Real empowerment comes from laws protecting her reproductive rights as well as social structures that leave her to her free will.
I don’t think there’s a woman I know who hasn’t had an abortion or had a close friend undergo one. Either out of choice or then a medical emergency, several women consider termination of a pregnancy a rite of passage.
It hardly sounds scandalous in an urban setting. Most of us in Indian metros have access to safe and clean abortions, sanctioned by law so long as the woman is an adult and the termination is within the gestational period.
Nobody chooses to be in a story where a pregnancy needs to be terminated. Of course, several terminations are due to unplanned pregnancies, for social or economic reasons. But there are also 75 countries across the world that grant an abortion on request, no questions asked, so long as it is within their individual gestational limits (12 weeks is the most common). These women make up for only 36 percent of women of reproductive age, or 576 million globally, according to Reproductiverights.org.
An alarming number of countries, 24 to be precise, do not permit abortions under any circumstances, including whether the woman’s or the foetus’ health is at risk. These make for 6 per cent or 91 million women. Ireland was one such, and forced to change its laws, after Savita Halappanavar, a dentist of Indian origin died of a miscarriage and was refused an abortion despite her several requests. Savita’s body went into shock, a cardiac arrest and multiple organ failure, her death caused global outrage and a belated change in policy.
What about women’s abortion rights?
Abortions have been a burning global issue in the last year, especially in the USA. In June last year, the US Supreme Court overturned its famous Roe v. Wade judgement of 1973 which ensured that every American woman had a constitutional right to an abortion. The new verdict now rests the abortion laws on individual states. This has almost 21 states restricting access to abortions, and passing punitive laws and policies that shut down clinics.
Things have gotten so controversial in the country that women’s reproductive rights, or the right to an abortion, is going to decide who the next president will be in 2024. Democrat candidates are promising safe and clean access to abortions while Republican ones are torn between their conservative supporters and the larger pro-choice slant. Republicans are rooting for restrictive abortions and, in some cases, a national ban too.
A Texas judge had invalidated an abortion pill while the US Supreme Court allowed for its sale and availability. “At the same time, republican presidential hopefuls – whose teams generally did not respond to requests for comment in the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday – are straining to find their footing on the issue,” The New York Times writes.
Japan, on the other hand, has made an abortion pill available to its citizens for the very first time.
The laws vary greatly from country to country. And regardless of what each country’s law states, more than 25 per cent of pregnancies end in termination. Whether legal or not, women need access to abortion services. Criminalising or restricting abortions only allows for secretive, unsafe, and illegal terminations. Amnesty says 25 million unsafe abortions take place every year.
But regardless of a woman’s right to end her pregnancy or not, how often is it singularly her choice? You’ll be alarmed by the number of women in educated, urban and seemingly liberal homes, whose decision to have a baby or not, is not theirs.
A famous influencer announced she and her husband are separating mere weeks after she announced she was pregnant. It turns out she wanted to have the child and he didn’t, so they are going their separate ways. A famous Mumbai model divorced his beautiful wife because he wanted four children and she agreed to have just one.
Countless women in India, especially in the northern states, are made to terminate their pregnancies once the families find out the foetus is female. Doctors are banned from disclosing the unborn child’s gender in India (a famous Mumbai OB-GYN even had his license suspended for a year) for this reason. Ranveer Singh plays a soft-hearted husband in Jayeshbhai Jordaar, who elopes with his wife and daughter, once his parents find out she is pregnant with a second daughter.
Female labourers in India and other developing nations are forced to have hysterectomies. This ensures they won’t keep taking maternity leaves, never mind the havoc it plays with their hormones. NGOs in rural settings are now encouraging them not to opt for unnecessary surgeries and the health risks involved.
How many wives and daughters-in-law of conservative families do we know who goes to Bangkok to manufacture a son at their husband’s or his parents’ behest? I know of at least two women who had two daughters each and then made the trip to IVF a male embryo. Of course, they love their daughters, but they still prize a son.
Laws are crucial to safeguard a woman’s life and safety. But her real choice comes when she is free of social and economic mores and can exercise her own volition. Both are fundamental to real empowerment.
Views expressed by the author are their own
Suggested Reading: Why Does The Justice System Continue To Fail Women?