Ireland will go into polls on Friday for a historic and landmark referendum on the future of abortion laws. The procedure is currently restricted by the 8th amendment of their constitution, which protects the rights of the mother and her unborn child. The discussion on the laws related to abortion flared up after an Indian-origin woman Savita Halappanavar who was along 17 weeks of her pregnancy died after she was denied an abortion after being diagnosed with blood poisoning. The results to be announced on Saturday will change the face of the women rights in Ireland, but what about the rights pertaining to abortion in India?
The big question that stands is if it is accepted by the people of our country, where the word ‘sex’ in itself is a taboo.
The Indian abortion laws falls under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, which was enacted by the Indian Parliament in the year 1971. Access to abortion is legal but restricted in India. It can only be performed up to 20 weeks of conception and after the 20-week mark, it can only be performed under special circumstances, at a court’s discretion. 20 weeks are also divided into two categories: If the pregnancy is under 12 weeks, it has to be signed off by only one doctor, who can then perform the procedure on the mother. As it crosses the 12-week mark, it has to be signed off by two doctors. The underlining point is that a woman can’t solely decide to abort the baby if she desires to. According to the MTP Act, it can be performed with the consent of the doctor under four circumstances only:
If continuation of the pregnancy poses any risks to the life of the mother or to her physical or mental health.
If the foetus has any severe abnormalities.
If pregnancy occurred as a result of failure of contraception (but this is only applicable to married women).
If pregnancy is a result of sexual assault or rape.
Also, what becomes a problem with this provision is the slow and drawn out law proceedings. One case that deserves mention with regard to this problem is the case of a 14-year-old from UP who was raped but denied abortion because the law proceedings took entire eight weeks, leading her to the stage of ‘advanced pregnancy’ (about 33 weeks). Sadly, the girl had to marry her rapist, following ostracization from the family and society.
The point that people majorly mistake is that a pregnant female has to be accompanied by either the father or any member of her family for abortion, which is misleading because the MTP Act gives adult women the autonomy to decide for themselves. A doctor cannot ask for anyone’s consent except for the mother’s. Due to poor public information system, the vast majority of women in rural area are unaware of the fact that abortion is legal. This has further contributed to increased female mortality rate in India. Lack of information about such an important issue forces women to buy over the counter abortion pills, which shouldn’t be taken without a doctor’s help. This has also led to an increase in the number of quacks, who operate under unsanitary conditions and are unlicensed.
With the advancement of technology, our government should increase the maximum bar to get an abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks. Doctors say that it is completely safe to abort a baby before 24 weeks. But, why are these measures not taken?
Women’s’ right activists fight over the omission of woman’s choice and want the government to increase the 20 weeks bar.
Draft medical termination of pregnancy (amendment) bill, 2014, takes care of all the things mentioned above but the after taking various sounds of the cabinet, it is till stuck in Prime minister’s office. It is probably not important for them, as the cabinet is dominated by male ministers and the fact that men don’t get pregnant so it is a moot point for them.
Indian society has changed drastically over the past few decades. Single women are more confident about being sexually active than before. Many women are divorced, single, or in a live-in relationship. We need to recognize the rights of all these women in our country and more flexible laws should be enacted so that unfortunate cases like that of Savita Halappanavar does not repeat here.