Abortion & Law
The love between a mother and her child is considered divine, the epitome of affection and sacrifice. Does that mean love is only associated with life? Can’t a mother make a decision that is based on her inability to provide a good quality of life for her unborn child? Is that not love in itself? But then again, shouldn’t that child have a voice?
One of the most pressing issues in today’s world is the ability/inability to make that decision. Abortion is the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy. The reasons may include socio-economic status, threat to the mother and/or mental deficits to the foetus. When properly done, abortion is one of the safest procedures in medicine, but unsafe abortion is a major cause of maternal death, especially in the developing world. (Source: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/).
Pro-Life v/s Pro Choice
There are two distinct schools of thoughts. ‘Pro-Life’ supporters believe in the defending the rights of the foetus. ‘Pro-choice’ supporters believe in defending the rights of the woman. Here is an extract of a hypothetical conversation between the two groups.
Laws around the world
• While abortion has been legal since the landmark Supreme Court decision of Roe vs Wade in 1973 there has been considerable pushback over the decision.
• Several polls have found the American public equally divided over the issue. Even politicians have had opposing views. Trump is pro-life while Biden is pro-choice.
• If an abortion case reaches all the way to the supreme court again, there is considerable reason to believe that abortion for non-medical purposes may revoked.
• Abortion has been legal since 1967 and allows it to take place until 24 weeks after gestation.
• Two doctors must agree that having the baby will pose a risk to the life of the mother, the foetus or impact the mental health of the woman.
➢ New Zealand:
• Abortion has been legal since 1977 and as recently as 2020, under Ardern, abortion has also been decriminalised.
• Assent must be taken from two doctors in agreement.
➢ Latin America
• Abortion is illegal in most of Latin America. Few countries permit it only in order to preserve life of the mother.
• In a landmark decision, on 30th December 2020, abortion was legalised in Argentina up to 14 weeks after gestation.
So where does India stand?
• India legalised abortion in 1971, one of the most progressive decisions taken at the time. This act decriminalised abortion. It has been a topic that has been kept far away from politics and well accepted by most. India’s laws are amongst the most progressive and woman friendly.
• According to the law, termination is allowed under the following conditions-
When substantial risk exists that the foetus will be still born or have severe mental/physical deficits.
When pregnancy is caused due to sexual acts without the woman’s consent.
When continuation of pregnancy may cause the woman mental health issues or risk her life.
Due to failure of contraceptives. (This is limited only to married couples)
• Pregnancy can be terminated upto 20 weeks after gestation. In January 2020 an amendment was proposed which would raise this limit to 24 weeks.
• Consent of any family member or husband is not required when a woman seeks abortion. Upto 12 weeks assent of one doctor is needed, following which upto 20-weeks assent of two doctors is needed.
• In several decisions taken by the courts; termination has been permitted for foetuses as late as 30 weeks into the gestation period due to the circumstances. The judicial system has time and time again upheld this right for women.
In October 2017, a minor rape victim in her 23rd week of pregnancy had approached the Jharkhand High Court for permission to abort her foetus. While the medical board set up to examine the matter observed that it would be dangerous to abort at this stage, the board took it up as a challenge. The Court permitted the termination of pregnancy.
The mother of a 19-year-old girl suffering from mild to moderate mental retardation had approached the High Court of Himachal Pradesh in October 2017 for permission to terminate the girl's 32-week pregnancy. The medical board constituted by the High Court observed that if the pregnancy were continued, the foetus would suffer severe cognitive and motor impairments even after surgery. The Court therefore granted permission for the termination of the pregnancy.
The flaws with India’s framework
• Even 30 years after the legalisation, most terminations in India are classified as unsafe. The reality being one of two grim situations.
• Since sex is such a taboo subject, most teenagers remain uneducated about contraceptive methods and by extension, abortion. Out of fear of being judged by the ‘forward’ society we live in, most take to undocumented and unsafe means to terminate the pregnancy (bacha girana). Even today, most schooling programs do not provide the education for these delicate topics, which is essential for the overall development of a healthy life.
• The other reason is --- female infanticide. The inexplicable desire for male heirs has driven up the rates of illegal termination using unsafe means since a female foetus is unwanted.
• It is estimated that in 2015 alone, 15.6 million abortions took place in India; one in every ten women that chose to abort, die of complications due to unsafe practices.
• Since this issue has been further away from manifestos of political parties, the implementation has also been slower than expected. The overall investment in infrastructure has been underwhelming.
• Lack of awareness, contraception taboo, economic waste and desire for a male child have led society into a vicious circle, one which recognises but shuns abortions. Clinics have been made available across India, but fear of the judgemental society leads to women using unconventional routes.
• This leads to the birth of children into an already over-populated and poverty ridden tomorrow.
• As per a study by TOI in 2018; based on education, healthcare, food, clothing, entertainment, transportation, housing, and some miscellaneous expenditure, approximately Rs 67.4 lakh is spent on raising a child in India from conception to college.
• While raising a child may be an extremely rewarding experience, the economic challenges associated often are a determining factor on whether to proceed with or terminate any pregnancy, since the associated responsibility is gargantuan.
One word---education. Understanding the dynamics of how painful the decision can be for a to-be-mother to abort her child, council her and help her reach an informed decision is what we need. Sex, contraception and termination awareness must be instilled at a primary level. Ask yourself this---before you read this article, how much did you know about this issue? Exactly.
It all comes down to this. If we take away the woman’s right to choose, will we begin limiting her other rights also? Or, if we keep abortion legal, are we devaluing human life? There are no easy answers to these questions. There are no right answers to these questions. Both sides present strong, logical arguments; and like with most things in life, a compromise in thoughts can help protect the overall well-being of society.