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Why I Can’t Be Either Pro-Choice Or Pro-Life Regarding Abortion In India

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Whenever I meet people at conferences or in social settings and we discuss politics, the social structure of our countries, laws, women’s rights, equality, feminism, etc., there’s a question that usually comes up in the conversation ‘Are you pro-choice or pro-life?’

I’m  a firm believer that whatever that needs to be done should be done practically and most importantly with the consent and choice of the woman or the person carrying the baby.

For those of you who don’t know the difference between the two; people who are pro-choice believe that the person carrying the baby must have their right to decide if they want to keep it or abort it. They should not be compelled to take any decision. People who are pro-life, believe that no foetus should be aborted at any stage and that abortion is ‘murder’.

So when somebody asks me, if I’m pro-choice or pro-life, I don’t know if I indeed belong to one of the two groups alone. There are many circumstances, scenarios, people and reasons that belong to either one of these groups and hold strong compelling opinions, and hence I’m not sure about what category I fall under.

I’m pro-choice. I believe that the person carrying the baby must have their legal right to abort it or to decide for themselves what they want to do with the baby at any and all stages of its development. The simple reason being that sometimes the person may not be well off to take proper care of the child, may not be earning enough, or may not be mentally or physically ready to take care of a child.

There are cases where after a woman gets pregnant, she is left alone as the man with whom she was sexually involved does not want to take responsibility. There are cases of teen pregnancies where a 16-year-old is pregnant and she may, or may not want to keep the child because she is still a teenager and needs to take care of herself as well. Teenagers can also sometimes not be mentally prepared enough to undergo the whole process of being a mother. As and when I say this, I am also always reminded of myself and that I belong to a land with rich history and cultures, some of which I respect and many of which I think are broken and need to grow and develop with time.

The sad reality of my country is that even today, millions believe that having a girl child is a burden, and is considered it to be almost like a sin. There are many reasons behind this that are rooted in other social issues such as dowry, menstruation being considered a taboo, etc. So when I say I’m pro-choice, and I believe that the mother should be allowed to decide whether or not they want to abort, I’m also saying that I believe the same for everybody. However, I do not support abortion based on sex.

This being said, I believe that a part of me is pro-life too. The social issues and practices that are being practised even now in my country make me want to be pro-life. The issue is not just about the girl child here; it is also about the education that these people who believe in such things receive. We have a vast population in our country that believes and follows customs and traditions where they consider the girl child to be a burden, less important and a liability to the family.

We’ve always been talking about how our judicial system does nothing for such things, but a part of me understands their problems too. As much as I want our legal system to change and remake the laws of our country to be pro-choice, I don’t want them to do it at this point of time either. Because this leaves both the sides of the people – the ones who cannot or do not want to have a baby and the ones who kill their child based on their sex – with a legal freedom of doing whatever they want. Abortion is illegal in India after 20 weeks of pregnancy, as so the Constitution states, under specific conditions that are “the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to physical or mental health” and “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped” .

It is possible to identify the sex of the baby by 20 weeks of pregnancy, and it is also possible to find out if there are any abnormalities that the baby may be born with. The question of sex selective abortion gets removed in legal terms because it is unconstitutional, so there’s a full stop to it unless a case has been brought up to the courts which highlight the abortion being carried out due to that reason (which, FYI, happens a lot in India through illegal ways).

But the question that remains is that given specific conditions, why are women still not allowed to abort their child in cases where they have detected illness and disorders such as down syndrome which the child may be born with? Another error that prevails in our legal system is that there is no provision or allowance for rape victims to abort. The judiciary may have allowed a few women to do so, but many are denied that right. Even though I agree it is hard to make laws in a country that is influenced by various types of traditions, I firmly believe there must be a provision for those who have become pregnant after being sexually assaulted or raped. This also brings out another flaw in our legal system where marital rape is legal if the girl is below 15 years, and at the same time, it is illegal for her to marry before she is 18.

After going through so many cases and reports online, the social practices that are followed in my country and the different aspects that the judiciary needs to look into before actually providing a firm solution or response to a problem is when I realized that not everything is black and white, there are a million shades of grey, red and blue that come along with it. And even though these million shades between black and white exist, I believe our legal system needs more structure and clarity in the best way possible. It is hard for me to conclude for certain if I’m pro-choice or pro- life in the given scenarios, but I’m certain of the principles that I believe in, and I hope someday the people of my country flout against such beliefs and norms.

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