Why Should Indian Women Care About Roe v Wade? And Why Is It Much Bigger Than Just An Abortion Issue?

Fathers were concerned that their daughters will have fewer rights. Women about how little men understand what it all entails, and everyone talked about the control of women's bodily autonomy by religion and state.

Possibly like many others, I have been preparing for the Roe v Wade overturn for a long time now (since Ruth Ginsburg’s passing in 2020 to be exact). Anyone paying attention should have, for that’s the way the winds were blowing.

No, it didn’t matter what polls said about public opinion – politics doesn’t work that way. Especially over the past decade, politics based on Nationalism and religion, and heavy-handed implementation of policies have risen, and become the norm.

However, despite my having being prepared for the inevitable, I took a blow last Saturday when the actual reversion of Roe vs Wade happened. So much so, that it took a few days to come out of my stupefaction.

Why should Indians be worried?

One pleasant speck of brightness was how much this seemed to matter to Indian women (and men). Indian newspapers have been reporting a lot on the women in the US losing protection for abortion rights, since.

I was in Gurgaon doing a panel (not specifically on Roe v Wade, but on women’s future) on the day of the actual reversion, and what the audience overwhelmingly talked about was the disastrous implication of this.

Fathers were concerned that their daughters will have fewer rights. Women vented on how little men comprehend what getting pregnant and following through actually takes, and everyone talked about the control of women’s bodily autonomy by religion and state.

That is how it should be. These things should matter to us all. Gender matters are never isolated. They can’t be, as we live today on a globalized planet.

Rulers and governments have always used religion to control women’s bodies

Control of women’s bodies using religion by the state is nothing new. It has been practiced for ever. It has been an integral tool for designing dynasties, something that is done even today. The shock waves, however, are because of the ‘illusion’ of progress, especially of the US of A.

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If human society is, slowly but surely, progressing towards an equilibrium where every human being is to be granted equal rights and is to share equitable responsibility, then how can things like this happen? Well, that will take an entire article in itself but in brief – things like this happen because there is money spent in making these happen.

This money is spent because doing so creates and maintains the stronghold of certain groups over others. From Brahmanical purity and the concept of Sati, to Muslim marriage laws and Christian beliefs of life –  God has stopped dictating all this. And it’s my opinion that he (or she) never did; it’s the humans who have figured out this mode of control to maintain patriarchal supremacy of men.

So, coming to the specific issue of abortion

I am leaving out the entire matter of pregnancy, birth, and the impact of rearing a child on the woman and focusing here only on the question of the ‘sanctity of every life’ that’s offered as the ‘official’ reason.

It is not that the folks drawing these lines don’t understand that childcare benefits are lacking and that the world can’t sustain every birth. It’s not that they don’t know how difficult it is to prevent accidental pregnancy (I will come to that in detail), and it is not that they don’t know that childbirth has a tremendous and disproportionate impact on women. They know.

Therefore, trying to point out our woes to them is futile.

However, there are folks a bit further removed from reality, and often don’t know or can’t comprehend this, or will not even attempt to understand by themselves – and writing this is worth a try if it can make them see it. Their manipulation and mobilization are both the mode and the result that need to be overturned.

Near my home in the US, for example, I see a small group of elderlies often standing with placards in the desert heat. Men and women in their early sixties I would say – some younger. A woman there holds a placard that says, ‘don’t abort – we will adopt your baby’. I have had the urge to stop my car and ask her, why aren’t they adopting the thousands of children currently waiting in the Arizona foster homes then?

Maybe I will. Because this is the kind of practiced lack of awareness that we should make ourselves and those around us aware of.

The onus of avoiding unwanted pregnancies

Now let us come to the matter of unwanted pregnancies and the onus of preventing them. I am again, leaving rape and incest out deliberately, which is out of the scope of this piece even as it is a very real problem.

Even when on regular contraception, the female reproductive cycle can throw off all plans. A few hours on the internet can give you all the information on how this can happen. I read countless queries on online forums and to doctors, from women frantically seeking answers for missed periods, backups, and emergency birth control.

The latter (emergency birth control), mind you, doesn’t come cheap and in the US, is kept securely locked inside plastic boxes on the counter shelves to make it both expensive and awkward for the women trying to purchase. It is not different in India.

In such forums targeting women’s health, doctors advise on days of the cycle, Nuvaring insertion, pills, and whether or not to take Plan-B, and note repeatedly that it’s impossible to be 100% sure of avoiding pregnancy, other than through abstinence.

These women (including me researching) seeking help from such forums are relatively well-resourced and educated. And are desperately trying to prevent unwanted pregnancy. They didn’t have unprotected sex, their only fault is that they had consensual sex. Which their partners had too. But all that was needed from the partners’ side was a few bucks on a condom. How many men do we know have spent hours terrified after accidental unprotected sex? Even if the condom breaks, the man, in most cases, won’t spend hours on the internet after that trying to look up how to prevent pregnancy.

This is why it matters for India

I looked up the cost of abortion and options in the US without Govt. provisions (and this is pre Roe v Wade), and let’s just not go there. There has been an article recently on Women’s Web itself on legal and safe abortion options in India, so I will not elaborate on that. The point here is, if the burden of not being able to prevent something has a disproportionate consequence on one of the two parties involved, and yet, she is forced to go through the consequences lifelong, it is nothing but punishment for the act of sex itself for only one gender. It is bigger than the act of bearing a child – it is subjugation and moral control and therefore, suppression of women.

This is why it matters for India. For it’s a regression we, with our already vulnerable existence, with the reeling in of decades of deliberately designed morality, might be just a few steps away from, here in India. Plus as the parents were worried at my book launch, it’s also about the safety and future of our daughters.

The two points to remember are, such laws (or implicit controls) can be imposed anytime anywhere, for they serve a purpose towards certain conservative interests and therefore, we should be aware, alert, and against propaganda (deliberately designed false or selected) information at all times. So that we don’t become the soldiers defending our own demise.

We can’t live in the comfort of elusive safety and progress. Not yet.

Image source: Bulat Silvia from Getty Images Free for Canva Pro

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About the Author

Tanushree Ghosh

Tanushree Ghosh (Ph. D., Chemistry, Cornell, NY), is Director at Intel Corp., a social activist, and an author. She is a contributor (past and present) to several popular e-zines incl. The Huffington Post US ( read more...

58 Posts | 170,519 Views

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