The term abortion has varied connotations and can lead to dissent many a times. It is a controversial issue which has been debated, protested and has political ramifications as well. The crucial decision of when to give birth touches chord with most of the women of 21st century as they have progressed much beyond their traditional assigned role to procreate and nurture.
Overcoming the dilemma and making choice to abort is still frowned upon and treated with displeasure. Even empowered women who are at the helm want to keep it private due to the stigma and morality attached to it. Though both sexes are equal partners even in unwanted conception but the prejudiced attitude dissuades women to acknowledge it and seek help openly to abort. The undue and unwarranted importance given to the life of the fetus over the life and health of the women who carries it, is impossible to comprehend.
In most of the developed countries women have been given the prerogative to make the life altering decision and abortion laws have been made more liberal. But the recent passing of abortion laws in Argentina after twenty hours of debate and weeks of protest is shocking jolt and grim reminder of the subjugation women still face in some parts of the world. Most of the Latin American and African countries have banned abortion citing religious, moral and ethical reasons. In some countries like El Salvador abortion laws are excessively severe and harsh to the extent that women suffering from miscarriages are charged with homicide and are prosecuted and even imprisoned for many years, which is a blatant violation of human rights.
What is even more dismaying is that in progressive nations like USA many states like Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi etc., have either stringent abortion laws or it has been outlawed. Poland became the worst case scenario as the government banned abortion under all circumstances even in case of fetal abnormalities, compelling women to travel abroad to seek safe abortions, such appalling conditions and draconian laws are unimaginable in present times .Unsafe abortions being one of the leading causes of maternal mortality even in the 21st century .During the ongoing pandemic ,circumstances deteriorated further in many countries as hospitals were shut and borders closed, making it impossible for women to visit abortion clinics or procure abortion pills. These conditions compelled many of them to go in for unsafe abortion methods and in some cases even contemplating suicide. In comparison to such countries, many developing economies like India, abortion laws are much more progressive and revolutionary, especially the recent Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill passed in March 2020, which increases the time period to carry abortion up to 24 weeks and in special cases beyond 24 weeks as well.
The dichotomy between propagating women empowerment world over and denying basic reproductive rights exposes the regressive mindset and domineering approach followed by concerned authorities and the patriarchal hegemony of religious institutions governing such laws.
Anti-abortion laws force women to undergo more expensive illegal termination of pregnancy exposing them to unsafe methods and unprofessional medical help resulting in grave risks to their lives and also leads to long term health complications. It also acts as a deterrent to pursue and enjoy satisfying relationships. The economic and emotional cost to raise an unwanted child is immense and lifelong and, in most cases, has to be borne by the female. Hence such core issues with such devastating effects should be an individual’s choice rather than being a social concern or letting the other gender decide.
In otherwise developed countries the promotion of sexual rights seems a farce and meaningless, if reproductive rights are to be denied, the two being supportive of each other. The access to contraception has been a game changer for women, in combination with the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. It has resulted in crucial improvement in overall health and increasing their life expectancy.
In modern societies, where families are disintegrating and marriage is not popular, safe abortions of unwanted pregnancies should be a basic right, else it becomes too onerous for women. Medical science has ample proof to state that abortions are neither immoral or criminal in any respect because a fetus is not like a human being with consciousness. Thus, no religious overtones should be attached it. Abortion laws need to be more progressive, liberal and empathetic. Reproductive Rights and gender equality hold equal importance as any other fundamental human right. It is imperative that women should be given the power to decide on aspects that are pivotal for their existence and wellbeing. As women comprise 49.6% (2017) of the total global population their improved maternal health and enhanced mental wellbeing will only facilitate in the co-existence of the two sexes and progress of the world community.
Dr Harleen Shergill Ph.D. Economics, Free-lance Author and Researcher