This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Vaagisha Das. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How India’s Abortion Laws Actively Take Away Individual Choice From Rape Survivors

More from Vaagisha Das

By Vaagisha Das

The law is made for the benefit of the people. This is so much the case that, in the minds of the people, law and justice are synonymous. Hence, one is forced to concede the failure of the law when a high court judge “expresses sympathy“, but refuses to help a rape survivour as “it would not like to do something which is contrary to law“.

This is in reference to the recent headline grabbing case concerning a 14 year old rape survivour, who sought the permission of the Gujarat High Court for the termination of her pregnancy after 24 weeks. The class X student was allegedly raped by her doctor under the influence of sedatives, when she went to seek treatment for typhoid. She became aware of the pregnancy only when she was taken to the doctor, complaining of severe stomach ache. The parents appealed to the High Court for abortion; however, their plea was rejected as the current law allows for abortion only up to 20 weeks. The survivour then moved the Supreme Court, opened a small window of hope when it issued a flexible order. It set up a panel of five doctors who examined the case and allowed for the abortion to take place.

silhouette of a girl
For representation only

While this order gave the 14 year old some respite, this statement that abortion would be allowed only if the survivour was found to suffer ‘severe medical complications’ as a result of carrying the child, and the ultimate decision would rest in the hands of the doctors examining her, creates problems for the rest. The judgement draws power away from the survivour and into the hands of the medical practitioners examining her, not allowing her or her family to have any say in the matter. It should be noted that there is no current constitutionally guaranteed right to abortion in India. The limited ambit of this right stems from the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, where S. 3(2) provides for the ‘termination of pregnancy’ in certain cases. This is what includes rape cases, but the consequences are determined by doctors, and it is only after their consent that any action can be taken to abort the pregnancy.

Considered rather conservative from a feminist perspective too, this undermines the authority of the women as autonomous agents, in a way reinforcing society’s conception of women as weak and incapable of making informed choices. In the context of rape survivours, the very letter of the law seems patronizing – and attention is diverted from individual choices and rights to a decision that is focused on appeasing the society. An example is 23 year old Shanti, who was kept captive for seven months by her rapists, and then not allowed to abort the child at 21 weeks- she was told to ‘be brave and bring the child into the world’.

For rape survivours who are minors and thus unable to understand the full weight of the occurrences, the consent of their families should ideally suffice, however this is a far cry from reality where their choice must be justified before doctors first. This is exactly what is being done in the aforementioned case, where the girl and her family emphatically do not want the child – yet the ultimate decision was left to the doctor’s interpretation of the law. The MTP Act, whose amendments were put into place to benefit women, seems to counteract its purpose here. With no avenues left, the girl might have been forced to take matters in her own hands and opt for an illegal abortion, which may have prolonged her suffering.

Mentally disabled rape survivours are similarly left to the mercy of the State, which would determine the best course of action to be taken. So far, judgements have been rather subjective – a Chandigarh rape survivour was directed by the HC to abort her child, but this was overruled by the SC. However, this is in contrast with a West Bengal case, where abortion was permitted – though it’s unsure whether it was due to the girl being 14 weeks pregnant only or due to her medical condition.

While concerns over sex selective abortions are valid, hence the inclusion of the 20 week clause, it should be noted that taking away the right of the individual for abortion is unethical, for it deprives the woman of control over her own body. The right to life in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is considered paramount- and it includes the individual’s right to live a life of dignity. One could focus on more stringent laws regarding use of medical technology for sex-selection, and the enforcement of such laws rather than denying access to abortion. What if we prioritised individual rights instead?

You must be to comment.

More from Vaagisha Das

Similar Posts

By Prakshi Saha

By nishant anand

By Namrata Verma

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below