The deliberate termination of pregnancy
synonyms: Murder; a woman’s choice.
August, 2018. Elizabeth, a 34-year-old Argentine woman died from a septic shock after attempting to terminate her own pregnancy using parsley. This incident took place a week after the Argentine Senate declared abortion illegal.
Despite the enforcement of the strict law, what compelling reasons could Elizabeth have had to put her life at risk just for an unwanted pregnancy?
Was she financially incapable of raising a child or was she afraid of the stigma of the society? Did her partner refuse to raise the child with her or did she find her career threatened at the thought of an added responsibility of a child?
Regardless of her reason(s), it all boils down to a simple six-letter-word – choice, a word that just seems unacceptable today.
The right of a woman to choose to be a mother or not emerges from her human right to live with dignity. Reproductive freedom is just as sacred as any other constitutionally guaranteed right, the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of one’s children. No one can force a woman to go through the strenuous phase of pregnancy if she’s unwilling. Childbirth is beautiful – when desired. However, it is disheartening to see that not all women across the globe are granted access to safe abortion without restrictions. These restrictive abortion laws have thrown people into ethical and moral dilemmas only to wreak havoc across the world.
Legal or not?
In India, before 1971, abortion was criminalized and the only exception was if the pregnancy was causing harm to the mother’s health. In 1971, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act came into effect. This act provides a legal framework for induced abortions in India. It allows termination of pregnancy for until 20 weeks in the cases of rape, harm to the mother’s health, physical or mental abnormalities in the child or failure of contraceptive used between a married couple. The MTP act also states that only the woman’s consent is required for termination. However, for a minor (below 18 years of age) or a mentally challenged woman, the consent of a guardian is required for termination.
However, unsafe abortions, the third leading cause of maternal (pregnancy-related?) deaths in India, especially in the rural areas still take place due to various social, economic and logistical barriers. Stigma also plays a very important role in preventing women from seeking abortion care from approved facilities.
Abortion is legal in most European countries except for Malta, Northern Ireland, Vatican City, San Marino, Andorra, where abortion is illegal and severely restricted. All remaining states make abortion legal on request for socio-economic reasons. However, the laws aren’t as liberal as the American laws regarding later term abortions.
The wave of protests against the Abortion laws in the States began with a ripple of the Roe v. Wade decision. This decision came into effect in 1973 and ruled that the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution provides a fundamental right to privacy to a woman, by allowing her to choose to abort or not. However, it also stated that this right must be accompanied with government interests in the protection of the woman’s health and the prenatal life.
Roe v. Wade split the pregnancy into three trimesters. In the first trimester, the government could provide no restrictions whatsoever. In the second trimester, government could require reasonable health regulations. And during the third trimester, the government would prohibit the abortion unless the pregnancy posed a threat to the life of the mother.
To those pro-choice, this decision set the ultimatum to the basic rights of women. The pro-life movement felt their morals and ethics were threatened and hence, abortion was murder. Ever since then, there has been a clash of beliefs leading to a topic of worldwide debate prevalent till date. Today, it has been feared that the Roe v. Wade might be overturned in which case the states can individually decide the legality and accessibility of abortion. States like California, New York have already passed laws that make abortion available for everyone as per Roe v. Wade. Illinois and Nevada passed their abortion bill, that stated abortion is a fundamental right of women on June 1st, 2019.
The moral question
“For me, an abortion was the only option to end her suffering and my suffering humanely and with as little trauma as possible”.
These are the lines spoken by a woman who very much wanted her pregnancy. But during her pregnancy she found out, her daughter had a lethal genetic condition that would result into her baby being still born or that she would die within minutes after she was born. The hospital refused to terminate her pregnancy because they found her heartbeat. What was she supposed to do? It wasn’t her recklessness, or her not wanting a child that had got her to this point in her life.
States like Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio have signed ’heartbeat bills’, laws that ban abortions past fetal heartbeat-usually around a time when most women don’t even know about their pregnancy. Some states have passed ‘trigger laws’ that would severely limit abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned. However, some states are preparing to overturn the Roe v. Wade with laws that make you lose faith in humanity.
On 15th May, at the Alabama Senate, all it took was 25 white men to strip women off their rights as they criminalized abortion with no exceptions of rape or incest, a law to be enforced within six months. This attempt at exercising control over a woman’s body, has sparked widespread disgust and outrage. If abortion means murder, then shouldn’t the man be held responsible for it equally? If women are forced through their gestation, then so should men be forced to have vasectomies or other methods of sterilization to ensure permanent contraception in males. If this procedure was to be made compulsory, then women would never have to get pregnant, and there would never be abortions. And thus, the purpose of the Alabama law would be served. Why isn’t saving the dignity of living women prioritized over saving the unborn?
It is the 21st century women have been fighting for equality. But at the same time, their privacy is being invaded by their decision-making capabilities being taken away from them, thus proving that we, in fact, are miles away from gender equality.
The enforcement of these abortion laws only restricts the safe, reliable access to abortion. That leads to an increase in the rates of deaths of women as they turn to dangerous and unsafe methods of abortion. In quest of upholding “moral ethics”, two lives are lost in place of one.
In order to limit the number of abortions, our efforts should be aimed at achieving the highest degree of sex education possible, an improved distribution of birth control and at ensuring easily accessible and affordable contraception. This can be well executed without jeopardizing a woman’s autonomy over her body.
To abort or not to abort must be the mother’s decision. To not let the child suffer outside the womb must be the mother’s decision. To raise a child in better circumstances than the current situation must be the mother’s decision. To rather abort the child than to give him or her up for adoption must be the mother’s decision. To not let the child feel unwanted must solely be the mother’s decision.
It is her body. Her soul. Her mind. Her conscience. And nobody gets to make decisions about her body other than herself.
By Savani and Saloni.