law spurs abortions
“Every time striking statistics
of illegal abortions come out in the press, Sri Lankans debate intensely
about the need to amend the law against abortion. But soon the debate
dies down and no action is taken”
P. K. Balachandran
Sri Lanka's stern anti-abortion law, which allows medical termination
of pregnancy only when the mother's life is in danger, has spurred
illegal abortions, instead of bringing them down. Being illegal
and done mostly by quacks, they are fraught with danger.
about 1000 abortions are carried out in the island as a whole, and
700 of these are done in Colombo. This is an unacceptably high rate
for a country with a population of just 19 million. "We get
at least two bad cases a month," says Dr. Neil Seneviratne,
a gynaecologist at the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital.
carrying out illegal terminations of pregnancy are an international
family planning and mother care NGO, and some government doctors
moonlighting in secret private clinics.
Illegal abortions are catching up in the provincial towns. Kurunegala
may displace Colombo as the ‘abortion capital’ of Sri
Lanka, with the mushrooming of clinics in the bustling commercial
hub. Five major highways intersect at Kurunegala and these bring
clients from every direction.
with the opening of the road from Vavuniya to Jaffna a large number
of Tamil girls from Jaffna and the Wanni are coming down to Kurunegala
for abortion. As a wag remarked, this is one of the ‘dividends’
of the peace process!
is so lucrative, that a government doctor is allegedly moonlighting
in a private clinic and paying another doctor to stand in for him
at the hospital! It is believed that this truant doctor gets LKRs
40,000 a month from the private clinic, plus a fee for every case.
clinic in Kurunegala is said to be located a few yards from the
Doctors also allege that the Sri Lankan branch of a well known international
NGO is carrying out abortions in the guise of "regularising
the menstrual cycle". This NGO, which is a pioneer in family
planning, caters mainly to the middle and upper classes, charging
LKRs 2,800/- for a termination, they say.
understand international NGOs working for poverty alleviation or
increasing the nutritional levels among poor Sri Lankans, but why
for regularisation of the menstrual cycle?" asked a Sri Lankan
from a few clinics like the NGO alluded to, most have no expertise
whatsoever, "95% of those carrying out abortion in Sri Lanka
are quacks," says Dr. Senaviratne.
And that leads
to complications. Sources in the Kurunegala government hospital
said that it was getting at least two bad cases a month because
of the quacks. "Apart from the death of the mother there could
be a perforation of the womb or the uterus. It could affect fertility,"
Dr. Seneviratne said.
Every time striking statistics of illegal abortions come out in
the press, Sri Lankans debate intensely about the need to amend
the law against abortion. But soon the debate dies down and no action
child resulting from rape cannot be aborted under the present law,"
noted Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya of the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital.
Hence the rush to illegal private clinics. Legalising abortion is
not an easy task in Sri Lankan society, which, despite a degree
of Westernisation, is in some ways very conservative.
The Roman Catholic
community, which is very strong and vocal despite being a minority,
will howl. There are enough influential Catholics in government
and civil society to press the case for keeping the anti-abortion
law in its rigid, pristine form.
The majority Buddhist community is also against abortion. The Buddhist
clergy, who have great political influence, have said that relaxing
or dropping the anti-abortion law will lead to irresponsible sex,
moral turpitude, and the breaking down of the family.
But, opportunities for unprotected sex are growing with each passing
day, with both men and women going out for work in increasing numbers
and coming home late.
Indeed, in the garment factories, which employ very young village
girls, illicit sex, including rape, are a recognised problem. It
is the subject of an award winning Sinhalese feature film ‘Sulang
When it comes
to illicit sex leading to complications, there is an unfair tendency
to point an accusing finger only at the poor village girl venturing
into the city or to the factories in the Free Trade Zones. What
is overlooked is that illicit and unprotected sex is a problem in
the upper classes also.
A recent report
in the media said that night clubs in Colombo's five star hotels
were dispensing "through special agents", a drug called
methamphetamine or Ecstacy, which makes the revellers go on dancing
to the wee hours, lose their shyness and become more "accommodating."
Doctors fear that this tablet may lead to unprotected sex and unwanted
The medical profession in Sri Lanka would like the anti-abortion
law to be amended, but not abandoned. It should exist with expanded
provisions for allowing termination, but abortions should be carried
out by doctors with the requisite qualifications.
But this again
will leave a lot of genuine problems unattended. "50% of those
who go in for abortion are married women, not wanting another child
for various social or economic reasons. The child in question may
be one too many in the family, or the mother may be too old to have
another child without embarrassment," says Dr. Sriyani Basnayake,
Medical Director at the Sri Lanka Family Planning Association (SLFPA).
recommends sex education and other preventive measures. "About
five years ago, the SLFPA introduced the drug Postinor-2, which
prevents implantation, if taken within 72 hours of copulation. Found
to be effective, the drug's acceptance has grown. Five years ago,
we sold 500 packets a month. Today we are selling 26,000 packets
a month," she said.-Hindustan Times