To Abort or Not
General Studies 1:
- Women related issues
General Studies 2:
- Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector or Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources
In News: Ireland has said an overwhelming yes to a woman’s right to safe abortion — unthinkable in this largely Catholic country even a decade ago. The Irish voted overwhelmingly to repeal the Eighth amendment to the country’s constitution, which was passed in 1983 and which placed a foetus’s right to life and that of its mother on an even keel, making abortion all but completely illegal.
Currently, abortion is only allowed when a woman’s life is at risk, but not in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.
Background: Halappanavar, a young dentist who was 17 weeks pregnant, had been admitted to a hospital in Galway with back pain, which ended up into a raging infection and sepsis. Doctors refused her requests for an abortion, in fear of violating the law, leading to her death.
Halappanavar’s death galvanized a generation of young Irish women to fight for their reproductive freedom because it revealed to them the horrors of the Eighth Amendment and made plain how the law could affect — and even end — their lives.
Right to ‘Safe’ Abortion – Human Right
- In countries where abortion is heavily restricted, lawmakers are less likely to be invested in reproductive health, and this includes prenatal care and access to other reproductive health services.
- Where individuals are denied abortion care, they also tend to be denied lifesaving medical care at other stages of their reproductive lives, including before and after pregnancy. Combating maternal mortality must go hand in hand with ensuring access to safe and legal abortion for everyone who needs it. When we restrict abortion access, we force people to go to great lengths to get the care they need, which often means traveling out of state and taking time off work. This is an especially difficult burden for those who are low income.
- If the pregnancy was the result of sexual violence and the woman does not want to continue with the pregnancy, then forcing her to do so represents a violation of the woman’s bodily integrity and aggravates her mental trauma, impeding her healing and recovery from violence.
- Unsafe abortion takes the lives of 47,000 people worldwide every year, making it a leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity globally. These are all preventable deaths. Ensuring access to safe, legal abortion, coupled with the promotion of effective contraceptives, is quite literally the only way to reduce complications and mortality rates connected to abortion worldwide.
- Abortion is often the only essential health care service not provided by people’s regular reproductive health care provider and within their usual health care system. We know that when abortion is legal, it is extremely safe. It is a basic human right to decide whether and when to have a child without putting your health and very life at stake.
The Way Forward
For women in India, access to abortion has been marred by extreme stigma, lack of awareness about its legality, unavailability of safe services near the community, and high costs charged by providers. Unsafe abortion practices were the third largest contributor of maternal deaths in India.
While India has legalised abortion by the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, this privilege is clouded by the fact that unsafe abortions remain the third highest cause of pregnancy-related deaths. We need to urgently address this –
- First, recognise a woman’s right to exercise her choice and protect her by amending the Indian Penal Code to decriminalise abortion for the woman.
- Second, support and provide last-mile access and availability of safe abortion by widening the provider base as proposed by the pending amendments to the MTP Act.
- Third, acknowledge the termination of pregnancies with major abnormalities as a part of standard medical care any time in pregnancy as was traditional practice, without having to seek legal exception for each case.
- Fourth, further grounds should be incorporated for the abortion – for example it should be extended to 24 weeks and not just 20 weeks as other abnormalities may surface then.
- Finally, identify and avoid potential conflation of the MTP Act with the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act that results in stigmatisation of all doctors providing abortions to ensure women are not denied abortion.
Awareness amongst women is of paramount importance. The judiciary and lawmakers need to maintain a secular outlook and strive to ensure that the women citizens of this country have equal citizenship rights in consonance with the Constitution and with accepted international covenants on human rights. These include a right to life for the woman, as also a right to dignity and a right to benefit from scientific progress. Religion and other traditional frameworks are inherently imbued with patriarchy and cannot be used by a secular state to direct its laws and policies.