Traumatic, degrading and dangerous. These are just of the few words that describe unsafe abortion. Yet, that is still common in Indonesia. Safe abortion activists in the country are trying to reverse this trend by pushing for a comprehensive law that will enable women to have access to safe and medically supervised abortion.
In a meeting supported by Simavi and organised by the Indonesian Safe Abortion Working Group in Bali recently, the participants reiterated the need to reinforce the implementation of Government Regulation No. 61, an important piece of legislation on health that includes youth-friendly reproductive health and abortion services.
The situation in Indonesia
In Indonesia, access to safe abortion is complicated. Abortion is legal when there is fetal impairment or when the mother is a victim of rape. In all other instances it is illegal, however many women still choose to opt for an abortion. As a result, abortions are performed unsafely at home or in clinics. Ninuk Widyantoro, a psychologist and one of the founders of the Women’s Health Foundation, stated: “It is a tragedy and a violation of women’s human rights, especially in the new era where safe, cheap medical abortion can be accessed quite easily. Unfortunately, in Indonesia, women cannot enjoy this privilege; not because of the absence of the new medical technology, but because of the absence of caring attitude of the leaders who hold the power to decide. They use culture and religion as reasons.”
Lack of access to safe clinics
During the meeting, Inna Hudaya from Samsara- an organisation dedicated to promoting SRHR education and information, including safe abortion- said very often women are traumatised by unsafe abortion. “Most women can’t afford a good quality private clinic that provides safe abortion services and they need to search for a cheaper option. Since the practice is often illegal, women are blindfolded and not aware of where they are taken. This results in them being dumped in the middle of the road after the service. This is part of the reasons why abortion is often a traumatic experience.”
Inna added to the fact that abortion is too expensive: “Sex can be demanded as a payment for providing abortion service if women lack the financial means to pay for the service.” Inna also spoke about her personal experience with an unsafe abortion. She had an abortion to end an unplanned pregnancy when she was too young and lacked support and access to information about safe sex and contraception. The abortion triggered a depression, but also prompted her to found Samsara in 2008. Inna also shared Samsara’s experiences in running the national safe abortion hotline where they provide counseling on pre-abortion and post-abortion based on the WHO and Gynuity guidelines. Samsara aims to improve the strategy to reach young people and women, especially young women in areas that are still difficult to penetrate with information on access to safe abortion.
Government support and advocacy push
Inna believes that medical abortion can eradicate illegal abortion and its ill-effects. A medical abortion is brought about by taking medications that will end a pregnancy. The alternative is surgical abortion, which ends a pregnancy by emptying the uterus (or womb) with special instruments. Ina “Medical abortion is the simplest and safest way for women to have an abortion, without being judged or suffer violence. Medical abortion is also more affordable for many women, because the pills can be accessed easily almost all over the world.”
For this to happen, a government regulation must be implemented. Another panelist, Agatha Kharisma Ratnadewi, the coordinator of SERASA – a Peer Educator group of the Access, Services and Knowledge (ASK) programme, said the absence of safe abortion services by the government increases the risk of poverty for young girls. She urged the government to provide safe abortion services, especially for young people, as a commitment and strategy of the Indonesian government in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals related to ensuring healthy lives, gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.
Zumrotin K. Susilo, the director of Women’s Health Foundation (YKP), said advocates should approach and engage people inside the government; “to work on advocacy, we need to understand the character of the leaders who have the potential to finalise the regulation.”
A youth champion for the Youth Advocacy Institute, Alva Gloria, was also present at the event. She called for young people in Indonesia and abroad to join the global action for safe abortion.
The safe and legal abortion event in Bali was jointly supported by Asia Safe Abortion Partnership (ASAP) and Simavi, and organised by Simavi partners Samsara and Institute for Women Human’s Rights (IHAP).