This blog is inspired by a conversation I had with ASAP’s Coordinator, Dr. Suchitra Dalvie. We were discussing the ethics of abortion, when she said, “No one’s claiming abortions should be taken lightly. No woman is going to get abortions just because it’s legal and available. It’s not fun.” What matters, she said, is that they have such a choice at all. “That’s why I am pro-choice.”
Choice is a word born within a framework of power, and it is hard for women born and raised in patriarchal societies to fathom that kind of authority over their bodies. Moreover, to many women living in countries ravaged by poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, disease and sexual violence, abortion hardly even seems like a “choice”; it is mostly a need.
Laws governing abortions in Asian countries vary from being fairly liberal to highly stringent. In Malaysia, for example, the law permits a woman to request an abortion, but social stigma prevents caregivers from opening addressing the issue. In countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, safe abortions can be done when a woman’s life is threatened, but not if she is the victim of sexual violence or domestic rape.
The Indian abortion law (The MTP Act) was hailed as a pioneering act when it was passed by the Parliament in 1972. However, while the law permits safe abortion procedures to be carried out under many conditions, including those to save the life of the woman, to protect her physical and mental health and for a pregnancy caused due to the failure of contraception, it still authorizes doctors, rather than the woman herself to make this crucial decision about her body, and future. Access to safe abortions is by no means a ‘right’ in India and is it really a ‘choice’ given the lack of facilities and shortage of trained doctors in rural areas?
In short, by failing to empower the woman and create an enabling environment, these legislations fail to contain unsafe abortions that result in death, or in complications that cause her lifelong agony.
And that is precisely where choice comes in; why it become necessary to understand that a woman should not have to ask for basic human rights: the right to health, survival and the right over her own body. And that is also why, over the next few months, this blog will discuss not just the need to legalize abortions and grant women complete sexual and reproductive rights, but the need to redefine the frameworks within which gender and sex are discussed.
And hopefully, it will give everyone something to think about.