Activists have raised alarm over Indonesia’s anti-abortion laws, saying that criminalised abortion encourages women to turn to illegal practices that can be fatal.
Inna Hudaya, the founder of SAMSARA, an INGO that provides assistance to women with unplanned pregnancies, said that criminalised abortion is a threat to public health in general, and to women in particular.
“The criminalisation of abortion is a form of violence against women. State and society have failed to see women as subjects; women are increasingly seen as objects and are subordinated under the law,” she said.
Inna is just one of many pushing for legalisation of abortion in Indonesia, where about 2.5 million abortions are performed every year. In fact, the figure might be higher than that, as many women turn to illegal clinics and traditional healers to have their pregnancies terminated discreetly.
Inna claims that abortion rates are often higher in countries where the practice is illegal, as anti-abortion laws are often accompanied by lack of public education about sexual and reproductive health.
“Even though abortion is criminalised, there has been no significant change in the abortion rate. As long as there are no efforts to reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancies, the demand for abortion services will remain high,” Inna said.
Inna said that illegal abortion services take advantage of the situation of women.
“Because there are no clear regulations, it means that women often become victims, psychologically, physically and ecnomically,” she said.
Such practices can also increase the risk of complications and maternal death, which occurs at a rate of 228 deaths per 100,000 births.
“Complications and death resulting from unsafe abortions can cause economic damage for the state, including by smearing Indonesia’s good name over its inability to raise the status of women’s health,” Inna said.
Inna understands the problems faced by women with unplanned pregnancies, having had an abortion once herself. She established SAMSARA to provide support to other women, including by offering counselling, education and by opening a hotline for advice.
“Having an abortion to solve today’s problem is not a decision that should be rushed into, when it may cause bigger problems, like death and health complications,” she said.
Kalyanamitra, another organisation that campaigns for women’s rights, claims that more women should be made aware of their right to legally choose an abortion under certain conditions.
In 2009, exceptions to the anti-abortion laws were introduced that allow legal abortion for medical reasons with the consent of a woman’s husband.
“The law also allows abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape that could cause psychological trauma for the victim,” said Rena Herdiyani, Kalyanamitra’s executive director.
Rena added that while these exceptions were a good start for public acceptance of abortion, the new laws still do not cover other situations under which women choose to have abortions, such as failed contraceptive use, unexpected pregnancies, short spacing between births and concerns about child support.
“In the end, women who do not wish to be pregnant, for reasons other than medical emergencies or rape, end up having unsafe abortions, for example by drinking jamu-jamuan [traditional tonics] or with the help of an untrained practitioner,” she said.
M. Nurhadi Rahman, a medical doctor and founder of the Selamatkan Ibu, or Saving Mothers movement, said that when abortions were performed correctly by trained specialists, the risk to health is minimal.
“What is dangerous is when the practice is performed illegally, outside of a health clinic or hospital, by someone who is not a medical professional,” he said.
“And don’t think that it is just pregnant teenagers and unmarried couples who seek out illegal abortions,” he added. “The majority are in fact housewives who have experienced contraceptive failure.”