India’s Abortion Bill Amendment Is A Bold Step Towards Safer Reproductive Rights

Equality comes with a tiny invisible hashtag that is: terms and conditions apply. We are living in the 21st century and are hedging to become a developed nation. But is that development only towards creating new machines or just by giving the irony of a citizenship tag?

Recently, there had been some significant changes made in India’s abortion bill called the MTP Amendment Bill 2020. This is a new step towards gender equality, says Smriti Irani, Minister of Women and Child Development.

The amendment increases the age limit of the abortion of foetus from 20 weeks to 24 weeks. This has been put in place for cases of vulnerable women, specifically rape survivors and minors. However, now, there needs to be a consultation from two medical experts, instead of just one doctor.

Scenes from a Planned Parenthood Rally in New York City in 2011. Abortion remains a divisive social and political issue in the United States. (Photo: Charlotte Cooper/Flickr)

There would be no such upper gestation limit in case of foetal abnormalities. This bill will ensure autonomy, dignity and confidentiality of women terminating pregnancy. The bill strengthens reproductive rights of women and promotes safe abortion, says Prakash Javadekar.

But the paradox is that even after such amendments to promote safe abortions, contraceptive failure is not considered an adequate reason for an unmarried woman to terminate her pregnancy. Although sex after the age of 18 with consent of both partners is legal, but it is clear to everyone that premarital sex is still a prevalent taboo in Indian law.

In India, before 1971, abortion was a crime. It was punishable by a fine and a three-year imprisonment, except in cases where the woman’s life was in danger. But, due to several cases of miscarriage and unsafe abortions that led to the death of many women, the new MTP Act was introduced in 1971 which legalised abortion under certain terms and conditions.

Even after 49 years of the MTP Act, there is still stigma. Contraceptive failure is considered a valid reason only in the cases of married women, which provides validation for acts like marital rape. In any case, we have no law against marital rape, but justifications like this only ends up defending the notion that marriage is a key to have sexual relations whether or not there is consent from your partner. It is diplomatic to say that live in relationships are legal, but if an unmarried woman wants to abort her child, contraceptive failure is not a reason enough, or an appropriate one.

Safe abortions and reproductive rights can be promoted by normalising sex as a natural biological process so people and the law do not feel shame in accepting sexual relations before marriage or even after marriage. Increasing the age limit of gestation period and confidentiality will only help when women will come for abortion. Many cases of abortions before marriage are not done at all or are done using improper methods, which can have drastically negative effects on the health of women, adding to the humiliation they often face.

If this hypocrisy of promoting reproductive rights ends and contraceptive failure is also considered a valid reason for unmarried women to access an abortion, proper awareness about sex education and reproductive rights is spread, then the rate of safe and healthy abortions will increase and the population rate will too, come under control.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee.
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