Millennium Post

Aborting women's rights

The reversal of abortion law in the US is slap in the face of American democracy. Legally we have it better in India; but social perceptions need to catch up

Aborting womens rights

Savita Halappanavar's story is a well-known one if you're into women's rights. Her death, rather than her life, changed the course of law in Ireland. In 2012, the 31-year-old Indian origin dentist was denied an abortion even though she had miscarried. The refusal on legal grounds eventually led to the young doctor dying from sepsis due to an infection that she had contracted. Had she been allowed to abort the dead foetus, she would have lived. Her untimely, cruel demise triggered a massive global outrage and subsequent reversal of abortion ban in Ireland in 2018. It's Savita's smiling face that comes to my mind repeatedly as we discuss the regressive step taken by the US Supreme Court in overturning the Roe V. Wade verdict.

In all senses, the 1973 Roe V. Wade judgement was a landmark one. It ruled that a pregnant woman's right to her body superseded religious and moral opinions about abortion, and that the woman had constitutional rights to decide the course of her pregnancy. The reversal of this order now means that 26 states in the US would comply and not allow women to abort an unviable pregnancy. Even if the woman's life is at risk or the foetus has genetic issues or abnormalities — the woman would have to take the baby to term. Pregnancy due to a brutal incident of rape? No sir, still can't end the pregnancy but rather multiply the pain and torment of the woman by compelling her to have the child. What if it's a simple matter of choice? Nope, that's not happening either. The reversal of Roe V Wade has robbed American women in many states of the power to decide what happens to their bodies. It will also give rise to illegal abortion centres, risky pregnancy termination practices, and generally add to the ever-increasing woes of being a woman. Also possible would be the incarceration and harassment of women and medical personnel who conduct abortion. Many countries that overturned abortions have chilling reports of deaths of women who were denied abortions. Reports suggest that scores of women have died or been imprisoned in countries such as Nicaragua and El Salvador following reversal of abortion laws.

Whether you believe that it's an unborn child or a foetus that's residing inside a pregnant woman, killing a living, breathing organism is the hardest task for a pregnant mother. But this insurmountable decision should remain the prerogative of the person who is carrying the unborn child/foetus. Why should anyone else dictate what the woman should or should not do? Shouldn't you grow a uterus before you fight for rights that don't involve you? Religion truly is the opium of the masses — addictive and often, futile. Morals are subjective and change depending on who is passing judgement. Therefore, the only other reason that is sensible (other than personal freedoms) should be medical ones.

I can never pass up the chance to be proud of my country. A lot of things may not be right and few others may be work-in-progress, but at least the abortion laws in India protect a pregnant woman's rights till it is medically safe to terminate the pregnancy. We have surpassed the US, which is now part of 24 countries that prohibit abortions. India, and 71 other countries, safeguard the woman's rights to agree or deny taking the pregnancy to full term. In India, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 permits women to legally abort a foetus till 20 weeks of pregnancy with a single doctor's approval or between 12 weeks and 20 weeks as long as two doctors sign off. In the case of rape or foetal abnormality, women can terminate a pregnancy till 24 weeks. This was assured by an amendment to the law last year.

However, while we rejoice the freedom that Indian women have compared to our American counterparts, we have much to mull over. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), A whopping 47.6 per cent women chose abortion citing unplanned pregnancy as the reason; which means few are practicing safe sex and using contraceptives. Almost 3 per cent of all pregnancies end up in abortions, and 26.2 per cent of them still happened at home — not under medical supervision. As per the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)'s 'State of the World Population Report 2022', unsafe abortions are also the third leading reason of deaths of mothers in India. Around 67 per cent abortions in India are termed unsafe causing almost 8 maternal deaths every day! It's time to introspect that while our laws allow legal abortions, why are so many abortions happening in the confines of homes? Our social, familial, and medical support systems continue to vilify women who want to abort an unborn child. So, while as women in India, we do have reason to be proud of our laws but there's much to be done to smash social perceptions and demand safe sexual practices.

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal

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