant abortions after being betrayed by lovers’. The news talked about how teenage girls in the Karnali province are indulging in unsafe sex and opt for abortion once they get pregnant and betrayed by their lovers, “leading to serious health problems”.
The article quotes a counsellor from the Surkhet-based Marie Stopes, a safe abortion center, as saying that abortion before giving birth to a child could invite dangerous health complications. The counsellor is further quoted as saying that “abortion before giving birth to the first child is a dangerous task and it increases the risk of infertility”.
The statement is not only false and misleading but also goes on to discourage and stigmatize women from getting safe abortion services.
When we contacted a counsellor at the Kathmandu-based Marie Stopes, she said that there is no proven study that shows one can’t be pregnant again if they go through an abortion before having a child.
“If one is opting for safe abortion, the procedure is completely free of complications and is carried out by trained professionals. But as some people opt for unsafe abortion for privacy reasons, it can lead to health complications. These complications come mostly due to untrained people performing surgical abortion,” she said.
Nepal Government has legalized abortion since 2002 under the 11th amendment to the Civil Code. As per the law, safe abortion services are easily available at accredited health facilities and are free of cost at government hospitals.
The current abortion laws are outlined in the Right to Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act of 2075 BS which has provisions of abortion for up to 28 weeks of pregnancy. A pregnant woman has the right to safe abortion of a foetus of up to 12 weeks without stating any reasons for it.
Abortions beyond 12 weeks and up to 28 weeks are provided to pregnant women as per her consent in cases of rape, birth defects, women with an incurable disease such as HIV conditions and if continuing the pregnancy is a threat to the life of the woman.
Similarly, women above 16 years of age are not required to furnish any reason for their choice to abort or consent from family members.
Mithilesh Saha, Program Coordinator at the Shantinagar-based Safe Abortion Service, said that in his experience of around 17 years, no woman who had opted for safe abortion ever reported of infertility or any “dangerous health complications” after the procedure.
“All women who have accessed safe abortion services from our organization have never had any problem conceiving. Some have even come for their second or third abortions, which proves that abortion cannot be the cause of infertility,” he said.
There are more than 1,100 private and government sectors which provide safe abortion in the nation. Legal provisions for safe abortion services, paving the way for pregnant persons to not have to explain or justify their reason for abortion, goes to show that access to safe abortion is a fundamental human right.
Now, news agencies like RSS which published such news article with half and false information, and other news outlets which carried the piece without fact-checking or gatekeeping, can invite ‘dangerous health complications’.
RSS, as it mentions in its website, “is the largest and longest serving news agency in Nepal having nationwide network”. All media houses in Nepal take news pieces from RSS and report it for its authenticity.
RSS, meanwhile, for the longest time has worked as the government’s mouth piece, as it is a state-run news agency, and has a massive reach. But such misleading news not only tarnishes journalism ethics but also shows news outlets’ role in policing women and their bodies.
At a time when Nepali women are fighting for basic rights and are being targeted for voicing their opinion, news outlets publishing articles that use ignorant and problematic language while reporting about an already sensitive topic is outrageous.
On the one hand, Nepali media houses extensively covered the recent women’s march because it was the “hot topic”, while on the other hand, they are also giving space to such methods of policing women by instilling fear of being sterile.
Sahara Basnet, Miss Nepal Asia Pacific International 2017 and co-founder of Asha Social Initiative, uses her platform to talk extensively about safe abortion practices, their availability in Nepal and its importance.
“As an activist who is trying to normalize the conversation around abortion, bust myths surrounding it and raise awareness, it is extremely disheartening to read such articles from media houses that are re-sharing misinformation,” Basnet said.
“One of the biggest challenges in abortion awareness is that many people believe in the myth that abortion causes infertility as well as other health issues, which is rare and could be true to with any other medical or surgical procedure. However, generalizing that aborting your first pregnancy causes infertility and causes serious mental and physical damage is simply not true,” Basnet added.
“Abortion services from trained health professionals are not only safe but it is also possible to get pregnant fairly quickly after one had undergone abortion. Women’s right to understanding and accessing abortion continues to be a massive struggle in Nepal and a misstep by media houses like these can easily set us back many years,” Basnet expressed.
Misinformation, lack of information, stigmatization, and myths surrounding abortion already play a major role in dissuading women from accessing safe abortion services. Instead they opt for unsafe measures and risk their lives.
Unsafe abortion results in 4.7-13.2% of maternal deaths worldwide. Legal restrictions on abortions usually do not result in fewer abortions, instead, they compel women to opt for life-threatening methods of abortion.
When these kind of news pieces reach vulnerable women who are in urgent need of abortion but do not have the resources, or the patriarchs of the house who are already dictating women’s lives, they are bound to believe the information coming from credible sources. This is dangerous.
Such a misleading article from a reputed news agencies with millions of readers can not only provide delusive idea about abortion, but also will affect someone who is thinking about getting an abortion.
Not only that, such deceptive article may create constant fear among those who have gone through abortion before marriage and ultimately affect their future decisions as well.