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In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of India allows a 14 year rape victim to abort pregnancy overturning High Court’s decision. However does it actually recognizes a woman’s rights over her body?
If you are want to know about abortion laws across the world, this map by the Center for Reproductive Rights is an interesting visual tool. It colour codes, and divides the world’s abortion laws into categories: allowed only to save the woman’s life or prohibited altogether; to preserve health; socioeconomic status; without restriction as to reason; and unavailable.
India is shown as allowing abortions on socioeconomic grounds. It is interesting to compare this to the reality of abortion in India, which although not constitutionally guaranteed, is allowed under specific cases under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. The various provisions of the law can be found at this page but it often clashes with the right to life in Article 21 of the Constitution as well religious and cultural values. The Act allows termination of pregnancy in the case of rape but does not allow it after 20 weeks.
It was this provision that the Gujarat High Court claimed to uphold to deny an abortion to a 14 year old who was raped by her doctor. By the time she and her family learned about the pregnancy and made a legal appeal, the 20 weeks had passed. The Gujarat High Court might have denied the abortion on a technicality, but the decision can hardly be called progressive. Additionally Justice Kumari asked the District Collector to give the family Rs. 1 lakh, reflecting a complete lack of understanding of the victim’s trauma.
So it was heartening to see the Supreme Court overturn this decision and allow for termination of the pregnancy if doctors said there was a serious threat to the girl’s life.
So it was heartening to see the Supreme Court overturn this decision and allow for termination of the pregnancy if doctors said there was a serious threat to the girl’s life. In this particular case, where it is evident that the pregnancy is a result of rape and the girl and her family wanted an abortion, this is the right decision. But don’t forget that the decision was driven based on the doctor’s recommendation and not what the girl and her family wanted.
Discussions have focused on the girl’s emotional, physical and financial capacity to take care of a child. At this point, we should not forget the conditions imposed on women’s reproductive rights using various moral and economic arguments. An abortion in India is a painful and humiliating process, made much harder depending on where you live and your socioeconomic status. Opponents argue that abortions enable sex-selective terminations of pregnancy. However, we can point that abortions are only one of the ways in which the undervaluation of girls in India is expressed and banning them only infringes further on the rights of girls and women.
This case is another landmark judgment from the Supreme Court and we can hope it will help galvanise a larger discussion about women’s reproductive rights in India. From a feminist perspective, the current scenario offers very little choice to women about their bodies and shapes the discussion around women as victims and wives and mothers. None of the focus is on the autonomy of the woman as an individual who may want an abortion for a host of reasons including the fact that she just does not want a child.
X-ray of a baby in the womb image via Shutterstock
I think of myself as a feminist development practitioner with a strong interest in issues
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