Abortion and sex determination: Conflicting messages in information materials in a district of Rajasthan, India

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Public information campaigns are an integral component of reproductive health programmes, including on abortion. In India, where sex selective abortion is increasing, public information is being disseminated on the illegality of sex determination. This paper presents findings from a study undertaken in 2003 in one district in Rajasthan to analyse the content of information materials on abortion and sex determination and people's perceptions of them. Most of the informational material about abortion was produced by one abortion service provider, but none by the public or private sector. The public sector had produced materials on the illegality of sex determination, some of which failed to distinguish between sex selection and other reasons for abortion. In the absence of knowledge of the legal status of abortion, the negative messages and strong language of these materials may have contributed to the perception that abortion is illegal in India. Future materials should address abortion and sex determination, including the legal status of abortion, availability of providers and social norms that shape decision-making. Married and unmarried women should be addressed and the participation of family members acknowledged, while supporting independent decisions by women. Sex determination should also be addressed, and the conditions under which a woman can and cannot seek an abortion clarified, using media and materials accessible to low-literate audiences. Based on what we learned in this research, a pictorial booklet and educator's manual were produced, covering both abortion and sex determination, and are being distributed in India.