Being Pro-Choice In India

Writerzblock recently did a thought-provoking post on abortion, where she asked whether it was cruel or kind to abort a foetus with a congenital abnormality. Most commenters agreed that it was kind and not cruel to abort in such cases, because the child would likely suffer due to his disability, and it would naturally cause parents great anguish to watch their child suffer.

I agree that having to watch a child suffer indefinitely is any parent’s worst nightmare, and it makes complete sense to seriously consider abortion if some congenital defect comes to light. In any case disability related abortions are not just sanctioned by law in India, but actually encouraged–what would be the point of pre-natal diagnostics if either the possibility of remedy in utero, or the option of terminating the pregnancy, were to not exist? Couples, in fact are medically advised to abort in cases where the foetus is understood to be suffering from a disease that is debilitating or potentially fatal or both, as long as the termination is carried out within the legally imposed limit of 20 weeks of gestation. Of course the parents have every right to reject the advice and go ahead with the pregnancy, as some parents indeed do. It is a choice they are entitled to make. To each their own.

I am afraid this cruelty vs. kindness line of thinking makes me feel very uneasy, because of the implicit suggestion that it cannot but be cruel/sinful to abort in the absence of any abnormality. That it is somehow wrong for a woman to choose to have an abortion for no other reason than the fact that she does not want to have a child at that point of time. That she loses the right to decide what happens to her body as soon as she gets pregnant.

We need to keep in mind that an abortion is never a frivolous indulgence. No sane woman likes to have an abortion. It is an invasive surgical process and as such carries definite risks. It involves physical and emotional trauma and most women, whether educated or illiterate, are aware of this fact. It cannot be an easy decision to make.

The fact is, no contraceptive in the world is a hundred percent effective, and that means at least some women the world over get pregnant against their wishes. Many times a contraceptive may simply be unavailable, and that is not really the woman’s fault–we know women, particularly women in the third world, are often not in a position to say no. Sad, but true. We have an abysmal record of protecting women from sexual violence. How fair is it to expect a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term?

I believe it is ethically dubious for any law or person to force a woman to carry on with a pregnancy she does not want. It is her body. She has a right to decide what happens with her body. After all, it is a part of her human rights.

The idea of cruelty to the foetus rests on the fact that the foetus is a potential person and all persons have a right to life. But do human beings have a right to life at the cost of another human being’s right to her body? Do the foetus’s rights override the rights of the mother? I think most liberal countries have tried to achieve a compromise between the rights of a foetus and the rights of the mother by stipulating that a woman has the right to decide whether or not she chooses to subject her body to pregnancy up to the point of viability, i.e. the approximate time during gestation when a foetus theoretically achieves the ability to survive outside the mother’s body , albeit with medical aid. Once the foetus reaches the supposed point of viability, its rights as a person kick in and the state assumes the responsibility to protect its life (except when the mother’s life is endangered, in which case maternal life takes precedence over the foetus’s at any stage)–and the mother is obligated by law to carry the foetus to term, whether or not she wants to. She can no longer opt out.Β  In other words, the point of viability is the point of no-return. Fair enough, I think.

In India, the choice to carry on or not carry on with a pregnancy comes with a rider–the decision to abort must not be based on the sex of the foetus. No woman can ‘choose’ not to carry a female foetus to term. This is somewhat contrary to the concept of choice and the right of a woman to her body –it can probably be best explained as a small price to pay for the good of women as a whole. The sex-ratio in this part of the world has been worsening steadily and alarmingly over the last two decades . It is a grim situation, the only way to deal with which is to stop sex-selctive abortions from happening –in the larger interest of the society of which women are a part.

While Indian laws on abortions are fairly liberal, there is a marked inclination in the Indian society to regard them as sinful/cruel. It probably stems from its patriarchal setup which has traditionally thrived by oppressing women and disregarding their basic rights. Writerzblock thinks it might also have to do with the widely subscribed philosophy of karma–quite probable. That said, I wonder if the campaign against female foeticide (foeticide, by the way, is a deliberately loaded term meant to induce horror in the target audience and so is bhroona hatya, its Hindi equivalent) has not played a part in further polarizing public opinion on abortions on the whole. If it has, then it is a study in irony–because the campaign is showing no signs of having any effect on the prevalence of sex-selective abortions. So even while sex-selective abortions continue unabated, many people have come to feel more and more strongly against abortions per se.

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12 Responses to Being Pro-Choice In India

  1. Fem says:

    I would not agree with sex-selective abortions any day. There is a LOT more that goes on before a woman finally aborts a baby on the basis of her sex. What this law has done is basically dis-empower women even further. An unwanted child born of such parents will end up being neglected. The mother herself may face verbal and/or physical violence for bringing a female into the world.

    The motive behind the law is very clear, but it is not for the Government to say who must think what and do what. The worst that could happen is that the sex ratio will lean further and further to one side. This could lead to many, many problems when it reaches its pinnacle. Indian civilization as we know it could be destroyed. And that may not always be a bad thing really. It would only be natural selection applying itself.

