By Lata Jha:
Abortion, irrespective of its oft-quoted immoral lineages, is an individual’s choice. In a world that’s increasingly resisting limits on its decisions and seeking autonomy in more than one conventional ways, the Texas anti-abortion law comes as a rude shock to a lot of people.
Governor Rick Perry is acting strongly on the promise that he made six months ago of making abortions “a thing of the past”, as part of his attempts at “cementing the culture of life in Texas”. The measure, House Bill 2, bans abortions after twenty weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-style surgical centres and makes it mandatory for a doctor to have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the facility where he or she performs abortions.
While mass protests rage on, Mr. Perry and other Republicans have their own arguments. They believe that the law shall improve patient safety and hold abortion clinics accountable for safer standards. Republicans have in fact blocked attempts by Democrats to dilute the measures in any way, including an amendment that would have allowed exceptions to the 20-week limit for victims of incest or rape.
The opponents, quite obviously believe this amounts to an unconstitutional attack on legal abortion in Texas, adding that a lot of these restrictions have been found to be medically unnecessary by physician groups. Abortion rights advocates and Democrats have warned that the law could force a majority of the state’s 42 abortion clinics to close, resulting in a loss of access to other family-planning services they provide, such as advice and disease screening. Besides, the new provision that clinics be licensed as ambulatory surgery centres would require expensive renovation or relocation measures to meet the architectural and equipment standards.
Perry fiercely attributes these protests to a prevailing culture of “mob rule“. Officials have been strictly enforcing a ban on what they consider to be disruptive conduct of the crowd. But there has been no silencing them as they gathered on all four floors of the capitol in Austin, chanting slogans and songs and brandishing banners. Those against the bill wore orange and held up placards referencing the Bible, while those who termed themselves “pro-life” dressed in blue.
Beyond legal and practical issues of cost, opponents make these basic claims that the law will force women in rural areas to travel vast distances or seek medical help from black-market sources. We’re talking of women’s healthcare here and whether we can really allow the government to tell us what to do. A rape or incest victim is not looking for state-of-the-art medical facilities, but instant, easy solutions. More than anything else, it’s a question of whether political ambitions can and should be allowed to dictate people’s lives and decisions. Abortion is a choice, governed often by circumstances. And it needs to be accorded as much respect as the right to live or uphold our traditions in worlds as democratic as ours.