Written By – Sruthi Sadhasivam
CONTRACEPTION AND ABORTION IN INDIA – AN ANALYSIS
– Sruthi Sadhasivam
In India the responsibility of preventing an unwanted pregnancy lies on the women as it is she who gets pregnant. Awareness on these matters is extremely minimal in India. Normalisation of Marital rape further makes the life of the woman terrible. Due to dissemination of various misconceptions such as men will lose physical strength, affects their capability to work or reduces their sexual prowess, men are uncomfortable in using contraceptives during sex. In addition, most of the health care workers who spread information on contraception are females thereby they share such information only to women. Due to prevailing stigma on sex, patriarchy and lack of comprehensive sex education facilities in India, awareness and even discussion on contraceptives, reproductive rights and freedom have become taboo topics to be delved on.
DOES THE STATE DECIDE WHAT WOMEN MUST DO WITH THEIR BODY?
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was amended and a new legislative act was passed on 25th March 2021 called The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021. The act allows termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks with the advice of 1 doctor, while the approval of 2 doctors is essential for pregnancies ranging between 20-24 weeks. The act calls for establishing medical boards in all states and union territories to handle cases regarding termination of pregnancy after 24 weeks in case of substantial fetal abnormalities. Each Board will have a gynecologist, pediatrician, radiologist/sonologist, and other members as notified by the state government. Doctors who are specialized in their respected field of gynecology and obstetrics alone are permitted to perform abortion but due to tremendous lack of health care professionals in rural areas, ensuring safe abortions in such areas becomes nearly impossible. Even in cases of rape and incest, pregnant victims over 24 weeks of pregnancy might have to wait for the decisions of the medical board. Regardless of how a woman got pregnant, abortion during 24-weeks of pregnancy will be allowed only if there is any fetal abnormality. The act secures the privacy of the woman by providing details regarding abortion of a woman only to individuals as prescribed by law. It permits married and unmarried woman to terminate their pregnancy within 20 weeks of gestation period.
Its very easy to get an abortion if the woman has given birth before, if she is unmarried or if a woman is forced to give birth on and on for a son.
Although a progressive measure, there are certain issues with the termination of pregnancy 2021 legislation. The act does not clearly say whether the medical boards will be set up for the entire state or will be established in every district. This gives rise to the question of accessibility of medical boards to rural women. The MTP act legalizes abortion only in circumstances where the pregnancy affects the physical and psychological wellbeing of the woman and when the fetus carries high risk of abnormalities. Moreover, the act to a great extent tries to protect the doctors who conduct medical terminations and also makes it mandatory for the doctor rather than the woman concerned to decide whether to go for abortion. Thereby, the act fails to strongly state the woman’s right to her body and make it simply seem like a remedy to an unwanted pregnancy.
Earlier in 2009, in the Suchita Srivastava case, the court ruled that woman have the right to procreate and decide otherwise as well. It upheld the right to reproductive freedom as it would come under right to personal liberty and right to life. Further, In 2017, during landmark Puttaswamy case, the supreme court ruled that the right to abortion was a subset of right to privacy and individuals had the right to decide on one’s health and body. Alas! The MTP act 2021 fails to talk about reproductive freedom of women and does not recognize her right to choose.
Last but not the least, the act has no mention of transgender rights about termination of pregnancy. Yes! Transgender men can very much get pregnant! And it is time the legislature develops marriage rights and reproductive rights for the LGBTQ community as well.
The state’s role must be limited to providing infrastructure and awareness to access safe abortions and not to dictate terms to a woman as to how she must handle her body. Unwanted pregnancies can make people go for other means of abortion that are generally unsafe. Birthing a baby is not all, nurturing it, providing education, nutritious food and comfortable clothing etc requires money. Not everyone is financially secure and getting pregnant is most of the time an accident. More than birthing a baby, developing it into a responsible person is what is more important and not every parent can do this. Thereby, the decision to bear a child is personal and must foremost be decided by the mother.
Even today, abortion is not seen as a choice that a woman makes, it’s not seen as a reproductive right that a woman exercises nor as a means through which she enjoys body autonomy rather is seen as a measure to control population explosion, is seen as a solution to avoid shame if its an unmarried woman in the case of married woman or seen by anti-abortionists as a method to encourage murder of a life. As long as abortion is perceived as an unwanted solution to a known mistake rather than as a means for a woman to exercise her reproductive freedom, legislation, even if it supports abortion will have less effect and relevance. Most importantly, this legislation must uphold the rights of all gender identities and make it an inclusive legislation to cater to all needs of the society.