Context: The United States Supreme Court on June 24 overturned by a 6-3 majority ‘Roe v. Wade’, the court’s landmark 1973 judgment that made abortion a constitutional right.
- The decision will transform life for women in America. Near-total bans on abortion will come into effect in about half of the country’s states.
- Availability of clinics, insurance payouts, are crucial issues that form part of the struggle of many women even with the backing of ‘Roe’. With this legal backing gone, access could become even harder.
- Laws against abortion put many women in US at risk of back-alley abortions outside institutional care. For women in the relatively liberal Democratic states, and for women elsewhere who have the means to travel to a clinic, abortion may still be accessible. However, poor women, especially in many Republican states, may find traveling to other states for in-clinic abortions to be an impossible challenge.
- Foetal viability was around 28 weeks (7 months) at the time of the ‘Roe’ judgment nearly 50 years ago; experts now agree that advances in medicine have brought the threshold down to 23 or 24 weeks (6 months or a little less), and newer studies show this could be further pegged at 22 weeks. An average pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks.
- Foetal viability is often seen as the point at which the rights of the woman can be separated from the rights of the unborn foetus. The length of a pregnancy is commonly calculated from the start of a person’s most recent menstrual period. Since many people identify pregnancy only after the sixth week, pre-viability timelines leave women with very little time and opportunity to make a decision to abort.
Abortion – Human Rights
- Access to safe and legal abortion is a matter of human rights, and its availability is the best way to protect autonomy and reduce maternal mortality and morbidity.
- Authoritative interpretations of international human rights law establish that denying women, girls, and other pregnant people access to abortion is a form of discrimination and jeopardizes a range of human rights.
- Where safe and legal abortion services are unreasonably restricted or not fully available, many other internationally protected human rights may be at risk, including rights to non-discrimination and equality; to life, health, and information; to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; to privacy and bodily autonomy and integrity; to decide the number and spacing of children; to liberty; to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress; and to freedom of conscience and religion.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls and young women ages 15 to 19, and children ages 10 to 14 have a higher risk of health complications and death from pregnancy than adults. WHO has also found that the removal of restrictions on abortion results in the reduction of maternal mortality.
Key Insight: Do restrictive abortion policies reduce the rate of abortions?
Abortion restrictions do not prevent abortions. Research has shown that when abortion is banned or restricted, the number of abortions does not decrease. Abortions just move underground.
- Restrictive abortion policies push pregnant people seeking abortions, especially those living in poverty or rural areas, out of the healthcare system and into unsafe, unregulated settings.
- WHO has also stated that lack of access to safe, affordable, timely, and respectful abortion care, as well as the promotion of stigma associated with abortion, poses risks to abortion seekers’ physical and mental well-being throughout their lives.
Abortion Laws in India
Abortion is legal in India via Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
- India’s Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 allows abortion until 20 weeks of pregnancy. Through an amendment in 2021, the ceiling for abortions was raised to 24 weeks, but only for special categories of pregnant women such as rape or incest survivors, that too, with the approval of two registered doctors.
- An unmarried woman can avail (In case the woman is under 18, the guardian’s signature would be needed + a case should be registered under the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act)
- If the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape.
- Major deformations in the fetus
- If it is a result of failed contraception.
- If the continuation of the pregnancy can cause grave injury to the physical or mental health of the mother.
- In case of a miscarriage i.e. if the baby is dead inside
- The procedure can be carried out only by a registered medical practitioner.
- The abortion should take place at a hospital or at a clinic that is fully equipped to do so.
PCPNDT (Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act
Enacted to prevent misuse of the MTP Act and so that abortions aren’t carried out at the whims and fancies of a woman or a couple.
- While consent of the spouse isn’t required for a woman to undergo an abortion, a spouse cannot force a woman to undergo an abortion. In such a case, a case for domestic violence can be registered and under IPC 312/313, a case for causing miscarriage can be booked against the husband.
- A woman, whether a minor or not, cannot walk into a pharmacy to avail a pill for termination of pregnancy unless she has a prescription from a trained medical practitioner.
Source: The Indian Express