Alike criminalizing marital rape, the right to abort has been a long-fought debate. Essentially any law, capable of providing a safety net and reward women autonomy of their own bodies, has been debated. The problem enlarges when along with these debates, the choice of what to do with our bodies is made ‘for; us instead of ‘with/by’ us.
As minorities of a patriarchal society, genders exclusive of men have always been kept under wraps. Since time immemorial, women have been an integral part of the family – from giving birth to molding the off-springs; we assumed that all women need to survive are children of their own—to fill their lonely days with a crying human suckling on their beautiful bosoms! The institution of marriage remains the main culprit among this and by length, we as a society do too. For a man, the only criteria he must fulfill for marriage is of being independent, i.e., having a decent job. For a woman, however, she must be beautiful, a homemaker and of child-bearing figure. The man is reduced to an ATM and a woman to a highly sexualized baby ATM (Shakespeare describes Rosalind’s want for chastity, a waste of beauty).
Biology makes it clear that people with uterus only have two choices—menstruation or pregnancy. Motherhood has been forced on upon these people since their birth, and despite new measures to contain a pregnancy, we are rarely ever made aware of the options. The patriarchy thrives in this ignorance.
For a man, pregnancy is not a big deal. But for a woman, it is nine months of rigorous hormonal unbalance, extreme cramps, morning sickness and the other side-effects that tag along with the three mentioned above. But what if the pregnant person doesn’t want a child? What if the pregnancy was a result of failed contraception? In a country that thinks “bacche bhagwan ke den (reward) hain”, do women really have alternate choices instead of carrying to term? What could be done once the fetus has been implanted? The answer is either abortion or adoption.
Abortion Laws in the World have been categorized into 5 parts– Category 1 represents the countries where abortion is illegal altogether, irrespective of the woman’s fatality. Category 2, are the countries where abortion is permitted when the woman’s life is at risk. About 22% of women worldwide live in Category 2 Countries. Category 3 countries provide legal abortion services but only on therapeutic grounds, meaning if the abortion could take a physical, mental or emotional toll on the woman. Category 4 countries that include even India provide safe legal abortion on the health grounds and on the basis of her social and economic circumstances. In Category 5 come 72 countries where abortion services are provided on request.
India’s Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 regards women the right to abort her baby but with 4 terms and conditions. A woman shall only abort the foetus, if the pregnancy is life-threatening to the birthing person; if the fetus has chromosomal abnormalities; if pregnancy resulted due to failure of contraception; and/or if the pregnancy was a result of sexual assault or rape. If the pregnancy is of 12 weeks, the birthing person needs at least one doctor to sign off but if she exceeds the 12-week bar, she needs two doctors to sign off. Funny, isn’t it? That what goes on in my body, should be dictated by my ignorant partner or better yet by a masochist and an overtly superstitious society. Even though, the advent of the MTP Act, 1971 disregards an adult woman’s need for the husband’s or the family’s consultation for abortion, she does it so on the risk of ostracizing herself.
On the off-chance that a woman wishes for a termination of her pregnancy even after the 12 week bar without any doctor signing off, what could be done? Why women even in 21st century, cannot have full autonomy – without doctors’ legal consultation or her husband’s opinion – of their own body? Why is that a woman’s choice to abort still comes after certain rules and conditions instead of a big, fat full stop? Why does an unborn mass of cells come under the protection of the State when clearly an adult woman’s life is in jeopardy?
Time and again, activists have demanded abortion rights to be a fundamental right, one that even India’s law recognizes, probably the most liberal law of this country. Despite heavy activism and demand for safe and legal abortion, more than 700 million women across the globe still face the inability to access safe and legal abortion care. According to WHO, 23,000 women die of unsafe abortion each year and thousands of women face serious health complications. As long as we continue to bar women from their fundamental right, back-alley abortions shall remain a horrific reality, of which the mortality rate is incredibly high. A person not ready to be a parent should not be forced to accept this responsibility since it’d only contribute in an even more unstable home for that child.
The other option of unwanted pregnancy would be to give it up for adoption. Unfortunately, according to UNICEF, India has 29.6 million orphaned and abandoned children. Of this 30 million children in 2017, only 470,000 children were in institutionalized care, reported Childline India Foundation (CIF), and only half a million find themselves a home.
Hence, children are gifts from God only when they’re biological. With neither wanting to abort unwanted pregnancies nor adopt the ones already abandoned, what does India have in store for these kids? And the question is, what would you prefer for your child – not to be born at all or to be born only to die a painful death, to be left stranded in an alley, starving for food and love and comfort, a ready-made prey for criminals, who goes on to live off of drugs only to find themselves pregnant or worse, find a permanent home in prison? What kind of special measure does the State take to rehabilitate the kids already on the street? Surely, nothing so grandiose like the abortion laws!
“We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children.”Jocelyn Elders (15th Surgeon General of the US)
How can the need to protect an unborn, mass of cells outweigh the basic rights and health risk of a living, breathing human? Why is everyone, even God’s opinion and wishes taken into consideration but not the pregnant person’s? As a woman, are we really this dispensable, especially in Category 1 countries? And are our children really so unworthy for the state that it would bar women from abortions but rarely ever allocate special funds to help those very kids? And wouldn’t legalization of abortion actually help overcome this insane population and resources’ crisis we’ve been facing?
So many questions that we may never find the answers to but what’s most disappointing is the fact that though our rights are targeted and debated, we are the ones that are kept out of the room. Jennifer Aniston as Rachel once said, “No uterus, No opinion!” It’s high time we start including the people affected by these laws instead of alienating them. Instead of basking in our uterus-less privileges, we must consult or better yet let the concerned parties make decisions for themselves.
Juhi Salim is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Zaina Shahid Khan