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More on Abortion in India… March 9, 2006

Posted by scan man in Ethics, Medicine, News, Politics, Religion.

The abortion ban in South Dakota made it to the Indian newspapers today (you can read the story in the online edition here – the link doesn’t open in Safari for some reason. works fine on Firefox).

I certainly didn’t expect to write about abortion again today. But T.J. had asked me some questions on abortion-related issues in India which I had not touched on in my previous post.

Here are the questions…

TJs questions

Before I start with the answers, a Disclaimer 😉

All the views expressed here are my own. I don’t make any claims that these are the views of the majority of Indians. For those of you who don’t know much about the multiethnic, multiracial, multicultural, multireligious, multilingual smorgasbord that is modern India it maybe helpful if you read about the Demographics of India on Wikipedia.

I’ll start with the easy one. Yes I am religious, but not very particularly so. I am a Hindu, but not a very serious practitioner of Hinduism. In any case, most Hindus would argue that you can’t practice Hinduism in any systematic way. Hinduism’s stance on abortion is definitely pro-life. I confess I Googled to get the info 🙂 The best article that I found on the Hindu view of abortion was at the BBC website.

(The links on Hindu & Hinduism will take you to the related articles in Wikipedia. I don’t intend to proselytize. The links are for those who want to know about the religion).

The question about ‘family unit’ and the ‘role’ of children in society are difficult. (I’ll confine myself to commenting on ‘children’ without any mention of their sex. Any mention of male v. female children would definitely open up a larger can of worms).

The answers would depend on factors such as socioeconomic status, culture and religion (again). But I think this would be the same for any society, Indian or Western. To generalize, a large segment of Indians (regardless of religion) live in ‘joint’ or ‘extended’ families, especially in the rural areas. Most of them would consider children to be ‘precious’. (Although a male child would be ‘more precious’ in most instances). But there are circumstances where an additional child (or more accurately a new – usually unplanned – pregnancy) would be considered a burden, especially in the lower socioeconomic strata.

That brings me to the next question. About our citizens view of abortion. Specifically – Do they think it is ‘okay’?

After 35 years of legal ‘abortion on-demand in India’ (thank you Dr. Flea) I think the answer is definitely yes. Most Indians think that abortion is ‘okay’. There are people who are anti-abortion (or pro-life in US terms) basically because of their religious beliefs – Catholics, Buddhists, Jains, Orthodox Hindus, etc….

What about Doctors?

Well, Doctors in India have been living in the same sociocultural environment for the past 35 years. So the answer would be that most Doctors in India have accepted ‘abortion on-demand’ as a way of life. I personally know of many obstetricians (especially those dealing with treatment of infertility) who refuse to perform abortions. I am sure there are a large number of such Doctors in India. But there are is a larger group of Doctors for whom an abortion is just another medical procedure – no ethical or moral strings attached.

Abortions can be legally performed in India by any registered medical practitioner in a legally licensed centre. The doctor need not be a specialist (ie, an ObGyn). There is a reason for this kind of an unregulated, ‘free-for-all’ kind of practice. The Government wants to reduce the incidence of illegal abortions – those done at unlicensed centres by untrained persons.

Why do people get illegal abortions performed in such a permissive legal environment? That brings me to the last and most difficult question: ‘is abortion viewed as a form of birth control’. My answer is yes. I will reiterate that the Government’s official line differs. I am sure many of my colleagues will agree with my view.

As a radiologist I have scanned many live and healthy-looking first & early second trimester foetuses that I knew where destined to die. I used to be disturbed… but I guess I’m no longer affected by it. These days, if I do think about it, I console myself with the thought that I am not the one doing the dirty deed. I know that sounds like escapism … but that’s how it stands….

There’s no definite conclusion to this post….

I don’t think there ever will be a definite conclusion to this issue…


1. Moof - March 9, 2006

Scan Man … thank you for the clear, excellent explanation. In many ways, I think that both of our nations are quite similar in their attitudes – especially within the medical profession.

I believe that the largest divide between us is probably the reason for some of the abortions in your country (sex selection) … however, from my own perspective, is it worse to kill an unborn infant because she’s of the wrong sex, than it is to kill an unborn infant because it’s just not “convenient” to have one? I don’t see that the US has a moral high ground on that …

It would be interesting to go across the globe, from country to country, and discover the percentages of children allowed to be born vs those who are aborted … I have a terrible feeling that the statistics worldwide would be staggering.

Does anyone perhaps have that sort of information?

2. Peggikaye (aka Pk) - March 10, 2006

Wonderful post. Very interesting.

My pastor went to India 2 years ago, and I have found myself facinated with India ever since.

I will be following Moof’s and Flea’s example and promoting your new blog on my blog Pearls And Dreams.

WELCOME to the World of Blogging!

3. It's me, T.J. - March 10, 2006

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions in such great detail.

I appreciate your candor!

I used to be disturbed… but I guess I’m no longer affected by it.

The lack of tears doesn’t mean that you aren’t affected.

It’s like chronic pain. The pain hasn’t gone away. The tendency is to push the pain out of your mind, build a wall, and forget about it.

The cause of the pain hasn’t left.

The pain hasn’t left.

You are still affected, even though you may not fully feel it or show it.

I’m sorry that you have been subjected to that kind of pain, and that you have had to build an effective wall.

Thank you once again.


P.S. I’m adding you to my blogroll.

4. scan man - March 10, 2006

Moof: Thank you. I agree with your views on the attitudes of medical professionals and the differences in the motive for abortion in our countries. It would indeed be interesting to know the worldwide statistics on abortion. But given the abysmal health record-keeping in most developing countries, I don’t think we will ever get the true numbers.

Pk: Thanks. Please don’t hesitate to ask me anything about India. I’ll do my best.

