A Handy Guide on What to Avoid When Reporting on Abortion
The speakers discussed how to talk about abortions sensitively and why it’s important to get the language (and not just verbal) absolutely right.
The speakers discussed how to talk about abortions sensitively and why it’s important to get the language (and not just verbal) absolutely right. (Photo: iStockphoto)

A Handy Guide on What to Avoid When Reporting on Abortion

FIT recently joined hands with Global Health Strategies (GHS) for a workshop on abortion and reproductive rights in India. Among other topics that were explored in the workshop, the speakers discussed how to talk about abortions sensitively and why it’s important to get the language (and not just verbal) absolutely right.

FIT recently joined hands with Global Health Strategies for a workshop on abortion and reproductive rights in India.
FIT recently joined hands with Global Health Strategies for a workshop on abortion and reproductive rights in India.
(Photo Courtesy: Global Health Strategies)
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One of the premises was that abortion is an experience common to many people all over the country, yet it’s unique and personal to each of them. No two cases of abortion are same so how does one address it?

Terminology and Visuals: Guidelines For Reporting on Abortion

When we talk about a topic as sensitive as abortion and reproductive rights, the terminology and visual cues are of utmost importance.

Here are some basic guidelines to talk about abortion in media:

(Photo: FIT)

A recent example of terminology gone wrong while talking about a topic like abortion is when an advertorial for a live audience television show pitted a woman between two choices - “playing God” (abortion) and “saving motherhood” (not abortion). It also generously used the word ‘baby’ and ‘child’ to refer to a foetus that is less than 20 weeks old. The headline read as follows: ‘Mother Asked To Kill Her Child.’

Additionally, when we invoke ideas of “motherhood” while talking about abortion, there’s a potential of putting unnecessary pressure on the woman who is already under a lot of physical and emotional stress.

Also Read : Sony, Here’s What Your ‘Debate’ on Abortion Gets Wrong

Lack of conversation around abortions and reproductive health in India is one of the reasons why we often shy away from topics like these in the mainstream, emphasised Dr Nozier Sherier of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI).

Also, if the conversation lacks awareness and sensitivity, it causes more harm than good, affirmed Vinoj Manning, executive Director, Ipas Development Foundation (IDF).

Fight the Stigma

Talking more about abortion and reinstating that it’s a normal, medical procedure would further fight the stigma by normalising the dialogue. Both Dr Sherier as well as Nandita Suneja, Director, GHS, agreed that it’s important to remind people of this. The stigma surrounding the topic needs to be actively addressed.

Normalisation is not simply the need of the hour, but also something that people want. One of our primary concerns at FIT is women’s sexual and reproductive health and our stories on these topics do tremendously well. This clearly shows huge engagement and participation on the part of the audience.

Stigma Leading to Quakery

In a country where 15.6 million abortions took place in 2015 (Lancet study), stigma should not hold people back from talking about it.

Another very important concern when it comes to stigma is quakery and unsafe abortions. Women often end up in shady excuses for clinics and put themselves through all sorts of unsafe procedures simply because they are afraid of approaching their families for help.

A story we did involved a young girl who got pregnant outside wedlock. When she approached her elder sister, who happened to be married, she was first schooled for having loose morals and later on taken to a midwife who performed questionable procedures on her.

<b>FIT’s </b>Vaishali Sood (left) and Rosheena Zehra (right).
FIT’s Vaishali Sood (left) and Rosheena Zehra (right).
(Photo Courtesy: Global Health Strategies)

The girl eventually told her partner about the pregnancy, he was very supportive, immediately proposed marriage to her. When they finally got proper medical treatment for the woman, they found out that the foetus did not have a heartbeat. Removing the foetus involved a surgery that damaged her uterus permanently and left the girl with lifelong infertility.

Also Read : Where Does India Stand When It Comes to Safe Access to Abortions?

The Role of Media in Sensitising Society

The role of media, especially virtual, is of immense importance in normalising the dialogue. A survey says a majority of nearly 50 crore smartphone users in India spend most of their time (72 percent) surfing the net on their mobile phones.

In a country like India where 45,000 women die every year due to causes related to childbirth (Source: World Health Organisation), the need for a dialogue and the potential of its impact is huge.

Also Read: Print Media Is Still Thriving in India and Here Is Why

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