Feminists around the world are fighting for the rights of women globally. One of the most prominent issue in this regard is that of abortion rights. While women themselves are divided into the factions of pro-choicers and pro-lifers, both the sections are equally concerned about threats against women health. While the pro-life stand completely disregards the need for abortion and strongly believes that ending life for any reason is unjustified. The pro-choicers believe that women have the right to make their own decisions when it comes to their body. When I think about it, it is strange how women in India have got so many rights without even asking for it. Even then, our women are worse off than those in the West who had to fight even for the universal adult franchise.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, is an all-pervasive law that under reasonable circumstances (mentioned later in the blog) allow the right to get an abortion to the women. Yet, the condition of women hasn’t gotten better in this regard. Many women across the country are still losing their lives because of a wrongly carried out abortion. The rate of female foeticide carried out against the wishes of the mother are still alarming. Women don’t seem to be in control of their own fate. So, what is it that we need to improve the condition of women? How far can making a law help us? And even if we have the law, how do we make use of the powers given to us? Here’s a blog that touches upon these few questions, that answer “Is just changing the law on abortions enough?”
MTP Act, 1971
Let’s begin by looking at the laws that safeguard women’s abortion rights in our country. Abortion in India is legal in the following circumstances:
- Physical or mental risk to the health of the pregnant woman
- Failure of contraception in case of married women
- Unwanted pregnancy in case of unmarried women
- Chances of disabilities in the child
Contrary to popular belief, women can’t be forced into getting an abortion. The right to terminate a pregnancy on demand is not something that the MTP Act confers, however, it does give the right to deny an abortion and continue with the pregnancy to the woman. The Act ensures that women need not get a permission from anyone to get an abortion. All women above the age of 18 years are free to make their own decision as regards to whether they want an abortion or not.
Medical and Surgical abortions are both available in India. The Medical Abortions include a combination of two pills which are effective within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. These pills are available in a combi-pack and are to be taken in the span of 3 days by placing them below your tongue for effective absorption. The surgical abortion, on the other hand, requires much more attention to details about the practitioner and the health of the woman seeking an abortion.Abortion, under the MTP Act, can be carried out by only a Registered Medical Practitioner at a registered place and not just by any doctor, anywhere. [Read: Infanticide: Rather one thousand sons than a daughter]
Keeping the development of the fetus and other humanitarian arguments in mind 20 weeks has been set as the time during which a pregnant woman can seek an abortion. Once this period is over seeking an abortion is not allowed and getting one is considered illegal. In special cases where a disability is found in the child at a later stage or if the woman can’t hold the pregnancy without jeopardizing her health or endangering her life, then abortions can be allowed after the allotted 20 weeks as well.
Despite all these and many more provisions, women still don’t avail all the benefits. While the Act itself is commendable, the implementation is far from it. The problem is not just with our lawmakers and executives, but with the society.
Absence of Proper Implementation
The first problem that laws like this encounter begin with the implementation that is in the hands of the authorities. To begin with, the responsibility of handing out licenses lies with the Municipal Corporation of the area. With the amount of work already piled up, this takes a really long time to get through. Then comes in the corruption that plagues every department of our structure. The lack of the equipment to carry out these procedures safely contributes greatly to the health issues that originate thereafter. Women who are forced to get an abortion still face problems having their voices heard. The keepers of the law need to be equally aware, liberal and honest when it comes to the proper implementation of the law.
While the government ensures that only registered practitioners and institutions have the right to carry out abortion legally, they need to expand the ambit of those parties that can register as well. Anganwadis’ nurses and AYUSH doctors that have an outreach in the rural areas should be trained as well to be able to carry out abortions. In case of a forced abortion, a mechanism that allows an action to be taken against the culprit should be set inside these institutions. Above all, we need to ensure that these facilities reach every woman in the country.
Knowledge is Power
I’m sure that many of you who are reading this article right now did not have all the facts about the MTP Act mentioned above. Why is that? Well, you have no access to these in the school curriculum. Neither are there any sex education classes in India. We loathe talking about anything remotely related to sexual reproduction. But above all, what better way to keep your girls away from pre-marital sexual encounters than not talking about anything related to it. And if you are married, why would you need an abortion? If you do, then that can be handled by your family at that time.
Keeping women out of the loop about decisions about their own life is the foundation of the standing of women in our society. We don’t talk about things that are unacceptable to the society. We are in a world where women can’t talk about menstruation. Abortion is still an issue of considerable debate globally. The part where the government lacks is their disinterest in spreading this knowledge. What good is making a law when people don’t even know about it?
The Absence of Decision Making Power
After reading this article on whatever device you are using, you probably feel more enlightened. More empowered. But what good is knowing about these rights to those who cannot even use it? Women in this society are not given the freedom or the courage to make their own decision. We begin by living under the rule of our fathers, then our husbands, and if we outlive them, our sons. All through this, we are bent to follow the command of the men around us. In this scenario, it is difficult for a woman to rise in revolt against the wishes of her master.
It thus becomes equally important to inculcate in women a sense of them being their own masters. Our girls need to be brought up the same way our sons are. With the knowledge that they can stand up for what they know is wrong. It wouldn’t hurt if we introduce this kind of an education in our education systems. You can give the women as many laws as you can to empower them legally. As long as they lack the realization of how strong they can be, it will be just as good as no power at all. Social stigmas cannot end with a single generation. Thus, the best way to achieve the desired result is to empower women who can fight these stigmas on a personal level at least. If the mother has fought her battles, her children are bound to carry forward her legacy.