A new study released by the Population Council, New Delhi shows that young, unmarried women in India encounter barriers to obtaining an abortion procedure early in their pregnancies. The study took place in Jharkand and Bihar, surveying 549 unmarried women who had an abortion between 2007 and 2008. Delayed recognition of pregnancy, lack of awareness that abortion is legal for unmarried women, and lack of support from partners were cited as factors that contributed to women accessing abortions later in their pregnancies.
The majority of women surveyed realized they were pregnant within the first trimester, 83% within the first two months of the pregnancy. Eighty four percent of women in the sample decided to have an abortion before the end of the first trimester, yet only 75% received one before the second trimester.
There was significant lack of awareness by the women that abortions are legal for unmarried women. Only 22% of the women knew prior to their pregnancies that abortion is legally available to them. Additionally, the researchers cited that one in six women in the survey reported their pregnancy to have resulted from a nonconsensual sexual encounter.
Unmarried women in the survey were hesitant to report their pregnancies to their fathers or other male relatives. However, partner support was strongly linked to receiving an abortion early in the pregnancy. Male relatives were less likely to provide support to the unmarried women than were partners, mothers, female relatives, or friends. Women with supportive partners were more likely to receive an abortion in the first trimester than women supported by female relatives.
The researchers believe these findings emphasize the need for increased sex education programs for unmarried young women in a variety of forums. Improved programs should work to bolster communication about sexual health between young women and their family members, especially their parents. These programs should not only include information about reproductive physiology, but also information on access and legal rights to abortion.