By Meera Vijayann:
Republican Presidential nominee Ben Carson came close to declaring a war on women’s health in America on Sunday. On NBC’s show ‘Meet The Press’, Carson defended outlawing abortion even in cases of rape and incest saying: “I will not be in favour of killing a baby because the baby came about in that way.” And just when you thought he could stoop no lower, he went so far as to compare abortion to slavery.
But Carson’s regressive views are not uncommon. Back in India, abortion is, similarly, a sensitive issue. Despite Indian law allowing abortion up to a period of twenty weeks, women’s lives are still in danger. Women in large parts of rural India cannot afford abortion services, let alone primary care, when they are pregnant. In cities, social stigma still weighs heavily on women who wish to undergo abortions. The topic of abortion, in short, continues to be controversial, even in light of more open discussions among Indian youth about men and women’s health issues. Recently, a campaign on abortion stigma run by CREA and Youth Ki Awaaz invited a flurry of responses from young people across the country. These responses ranged from positive, encouraging messages to extremely negative accusations that abortion is “murder” and it is a “sin”.
So why don’t we set the record straight and dig deeper into those questions that people both in the US and India are currently debating about:
That’s fine. What’s important is that it is your choice for your body. In many religions, abortion is considered a sin. It is likely that if your views on abortion are weighed against the values that your religion dictates, it is hard to fathom. However, as citizens in a democracy, we are protected by fundamental civil rights.
Think about this: In many countries across the world, abortions have been refused to women on the basis of religious beliefs. In Paraguay, an 11-year old rape survivor was not allowed to undergo an abortion because of the country’s deep catholic faith. In the United States, House Republicans recently moved to defund Planned Parenthood, a national non-profit network of clinics that provides reproductive and maternal healthcare services for women, after a controversial video made by anti-abortion activists was leaked to the media. The video was proven to be false, yet Planned Parenthood came under intense attack with its Washington office damaged by arson. All this, despite the fact that a large number of beneficiaries of its services are women from low-income backgrounds who have little or no other alternative for care.
In the Philippines, which is predominantly Catholic, abortion is illegal and as a result, many women are shamed and forced to opt for clandestine and often dangerous means to end an unwanted pregnancy. There are nearly 500,000 cases of abortion and 1000 deaths in the country every year. Let’s not forget the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian mother who died in Ireland because the State didn’t provide her an abortion on religious grounds. By opposing abortion based on your beliefs, you are placing your personal beliefs above a woman’s life and health.
There are deep emotional, moral and social sensibilities associated with abortion. Primarily, there is a moral (personal reasoning) and an ethical (social reasoning) dilemma involved. Sex-selective abortion is a crime in India, but let’s get this straight — if a woman legally wishes to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, it is her sovereign right.
A lot of people who are anti-abortion have brought up the issue of a foetus’ right to life. They demand action against the mother for not executing her “duty” and want to take away the right to “murder”. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. In some countries, a foetus is not considered a human being until its birth. Recently, when House Republicans made a point to stress that abortion is ‘murder’, there were several debates around what constituted murder.
If you define murder as “the intentional killing of a human being” — would you also be willing to be held responsible every time a mother dies because she is unable to access reproductive health services? That immediately makes the debate lopsided.
Abortion is an intentional termination of a “pregnancy”. Many argue that for an abortion to be termed as murder, a foetus will have to first fulfil all the ethical points of what constitutes ‘personhood’. It will have to have a beating heart, a brain, a fully formed, functioning body – which it isn’t in the first few months.
Ask yourself this: if I were to force you to risk your health simply because I believed in something and wanted you to act the way I would, would you consider that fair? The simple answer is no. While you have every right to choose against undergoing an abortion, it isn’t your right to dictate what a woman does with her body. Fundamentally, a woman’s reproductive choices are her own and it is a civic right for her to make a decision on her own. If you are asking why a woman wouldn’t choose to give birth and give the baby up for adoption, mull over this fact: adoption is NOT an easy alternative. In the US, there is 1 adoption for every 140 abortions. Children in state custody do not have an easy life either.
Second, if your family or community ‘honour’ solely depends on your impeding a woman’s right to an abortion or wellbeing, it’s seriously time for a reality check.
Globally, the reproductive health and well-being of women has become highly politicised around issues such as abortion, birth control and sexual health related treatments. Sadly, the people these decisions tend to impact are women alone. Whether rich or poor, in the east or west, millions of women are still struggling for a basic right to have control of their own bodies. I’ve personally seen so many women who are close to me undergo traumatic, secretive abortions and handle it on their own. In each case, it was different; an unplanned pregnancy, a marital rape, an abandonment. Today, their decision to terminate a pregnancy has allowed them to move forward with their lives.
Before we take a staunch position to oppose abortion based on our personal beliefs, take into account that, despite it being legal, one woman dies every two hours in India due to an unsafe abortion and nearly 20 million risks their lives walking into a clinic which has little or no resources to help them. If we put an unborn foetus’ life over a mother’s, it is nothing but a travesty.