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Unsafe abortions put mothers' lives at risk in Sri Lanka

25 September 2017 INASP

Abortion is legally permitted in Sri Lanka in cases where it could save the life of the mother. However, in a recent study only 10% of people surveyed were aware of the legal provision that allows abortion where it could save the life of the mother.

Among the people who were aware of the provision, 11% did not agree to such legal provision.

The research, published in Ceylon Medical Journal, which is available online on the Sri Lanka Journals Online (SLJOL) platform supported by INASP, was based on interviews with 743 people aged 19 to 49 years from 50 households to assess their knowledge and attitudes towards induced abortion.

According to the study, most of the population supported legalizing abortion in cases such as pregnancy due to rape (65%), incest (55%) and where there are lethal fetal abnormalities (53%). 

“However, as per the available research shows, the practice in general is quite different from their perceptions. The majority of the residents in Colombo city are not aware of the legal status of abortion in Sri Lanka. They are not even aware how dangerous abortion can be. They just use it as a means of birth-control to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy," says M.S. Suranga, the lead author of the article.

"That is the reason that 90% of the total abortions [in Sri Lanka] are done by mothers in their second pregnancies, mostly married," Suranga continues. "Usually, they want to get rid of the foetus to maintain spacing between the first child and second child, for economic reasons, to pursue higher education and to focus on their career, etc."

Previous studies have shown this situation to be highly damaging in terms of maternal health as well as the national economy of Sri Lanka.  

“As per the findings of our research, legalization of abortion for soft reasons (bad economic conditions, contraceptive failures, on-demand, etc) may create social unrest and cultural issues. Although the society rejects abortion for these soft reasons, my study shows that the majority are in favour of allowing abortions for rape, incest and foetuses with lethal abnormalities. In view of the public acceptance, the government may consider legalizing induced abortion for rape, incest and when the fetus has lethal abnormalities,” Suranga suggests.

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