The Right of Choice: An Indian Woman’s Perspective
On May 30, 2019, Louisiana became the 10th US state to have enacted an anti-abortion law. Also known as the “heartbeat law”, this will prevent abortions from being undertaken once a fetal heartbeat is detected. This usually happens in the 5th or 6th week of the pregnancy.
If you remember, earlier in the same month, another state, Alabama passed the strictest anti-abortion law in the United States. Once effective, it will bar doctors from conducting an abortion, leading up to 99 years in prison, if found guilty. It does not even exempt cases of rape and incest.
You may be thinking, why must we Indians bother about an American law? Well, while these laws may be US-centric, the wave against abortion rights has been perpetual and worldwide, even in our country. Our opinion, therefore, determines the kind of country we are building for our citizens, including women.
Opinion on anti-abortion laws
It’s not rocket science to figure out why the Alabama anti-abortion law is being criticised on such a large scale, even by many people who are generally “pro-life”. Here are the stats:
– A second-degree rape in the state has a maximum punishment of 20 years, incest of 10 years, both falling decades shorter than the prison time a doctor may face for abortion if the law comes into effect.
– Numbers indicate that women between the ages of 16 and 19 years are four times as likely to be raped than the older population. With the law’s “zero tolerance” policy, it will lead to compelling even underage victims of rape to carry forward with the pregnancy.
– The law holds out no exemption for mentally challenged females either.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this law basically states that a woman, who had no desire of her own to get pregnant, or was even raped, is more of a criminal than the actual perpetrator. Harsh words, maybe, but also true. Even a majority of the “pro-life” community generally tends to side with women when it comes to cases of rape or incest.
But, is it really enough to criticise Alabama solely for these extreme cases? What about other states and countries that do make an exception for rape and incest victims to get an abortion? Should we support them? Only if you are of the opinion that women should have no autonomy, which, let’s admit, is a pretty ‘dark ages’ opinion to carry around.
Women and their rights
Do women have/ should have the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy? There is hardly need for a structured debate, as soon as we answer another simple question.
Whose body are we talking about? The woman’s.
So, who should get to decide? Bingo! The woman, again.
If you still don’t agree, let me put it this way. With the current advancements in the medical field, vasectomies can now be reversed. So, for those who support the Alabama law, or any other anti-abortion law, calling it a saviour of life, they should also be ready to support compulsory vasectomies. But, no. That’s not fair, I agree. Why? Because it would be unfair to force a man to undergo a medical procedure without their consent. In fact, it is wrong to make decisions about any person, whatever the gender, without their absolute consent. So why do we apply different standards to women?
After all, our bodies are neither the property of the state, nor of the society. This becomes all the more imperative to remember in a country like India, where women’s sexuality is almost entirely a taboo, and they fight for the right of choice and individuality every day.