Abortion and reproductive rights remain a contested domain within the women’s rights movement. The act of seeking an abortion is a political act that is heavily governed by the State and the country one belongs to. In India, abortion and reproductive rights of a woman flow from the parent Act of Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971. The Act has been amended in March 2020 and some crucial changes have been made to it. The bill requires further approval in the ensuing session of the Parliament to form a revised Act. The question that remains unanswered however is that do Indian women have the autonomy to make reproductive choices without social and State interventions?
The bill allows for abortion even beyond a period of 24 weeks for foetuses that are “abnormal” that is the children that could be born with disabilities. While the bill is being hailed as a step in the right direction, feminist disability rights activists have been criticising it, alleging that it promotes a certain kind of selectiveness to “keep” a foetus entrenched in the idea of ableism. Hence, the creation of this category is problematic as it violates the Right to Life. Let us look at some of the amendments that this Bill proposes to bring about.
Termination of Pregnancy
The Act of 1971 states that pregnancies can be terminated, within a period of 12-20 weeks. Provided there is an assent of a medical practitioner. Pregnancies that are beyond the gestation period of 20 weeks, needed the assent of two medical practitioners. For termination.
The amendment now allows for pregnancies to be terminated, with the assent of one medical practitioner, within 20 weeks. The assent of two medical practitioners will be required for termination of pregnancy within 20-24 weeks.
Separate Category for Termination Beyond 24 Weeks
In the bill, a new category of termination has been added. A separate category of women has been created who can opt for an abortion at 24 weeks and beyond if:
- They are rape survivors
- The pregnancy is a result of incest
- The woman is differently-abled
- The woman is a minor as per the Indian Majority Act of 1875
- Abnormalities in the foetus have been detected during the 24 week period
Constitution of Medical Board
The Bill also provides for the constitution of a Medical Board, that will examine the need for the termination of pregnancy once the upper limit of 24 weeks has passed. The Board will constitute of medical experts such as gynaecologist, sonologist and radiologist.
Privacy Clause for Protection
The Bill adds a privacy clause which makes it a punishable offence for revealing the identity of any woman who is seeking an abortion. No registered medical practitioner is allowed to reveal the name of the patient.
The Disability Rights Movement And The Amendment
The disability rights movement activists argue against the MTP amendment for several reasons. According to them, the inclusion of medical practitioners in the case of women with disabilities who want to undergo abortion post-20 weeks brings back the problem to square one. In the Abortion Laws in India (Perspective from the Margins) webinar, jointly held by YP Foundation and Jindal Global Law School on July 15, a few speakers shared their experiences as women with disabilities having undergone an abortion, and how each of them felt unsafe and unsupported in the hands of most medical practitioners.
The clause, in their opinion, was too ideal. And in the social scenario we live in, it’s hard to find disabled-friendly medical personnel in the very first place. And hence, their point was that the idea of a medical board with more and more number of practitioners will only push women with disabilities towards further marginalisation and abuse.
Another part of the amendment states that a case of foetus impairment could be a ground on which abortion may be sought beyond 20-weeks. The disability rights movement activists rally strongly against this clause since it directly connotes that foetuses which are likely to have impairments can be done away with. These activists are strongly against selective abortion practises, although they clearly state that they are not questioning a woman’s right to abortion itself. They reinstate that pregnant women have the right to terminate any pregnancy. But since the law already states that a particular pregnancy cannot be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the foetus, these activists then question this newly-formed special ground of impairment and disability. They also point out that since not all impairments can be diagnosed at the foetal level, only certain kinds of disabilities shall end up getting eliminated under this new amendment.
Feminism, Disability Rights Movement And The MTP Bill, 2020
Feminism is a movement which, at its very core, strives for equality. But the new MTP amendment bill is everything against what feminism has stood for. The amendment bill has undoubtedly increased the upper gestational period to terminate pregnancies. But the stated clauses shall only end up increasing the gap between the privileged and the marginalized. It portrays people with disabilities as medical anomalies that could be easily done away with. And this is perhaps where feminism and the disability rights movement have to help each other out.
These are both marginalised groups, fighting for equal rights so that they can live a life of dignity. While a call for unity should not be seen as a call for homogeneity, the debate over the new MTP amendment is a point of intersection for both the movements. And it is only through showing solidarity that we can win this fight for equality.
Priyanka Chakrabarty and Dyuti Gupta have co-written this piece for SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the authors’ own.