Yesterday was a sad day for women around the world. The Supreme Court of the United States voted to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision which established the right to terminate a pregnancy. Since 1973, women in the United States have enjoyed the fundamental right to safe abortion for medical reasons or otherwise.
However this did not sit well with ideologues from the Conservative Christian faith who believe that life of a human begins at the time of conception. No other religion has the same view on life. Conservative Christians in the United States have worked very hard in the last fifty years to influence political leaders and ensure that Conservative judges were nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States. Thus imposing their moral and social views on the rights of women in their country.
The decision to have an abortion should rest with a woman in consultation with her doctor. She can decide for herself whether to engage her family or take her religious views into account. This imposition of control over a woman’s body is patriarchal and political. The State should not be involved. Yet it is. Gravely putting a woman’s life in danger.
Let’s not forget Savita Halappanavar, a dentist of Indian origin who was living in Ireland, a Catholic country. In October 2012, she was admitted into hospital with back pain and was found to be miscarrying her foetus. However since there was a foetal heartbeat, the doctors refused to abort the pregnancy despite her multiple requests. Savita finally died from sepsis after delivering a female foetus and her body going into shock, cardiac arrest and multiple organ failure. Subsequently Ireland changed its laws to permit abortion.
Closer to home we have had cases where children who have been raped were denied an abortion because of poor understanding of the impact of rape and misinterpretation of the law on abortion and rape. In their paper Denial of Safe Abortion to Survivors of Rape in India, Padma Bhate-Deosthali and Sangeeta Rege, have listed experiences of 40 rape survivors, including two children who were denied abortion following a rape.
I have several friends who have had to medically terminate their pregnancies due to the unviability of the foetus. It was never an easy decision for them and I have seen them go through depression and counselling to deal with the aftermath of the physical, mental and emotional consequence of it.
As seen above, the reasons for having an abortion are many. It could be medical but it could also be due to the circumstances of the conception. It might be related to financial constraints, lack of partner support and other resource limitations. Whatever be the reason for it, it is never an easy decision and the right to have it should be a woman’s alone. After all, in most countries, she has to be the primary care giver for the baby that is eventually born.
It is ironical that the same policy makers and jurists who create systems to control women’s bodies, rarely acknowledge the “care giving” duties that women disproportionately bear. If they were pro-life, they would ensure that governments invested in good infrastructure that supports parents with health, financial and educational resources. It is important that mothers and fathers can raise healthy babies in a loving, safe and inclusive environment whilst being able to live their own lives fully.
Further, it is extremely worrying that Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion already identified that “established gay rights and contraception rights should be reconsidered since the federal right to abortion has been revoked”. So we can expect other fundamental rights affecting women and other vulnerable groups, which have been well fought for will be under assault in the coming months.
Whilst India passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1971, we must realise that judiciary often rely on precedents set in other parts of the world including the United States.
As we reflect on the recent judgement by the Supreme Court of the United States, let’s continue to organise and mobilise to ensure that our fundamental rights are protected. Let’s also support women with the right to choose how they wish to live their lives and what choices they wish to make with their bodies.
ElsaMarie D’Silva is the Founder of Red Dot Foundation (Safecity). The views expressed are the authors own.