When Sharlini (pseudonym) from Shah Alam, then 25, became pregnant in 2016 from her relationship with her boyfriend, she was ashamed and shocked.
Pregnancy was the last thing on Sharlini’s mind as she had just graduated from university.
Furthermore, she was only two months into her relationship with her boyfriend, and had just quit her job as a corporate communications executive.
There was also the fact that she did not want a child.
Despite not using protection, it did not occur to Sharlini that she might be pregnant as she had taken the morning after pill within 12 hours of having sex.
Furthermore, she has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). One of the symptoms of this condition — which occurs when ovaries create excess hormones — is irregular menstruation or the absence of menstruation.
“I have PCOS resulting in irregular periods so I never thought much of it until I took a pregnancy test and booked an appointment (with a doctor) two days after that,” Sharlini told Ova.
Once the shock of finding out she was pregnant had worn off, Sharlini sought to get an abortion with the support of her boyfriend (now ex), her sister, and a close friend who recommended a private clinic in Kelana Jaya where the friend had undergone an abortion.
Sharlini and her then boyfriend paid almost RM2,000 for her to undergo vacuum aspiration, an abortion procedure that uses a suction to remove the pregnancy.
Snarky Attitude And Insinuations
However, nothing prepared her for the “bad bedside manners” she faced at the private clinic in Kelana Jaya, where she underwent the procedure at seven-and-a-half weeks into her pregnancy.
“When I went for the first appointment, my then-partner came along and we were faced with a snarky attitude from the nurse-receptionist,” Sharlini said.
“I felt that it was because my partner was a foreigner and they assumed that I was irresponsible and sexually deviant.”
“The doctor, on the other hand, after informing me how far in I was and asked what’s next, chuckled when I said abortion,” she told Ova.
“It may not have been anything but in my fragile state, I did not need to have these reactions, especially coming from qualified medical practitioners in the OB/GYN field.”
Sharlini said the friend who recommended the clinic did not face these problems. “The entire process was horrible and degrading, especially because of the health care professionals’ bedside manners.”
Denied Abortion In Croatia
In 2018, Sharlini became pregnant again. She was 28 years old and had just broken up with her partner of three years.
She was five weeks into her pregnancy when she decided she would have an abortion.
As she was working in Croatia at the time, she tried to seek an abortion in the country. Sharlini went to a private clinic in the capital city of Zagreb but was refused the abortion as the doctor, a staunch Catholic, conscientiously objected to performing the procedure.
Health care professionals exercise conscientious objection by refusing to provide certain treatments to their patients if they feel it is at odds with their personal beliefs and values.
Although Sharlini tried to argue with the doctor, he responded “by saying that I should just go back to my country if I cannot adapt to Croatian beliefs.
“Being on my own so far away from home, and not ready to confide in my friends there, I was depressed and on the verge of being suicidal.”
Sharlini then went to neighbouring Slovenia, where she received very friendly and supportive access to abortion at a government clinic for 150 euros in the country’s capital, Ljubljana.
“I had great support from the medical practitioners during the procedure. After confiding with close friends, I had unwavering support from them as well,” Sharmila told Ova.
However, her experiences in Malaysia and Croatia have only further motivated her to speak up about abortion and sexual and reproductive health rights.
“Sometime shortly after, there was an uproar in Croatia about a young woman who was sexually assaulted and denied abortion on the same conscience based refusal excuse,” Sharlini said.
“I decided that I wanted to tackle this and co-organised a guerilla protest Crveni Otpor (Red Resistance) and chose to share my stories along with other empowering women who suffered the same predicament.”
“I am glad I did it and that I now have the self-awareness to speak up about it,” she told Ova.
“I chose to be more open about it in the hopes of assuring women that there is no bad decision and that they will always have a community.”
Unwanted Pregnancies Can Happen To Anyone
Sharlini, who will turn 33 this year, is now thriving in her life, having ascended the career ladder to become a communications director for a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
She advises women — young ones in particular — to not be afraid when facing an unwanted pregnancy: “It can happen to anyone, and it is not your fault.”
“Shame and panic are normal initially but when you accept that it has happened to you, be kind to yourself,” Sharlini said.
“Remember that it is not a sin and it’s better than birthing and raising a kid that you did not want and or were not ready for.”
This article, written by Mohani Niza, was produced in collaboration with the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.