Disclaimer: This is entirely my own thoughts on pregnancy termination in Indonesia and does not represent the views of Bumi Sehat. I also want to make it clear that the biggest issue I see is a major lack of sex education and readily available contraception in order for women to be in control of their reproductive rights.
Abortion in Indonesia is illegal.
However there are grounds on which an abortion may be permitted in this country and that is to
SAVE THE LIFE OF THE WOMAN.
Saving the life of a woman could be interpreted in many different ways.
Having a baby could feel as if it is the end of a womans life, depending on her circumstances. It could be a woman who is unmarried or without a partner, a student, a teenager, someone who is uneducated, without an income, without work opportunity or a victim of rape. Women in any of these situations could feel that there is no other way for them to survive but to terminate their pregnancy.They may feel that keeping the baby will destroy their life. However the decision to have a unsafe abortion may also have major health implications for the woman, including disability or death.
Having an abortion in Indonesia is highly risky. With safe abortion being so incredibly restricted the only option for women is unsafe abortion, which is estimated to represent 11-14% of all maternal deaths in Indonesia. The real numbers may be much higher as most abortions are illegal and therefore unrecorded. Some studies have quoted figures up to 40- 50%. An illegal and unsafe abortion puts the mother’s life at risk.
Safe abortion flashmob in Jakarta
The law is very unclear.
Abortion was made illegal in Indonesia in 1918 and the continuing debate surrounding the issue has been greatly influenced by conservative Islamic groups, with the vast majority of the 240 million strong population of Indonesia identifying as Muslim. It is an incredibly complex problem within the cultural, religious and political climate of Indonesia. Many Muslims believe that abortion is forbidden by the Koran.
However there are many Islamic womens’ groups in Indonesia that are lobbying against this as they do not agree that this is the true message. The abortion law that was written in 1992 and revised in 2009 states that abortion is allowed up until six weeks however only in rape cases or where there the mothers health is at serious risk.
If it is a life threatening emergency, the woman must produce a marriage certificate as well as her husbands consent to the procedure. It will only be considered if it is before six weeks of pregnancy. The government recently updated the regulations on abortion in 2014 however it contains no new policy and remains prohibited in the majority of cases. There are no exact figures of the number of abortions happening in Indonesia every year however the National Population and Family Planning Agency (BKKBN) estimate that in 2012 there were approximately 2.4 million abortions, with 800,000 of those women being teenagers.
A 2008 study by the Guttmacher Institute at health clinics in six regions across Indonesia found that in urban areas, 85% of abortions were performed by obstetricians, midwives and family planning staff. In rural areas 80% of women would seek the assistance of a dukun, which is a traditional healer. The traditional method usually involves drinking herbal mixtures, rough abdominal massage and the insertion of leaves and roots into the uterus through the vagina. Nearly half of all women seeking abortions will turn to a traditional healer first. The most common complications with this method of abortion are bleeding, infection or poisoning from substances used to induce abortion. Women can also experience uterine perforation and injuries to their abdomen and genitals.
The maximum prison sentence for the practioner providing an illegal abortion is 15 years.
The woman seeking the abortion can face up to 10 years of imprisonment.
The World Health Organization states that it is an unmet need for contraception that is the major contributor to unsafe abortion. Millions of women are experiencing unwanted pregnancies as there is not sufficient access or education about family planning and pregnancy contraception. My personal experience reflects this, and the lengthy discussions that I have had with people who work to provide sex education in Indonesia agree.
The number of women that are dying from unsafe abortion and the number of children who are permanently disabled from failed abortions is devastating. Women need to be given options when it comes to their reproductive rights. It is their body, their baby, their choice.
Firstly there needs to be a significant nation wide improvement in the access to family planning counselling and education about sex, particularly in rural areas. Women need to know where, how and with whom they can access contraception. They need thorough education and have access to help when required.
There are a number of organisations that are doing incredible work in Indonesia to address the issue of womens reproductive rights in the face of strong opposition from government and religious groups.
The Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association deliver an extensive range of sexual and reproductive health services through permanent clinics, mobile services and community distribution with a particular focus on marginalised groups such as street children, sex workers and transgender men.
The Yayasan Kesehatan Perempuan or Womens Health Foundation is a Jakarta based NGO also passionate about the state of womens reproductive health and wanting to create positive change. Below there is a link to an educational fact sheet they have produced.
Samsara is a Jogjakarta (Central Java) based organisation that have a telephone helpline for women wanting to receive education and counselling around unwanted pregnancy and abortion, staffed by volunteers. They are very active within the community and provide an amazing service. It is a highly complex issue and we can only hope that there will be better education available to women in regards to safe abortion in Indonesia in the future.
It is unacceptable that so many thousands of Indonesian women are losing their lives in this way. It is a multi layered and highly complex issue and it is not until there is adequate sexual health education and widespread access to contraception the situation for Indonesian women and their families will improve.
- Jakarta post article outlining the ease of which women can access unsafe abortions: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/02/20/abortion-today-still-secret-easy-find.html