#MyBodyMyChoice? The Unsettling State of Abortion Laws in India
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Written by: Hridika Rao Teella, Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi
Even in the 21st century, the term “abortion” brings with itself an enormous amount of stigma and dishonour to many cultures of the world. It is extremely terrifying living in a world, where foeticide is still criminalised in most of the countries as of now. Banning abortion, raises the single most important issue, that how can anyone be truly free if they do not have control over the actions of their own bodies? This further comes in sync with the notions of right to freedom and privacy and has led to the foundations of many human rights movements since time immemorial.
The infamous Alabama abortion law which criminalised foeticide at any stage of pregnancy, furthered the issue of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” debates amongst many intellectuals and activists. People from the pro-choice section believed that only women should be able to make choices for their bodies and that nobody should try to intervene in that, not even god. This acts as a direct counterstatement to the religions which consider abortion as “unholy” and disgraceful. The pro-life voices believed in advocating full legal protection of embryos and foetuses irrespective of the opinions of women bearing them. They justify their view by bringing it under the ambit of the “right to life” movement and have often led staunch arguments on those grounds. Another issue raised due to the Alabamian case was that the policymakers of this law happened to be ten men with no women representation on the council. Some saw this as an entrenched concern of misogyny and felt that men shouldn’t be involved in deciding for women’s bodies. Having said that, the final bill was signed by the governor of Alabama who herself was a lady. As a result of this law, a girl was actually forced to give birth to her rapist’s child or she would be considered a criminal in the eyes of the law.
Coming to the plight of our very own country, abortion is and always has been an alarming issue due to our cultural backdrop. Lack of sex education and increasing information barriers have made our women suffer from fatal and unsafe abortions. On an average, 13 women die because of no access of safe abortions every day and 80% of them remain unaware. Due to fear of being judged and embarrassed, many young girls end up resorting to methods of self-aborting by taking pills and injections from their local drugstores. On top of it all, the conflation of sex determination with abortion has furthered the stigma in our urban and rural premises.
Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalized the act of abortion before 1971 and only legalized it to a certain extent after the introduction of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 (MTP). It proposed that it would regulate abortions keeping in mind the safety of the woman’s life. Although, the archaic law failed in achieving its prime objective and in turn ended up perpetuating unsafe abortions which costed many women their lives.
Thankfully, recent sets of amendments made to the act on 2nd March,2020 introduced in Lok Sabha has turned out to be quite progressive and relatively liberal. The following were some of its amendments:
One of the primary amendments made was a major provision which stated that pregnancy may be terminated within 20 weeks of gestation period instead of the earlier fixed 12-20-week pattern, with the approval of two registered medical practitioners. However, this amendment will only apply to “specific categories” of women prescribed by the central government, which is again, a little controversial.
Another noteworthy change to the old act was to replace the term used as “married woman or her husband” to “woman or her partner” on the accounts of pregnancy. It tackles the concept of a woman requiring a husband as a prerequisite for being pregnant, which further highlights the notions of pre-marital intercourse with legal consent.
The Bill states that no registered medical practitioner will be allowed to reveal the name and details of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated, except to a person authorised by any law.
Abortion is certainly not illegal in India; it is just inaccessible. This makes it even more important for the government to find appropriate measures to tackle the issues of unsafe abortion services down to the roots. In order to realise that abortion is not a criminal but a medical concern, we must undertake a multi-pronged approach, which actively attempts to dispel myths and misconceptions around abortion and works systematically towards destigmatising it as a taboo and making it a matter of #MyBodyMyChoice.
The availability of safe abortion services needs to be expanded and popularised on a priority basis. MMA pills (Mifepristone and Misoprostol) needs to be in the Essential Drugs List for all levels under medical guidance.
Medically trained staff with proper equipment’s should be provided at the beck and call of the citizens at affordable costs so we could avoid the frequency of fatalities.
At the grass root level, the primary health care centers should train Anganwadi and Asha workers with basic abortion practices to increase the accessibility of simple and safe abortive methods making them self-reliant and exercise their right to choose more freely.
In conclusion, abortion is and will be a topic of relevance until all women around the world feel safe and empowered about their rights and choices. All countries together, must follow the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for secured and skilled abortions on a global level, in order to have a synchronised pattern of shielded and affordable abortions to whoever concerned, irrespective of age or cultural bias. This would then, contribute in broadening the essence of compassion and sensitising mankind about the intricacies of foeticide as a matter of nothing but choice.