The See-Saw of Abortion Law: Women’s Rights and Social Maryadaa

Agents, what comes to your mind when we mention the word – A-B-O-R-T-I-O-N?

Sin, movie-generated visions of a scandal– a kind of terrible shame for the woman and blame for the man with a ‘how could you do this’ attitude.

But jaanis, where do all these ideas come from? Put very simply, from the desire to control women’s bodies and exercise control over their sexual autonomy. And who plays a major role in this gate-keeping? Pesh hai – our old friend Patriarchy and its jigri dost – Moralistic Do’s and Don’ts.

In this scenario, discussion around abortion becomes strongly linked to ideas of honour and morality rather than clear thinking about women’s lives, health or choices. It has been a hotly debated issue, often dividing the world into kattar pro-choice and pro-life camps. Result? A deafening silence around the lived reality of abortion, even though 15.6 million abortions happen in India every year. In everyday life, it is still rare for us to talk with one another about the abortions we have.

The long history of taboo is also accompanied by a long history of abortion that stretches back to almost 4,000 years. At least that’s what the research by Katherine London shows us, where she tells us that women and men have always sought abortion- be it by eating a paste of mashed ants, foam from camels’ mouths or trying external methods such as severe exercise, heavy lifting, climbing trees, or by jumping and shaking. Human beings have always sought to make life better na. Despite being a common medical procedure, worldwide, an estimated 25 million unsafe abortions have occurred every year between 2010 and 2014.

The conversation around abortion, women’s autonomy and their rights in law has always run into tension with cultural attitudes, gender inequality and provider bias within the medical field as well. This has made women’s reproductive choices a khula maidaan for battle in which women have not always been allowed to lead the charge and often erasing womens’ voices in the process.

And one look at the state of abortion laws around the world aka rights ka plight will show you how women’s life-choices have an eternal companion – the ‘Terms and Conditions applied’ wala hash-tag.

 

 

What’s the situation in India? Well, abortion is legal under various circumstances, but again with #termsandconditionsapplied.

 

 

Despite the legal provisions for abortion, the impact of abortion ka taboo is so heavy on people’s minds, that it is one of the reasons many still remain unaware of the MTP Act, which legalizes abortion under many circumstances. Can you guess for how many years has it been around? Don’t know? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Look at some of the common misconceptions people had, below.

 

 

The most important thing that we learn by looking at the history of the abortion landscape in India is that when it comes to women’s choices, the law and social attitudes are in a constant state of see-saw over women’s reproductive choices. Nevertheless, dialogues around abortion have not remained static. Every conflict and every individual plea for change has also meant a shift in perceptions around abortion. Some key moments in the abortion landscape which exemplify how the trajectory of abortion in India has panned out can be seen from the passing of the MTP Act to the Niketa Mehta Case, to the Supreme Court’s judgement of the Right to Privacy that said “…a woman’s freedom of choice whether to bear a child or abort her pregnancy …[comes under] her personal liberty as guaranteed under Article 21… [and] that reproductive choices can be exercised to procreate as well as to abstain from procreating.”

A look into the history of abortion law in India shows that despite the abortion stigma being so bhaari, choice ki khoj bhi hamesha se rahi hai jaari.

One court said that a woman cannot be forced to have a child if she is not ready or does not want to:

 

 

The Supreme Court upheld that a woman does not need her husband’s consent for abortion:

 

 

Another court reinforced a woman’s right to abortion and bodily autonomy.

 

 

As the quotes from the courts above show, social shifts are constantly occurring and even now, women’s advocates are asking for changes in the MTP act which will support a stigma-free and supportive environment for women’s access to abortion.

 

 

Even as laws change, challenges remain. How do we release abortion from the hold of polarised debate and create a conversation which is honest and helpful to all genders in making life-choices. One way to do this is to look at the issue from the point of view of women’s needs, rather than social mores. More information about abortion – rights, medical procedure as well as lived experiences – helps us normalise abortion and say boo to taboo!

So, watch our super informative video on sex, pregnancy and abortion here:

 

 

If you want to support choice and not stigma, you can also sign the pledge here:

https://pratigyacampaign.org/MyBodyMyChoice/takethepledge.php

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