This is a guest post by CAVEAT EMPTY
As a twenty something year old it was not the first time I had gone to see a gynaecologist, and been asked what was now the question of the hour.
“Are you married?”
This question had bothered me even during the visits to the gynaecologists (and other doctors), which were prior to my abortion, and where I had not been horror-struck. This question was the doctor’s way of determining if I was sexually active. Apart from the warped moral high horse it was riding, it was completely unprofessional, and maybe even dangerous. There was the risk that someone may not make the connection that these doctors were making between marriage and being sexually active. I myself had only made the connection belatedly, and only after having responded to it instantly. And, even when I did understand the question I did not exactly want to scream “Hey you judgemental pig, I am having pre-marital sex!”
This loaded question turned even uglier when I went for a pregnancy test, and subsequently an abortion. It clearly was no more “a polite way” of asking me if I was sexually active. Evidently, mentioning the dirty three lettered “S” word was unthinkable, even if it was at the risk of doing your job incorrectly, but questioning people’s personal sexual choices was acceptable.
My marital status undoubtedly had no medical relevance, and certainly was not out of concern. The only thing that followed the question was a dirty look, perhaps one of the dirtiest looks I have ever received.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act is supposed to ensure anonymity to any woman who has an abortion. However, this anonymity, even if we assume exists in reality, does not go a long way when those on whom you are relying to take care of your health, and conduct medical procedures which are uncomfortable enough to begin with, are the first to judge you. Not to mention this entire process of judging began much before one even got pregnant, or was even sexually active!
My experience was not the worst. I had heard horror stories, (and even imagined scenarios) where women were sent back to reconsider their decisions, were given long lectures on their “immorality”, or in even worse cases the moral police involved the family. I, fortunately, did not have to experience any of that. There were even some people who bordered on polite, and helpful. But, all of them, every single one expressed in some way that the abortion was a result of some horrible mistake I committed.
As a sexually active woman one is always aware of the consequences however scary they may be. While most of us think, and hope it will never be us, pregnancy is that scary something which has crossed all our minds. But, the medical “professionals” could not fathom that I was an adult woman, sexually active, aware of the consequences, and ready to face them, no matter how difficult they may be. The stares, and unsolicited advice, always followed. The nicest doctor I had during my abortion with great concern told me “No guy is worth it!”. In spite of the general attitude all around which surrounds sex, given her profession, her assumption that I could not have possibly engaged in sexual activity because I wanted to, was alarming for me. How is it that the woman who decided if I could have an abortion could normalize women engaging in sexual activity against their will? The same medical professionals who are active participants in determining rape evidence! But, that is a whole different set of problems.
This one factor of my marital status, and everything around it, made me realize that even as an upper-class, urban, feminist woman with the agency to take decisions and see them through, the toughest part of my abortion was having to walk around in stealth mode. The one thing that was constantly driving my decisions was keeping all of this a secret. Whether it meant finding a hospital away from home, or dealing with the physical, and emotional pain without batting an eyelid, my priority was always to make sure no one found out.
So when it came to facing the doctors and hospital staff, their judgment reiterated my fears of what I had in store if those in my life found out. While I was ashamed to think it, but their sympathy for me being a “poor” girl was better than their rude behaviour since I was almost always on the verge of tears, and was going through perhaps one of the toughest things in my life so far.
I could think I was a feminist, and preach it all I wanted, and claim not to care of what others thought, but when I was in a bad place and vulnerable it mattered how the people responsible for my health, and the ones who would educate me about the options I had in the medical procedures I had to undergo, stared at me a few seconds longer than they should have.
It took me eight months after the abortion, over ten doctor visits, and the constant nagging feeling that I had to stand-up for myself every time I returned from these visits before I could find the courage to finally answer this question, howsoever meekly, and ask one of these people in return “How is it medically relevant?”.
For me it meant even longer stares, and even more disgusted expressions, which, of course, these “professionals” made no attempts to conceal.
But I hope, perhaps in vain, that the next time a young woman who is not married goes to have an abortion, she will be spared the agony of answering this question. Even if merely one less time.