    • Stopping sex-selective abortions from happening dis-empowers women and being able to abort on the basis of sex is empowering? I’ll have to disagree, Fem.

      A worsening sex-ratio hits women more than anyone else. They become more and more prone to sexual violence, as the tribe of men unable to find sexual partners grows ominously.

      With decreasing numbers, women’s political voice will become feebler. It will become even more of a struggle to have their voices heard. Who knows, in a society with ,say, 75% men and 25% women, men might well legislate to make it legal for men to expect sexual favours from the wife of a sibling and women will find themselves unable to do much about it.

      Indian society will be destroyed, sure, but that is not really the worst that could happen. The worst will be the terrible fate of the women who will have to bear the brunt of it all before the point of total annihilation is reached.

      To say that the instead of banning sex-selctive abortions, the factors that make people want to have SSA need to be removed sounds a little like saying that instead of making burglary/theft punishable the government should work towards a situation where everyone has plenty of everything and does not need to steal. Say, the theives were born into poor families( not their fault) got no education,no skills, go hungry most nights. Shoplifting empowers them and it should not be a crime as long as the govt. is not able to ensure that everyone gets education, skill-sets for a job, enough food on the table etc. Sure, the government needs to do all of that but burglary still needs to be considered a crime.

      Ultimately, a healthy sex-ratio is in women’s best interests, so effective implementation of the PNDT Act is crucially important.

  2. R's Mom says:

    I would agree for an abortion for two reasons
    1. if its medically adviced incase of danger to the mother or to the child to be born is not going to be normal and its going to be difficult for the child herself/himself
    2. If the lady in question doesnt want the child herself…no one…NO ONE can force her to abort…its her body and if she feels that she doesnt want the baby now…only then….

    But thats what you are saying right πŸ™‚

    • Archana says:

      WHat is the the husband doesn’t want the child ? Say it is the second one, and the husband doesn’t think that he has enough resources to support it? Is it only the case of a woman’s body then?

      • I feel it is just as unfair to force a woman to have an abortion when she does not want one, as it is to force a woman to carry an unwanted child to term.It may not be only about a woman’s body, but it is indeed largely about a woman’s body. Why? Because it is the woman’s body which bears the brunt–physical, emotional–in the case of an abortion too, just as it is the woman’s body which takes the toll of pregnancy and labour if she decides to continue with the pregnancy.
        Abortion is a surgical process and theoretically the woman would be within her legal rights to not give consent, although I am aware that it seldom works this way in reality–I mean,very few women in India would really jeopardize their marriage by refusing to abort if the husband does not want the child.I am sure many women are made to abort against their wishes but I think that is unethical and cruel, not to mention illegal.

  3. I agree with your views on abortion.
    I would go further.
    I don’t support the present law on suicide.
    It should be decriminalized.
    It’s a strange law. If you succeed in this crime, the law can do nothing, but if you fail the law punishes you for having attempted it.
    Instead of punishing, the law should arrange for counseling and help.
    Some of the arguments in favour of abortion can be used to support a suicide decision in selected situations.
    If the person is terminally ill, or suffering so much and there is no hope of relief, and if his death will bring relief to himself and others too, why should we stop him from taking his own life?
    Religion cannot be permitted to interfere. After all atheism is not illegal.
    Unless it can be shown that killing oneself infringes on some other right of some one else.
    For example a parent can’t be given the right to kill himself/herself if it affects their minor offspring who cannot survive on their own
    A pilot can’t be given the right to kill himself while flying as that would kill the passengers too.

    Right to life should include right to death too, just as right to speech should include the right to stay silent.

    I know euthanasia too is illegal but I am in favour of legalizing an arrangement where a doctor or hospital facilitates a terminally ill patient’s suicide, after due precautions, checks and balances and legal formalities have been put in place.

    What am I missing?

    • Absolutely, GV. It is ridiculous to punish a person who has failed in his attempt to commit suicide. He/she should be counselled and treated for depression–most persons who attempt suicide are clinically depressed.

      Euthanasia is more complicated, I feel, particularly in our country where law-enforcement is poor in general. Even if the lawmakers put every kind of safeguard in place , it will probably come to be misused. For instance, I wouldn’t be surprised if people will start bribing docs to euthanize those elderly whose care might require time, money and patience but who are not really in great pain. I support euthanasia in theory but tend to feel that it would be difficult for it to be practiced in a fool-proof manner.

  4. Sanjana says:

    This post reminded me of an argument I once had with this girl about abortions.
    I wrote almost the whole thing on here and realized that it was too long a comment to post and decided to post it on my blog instead!

  5. Pingback: Free Will « Travel and other life-changing pursuits

  6. Scribby says:

    I posted on Writerz post too and posting it here again…my take on Abortion as whole..

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