India passed a bill which seeks to extend the upper limit for permitting abortions from the present 20 weeks to 24 weeks for only “special categories of women” which includes rape survivors, victims of incest, differently abled women and minors and completely removes the upper gestation limit for abortion in the cases of substantial foetal abnormalities which will help many more seek safe and legal abortion services. The draft proposes that the opinion of two practitioners will now be needed only for abortions in the 20-24 weeks period. (See more here: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/ls-passes-bill-raising-upper-limit-permitting-abortions-from-20-to-24-weeks-1656625-2020-03-17)
Despite some positive changes the bill fails to into account the realities of unsafe abortions in India, by extending these provisions to only “special categories of women” the bill echoes the same patriarchal, hetero-normative, able-ist mind-sets. The basis of classification used in the bill is disturbing and regressive; the differential limits access is not based on any scientific or medical reasons, and shows no recognition of women’s rights, autonomy and access to sexual and reproductive health information and services.
Primarily sections 312-316 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971 govern the law on abortion in India. The IPC provision criminalises abortion; the person undertaking abortion as well as the doctor facilitating the abortion is liable to be prosecuted. None of the proposed amendments can be effective if abortion is still criminalised.
Activists in India have been seeking reforms in abortion and law and asking for decriminalisation of abortion services for a decade now, the new amendment while claiming to ensure “safe, affordable, accessible abortion services” and “ dignity, autonomy, confidentiality and justice” in its statement of objects and reasons, falls very short as the proposed amendments are inadequate and do not resonate these principles.
By adding the criteria of “special categories of women” the right to decide is given to the state to choose which women is deserving of getting an abortion, it further creates a distinction between ‘a good and a bad abortion’. Removing the upper limit for abortion in cases of congenital abnormalities promotes eugenics and abelism. The Bill intends to expand access to “safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian or social grounds.” But who decides what are the humanitarain or social grounds; eugenic goals reinforce the view that certain foetuses are unwanted and undesirable, advancing ableist rationales.
The proposed amendment at best is the same patriarchal ideology served in a new packaging, grounded in the need for controlling women’s bodies. Having access to safe abortion services is a human right, thus, without a rights based perspective we will continue to keep going in circles with no real change on the ground. Feminists around the globe are no more accepting piecemeal solutions from the government, our demand is clear, decriminalise abortion and make abortion available on request. Any legislation governing abortion should uphold the rights and bodily autonomy of the pregnant person. Laws should not promote stigma and biases they should promote justice and access to the marginalised and vulnerable.
by Garima Shrivastava