The rights of Indian women have been under attack for centuries. It is time to discuss and give power to where it belongs, right in the hands of women. In a patriarchal society, the quest for women emancipation is unrealised. Women have negligible autonomy in making sexual or reproductive choices. According to surveys by UNICEF and the World Bank, India encounters about 45,000 maternal deaths every year. Many suggest that women rights have been violated due to social and state rights that supersede the choice of women. .
Legal System And Reproductive Choices
The position of Indian women is a particularly complex one since the legal branches of the government have been fairly progressive over the years. Their judgments and deliberations have brought forth such consequential legislation as the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) (PCPNDT) Act. 1994. There is also the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, which sets open official healthcare aid within the first twenty weeks of pregnancy. However, the main issues with these lie in the specificity of the application of both these Acts.
Nevertheless, both these legislations are actions taken up by one part of the State, against which the Courts in India support reproductive choices for women as a civil right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Some of the seminal judgments include the Navtej Johar, Puttaswamy and Independent Though v. Union of India cases respectively.
Abortion Laws In India
Abortion and reproductive rights remain a contested domain within the women's rights movement. The Medical Termination Act of 1971 was amended in March 2020 but the Act still requires further work. Currently, abortion requires the opinion of one doctor if it is done within 12 weeks of conception and two doctors if it is done between 12 and 20 weeks. The Bill allows abortion to be done on the advice of one doctor up to 20 weeks, and two doctors in the case of certain categories of women between 20 and 24 weeks. The Bill aims to set up state-level Medical Boards to decide if pregnancy may be terminated after 24 weeks in special cases.
There is an urgent need to understand that abortion is not a "crime" nor "killing" but it is an issue of personal liberty and privacy. Women who believe that termination of pregnancy is in their best interest must be respected.
While the Bill is a step in the right direction, it still remains deficient, unclear and impractical in parts.
Social Stigma Towards Reproductive Rights
The lack of autonomy in making reproductive choices by women at the social level is quite evident. The majority of all abortions happening in the country are categorically unsafe with only 22% being done through registered facilities, which are either public or private. The stigma and highly negative social attitude towards women who seek an abortion, especially those who are young in age and/or are unmarried. The widespread lack of access as well as motivation to provide safe and actually effective interventions at the request of women independently, despite it being considered as a civil right, highlights the importance of this case.
This is exactly why one must say that autonomy in reproductive choices for women in India is still a goal that needs to be achieved. This shall include drastic transformation to all kinds of social and state interventions taking place across time.