TJ: Though I had written in my first post ‘The Abortion Debate’ that I had always been fascinated by the subject, I never really thought about it in a coherent manner. I still don’t think I am as articulate as Dr. Flea, Moof or Dr. Crippen. I owe you for getting me started. Thank you.

5. Navin Sigamany - March 10, 2006

The attitude of Indians towards abortion is determined more by culture than by religion. A lot of customs are cultural, and are slightly modified to suit different religions. In practice, culturally determined traits and attitudes almost always score over those determined by religion.

It is the same with attitudes towards abortion / children. While it is culturally almost unthinkable not to have children, it is usually deemed okay to abort a child for whatever purposes. The person who undergoes an abortion is not ostracized or stigmatised in any way, and society is by and large sympathetic towards them. In particular geographical areas, usually where agriculture is the economic mainstay, the male child is given preference over the female child. Reasons for this are myriad. Simply put, a female child puts a heavy burden on the family – financially, culturally and economically. While to a large extent the basis for this is disappearing, cultural memory is still strong, and male children are still preferred over female children. In such places, female foeticide and infanticide is rampant, in spite of efforts by many governmental and non-governmental agencies to stop it.

The reason why the fight against female foeticide / infanticide has met with very limited success is that socially, it is still acceptable.

So, coming to the point, religion really takes a backseat to culture when it comes to determining attitudes towards abortion.

6. Peggikaye (aka Pk) - March 11, 2006

ok, here’s one.

How is Myasthenia Gravis treated in India.
How are autoimmune diseases in general treated in India?

Mestinon, the main symtom relief drug, here in the US, has a filler of lactose, does that have any bearing on it’s use in India?
What is the mortality rate there? Is it harder to diagnose the MG, and other autoimmune diseases in India than other countries?

7. Moof - March 11, 2006

Scan Man, your English is excellent, and you express yourself so well that I forget that it’s not your first languare.

I read the comment by Navin … do you agree with his position?

Here in the US, there is a stigma attached to having an abortion … at least from the perspective of those of us who are pro-life, and according to some statistics I’ve seen, that’s roughly half of the country. When someone tells me that they are pro-abortion, or that they have had an abortion, although I don’t shun them or mistreat them, and I try to not judge them, I no longer see them in the same way as previously. It places a division between us.

Also, here in the US, religion is asserting itself over secular culture, as is evinced by the recent anti-abortion law passed in South Dakota, and the parental notification law in Texas which I posted about this morning.

The larger cities tend to be liberal – pro-abortion, pro big government … but when you go out into the country side, many of the folks are conservative.

8. scan man - March 11, 2006

Thank you all for your kind words.

Navin: Sorry I didn’t post a response to your comment sooner. I had a busy day at work, & you know my ‘Boss’ doesn’t like me goofing off at work 😉 I agree with your opinion that here in India, abortion is a social and cultural issue rather than a religious one. I brought in religion because TJ’s questions were specifically about religion. You know very well our country’s religious diversity – I don’t think anybody could count the number of subsects and special religious groups, the godmen (swamis), ashrams, and their countless variants. There is no possible single ‘religious’ slant that can be given to this issue rather than to say some vague thing like ‘all religions value life’, ‘God wants the best to happen to every living being’ etc…

Pk: When I told you I’d be glad to help you out with any doubts you had about India, I didn’t expect to get hit by a loaded Internal Medicine problem. I expected more in the lines of culture and Indian society, tourism etc 🙂 I am sure all my colleagues (Radiologists) worldwide would agree that we are not the best people to be talking about hard core Internal Medicine issues. I am sorry, but I have no idea about Myasthenia gravis other than that I’ll probably have to look at the thymus if I do a CT or MRI. As for Mestinon, ‘wow’ is that like, a drug! duh!!

Moof: Thanks for the compliment. If you have a few minutes check out Navin‘s post about English usage among young Indians here. He has explained the phenomenon very well. I like Navin am very comfortable thinking and communicating in English. Very difficult for me to do so in Tamil, (one among the 18 official languages in India, spoken in our state Tamil Nadu which means Tamil Country) and in Kannada which happens to be my first language – in fact I can’t read or write Kannada and I barely speak it. Navin is a non-medical friend of mine who’s got a very interesting and colourful blog – mostly related to local Indian stuff – more specifically about Chennai city and Tamil Nadu. There is no social stigma attached to abortion in India. It is such a routine occurence that in medical practice its part of the history-taking process in any woman who comes in for a Ob or Gyn problem, ‘have you had any abortions?’ as routine as ‘how many children do you have?’. Like Navin says, its quite accepted in society too. Religion and faith are secondary factors in the decision to abort. I have scanned women belonging to all the major Indian religions (Hindu, Muslim, Christian – including Catholics and Syrian Orthodox & Jains) who subsequently underwent abortions.

9. Moof - March 11, 2006

Thank you for including those links! I took a look at your friend’s blog, and found it to be very informative. Also – the links concerning Tamil Nadu and Chennai were a real education! It seems as if you are in a very large city.

Are you directly on the ocean? What sort of climate are you experiencing this time of year?

Here, in the northeastern US (Maine,) there is still snow, and the ground is still frozen, although the temperatures have gone above freezing for the last several days, and things are beginning to thaw. I’m looking forward to sping.

10. It's me, T.J. - March 12, 2006

Hey Navin…

Your insights are very enlightening.

A lot of great comments…

So, coming to the point, religion really takes a backseat to culture when it comes to determining attitudes towards abortion.

Being a Christian, I find that religion takes a backseat to many things.

There are many souls that are starving in our modern culture here in the United States and many want to feed it poison with acts like abortion.

Eventually the soul dies from long term abuse and necrosis.

The death of our children leaves the country without a heart, soul, or purpose.


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