The Abortion Debate: Liberty vs Subjugation
Down the streets of Paris, 230 years ago, the people cried “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”; each sound resounding through the dark alleys and penetrating the stubborn minds of the monarchy, laying the basis of a democratic republic – self governance, through a communally appointed leader. But, here we are, at this juncture in our world, where our own leaders wish to snatch away our rights, snatch away our freedom of choice. Case in Point: the restrictive abortion laws that have turned heads internationally, in Alabama, United States of America. In the ‘21st’ century, the century of revolution and reform, the manifestation of humanitarian ideals — the United States of America’s acclaimed ‘all men are equal’ — seems to have, in its patriarchal slogan, lived up to that promise in neglecting the rights of its female population. Abortion, the cause of fierce parliamentary debate and disdain among citizens, has finally led to a nation-wide outrage; an outrage for choice, rather than imposition. Passed earlier this month, Alabama’s legislation is one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, striking fear into the hearts of doctors with the horrendous 99-year jail term, and disempowering victims of rape and incest by forcing them to carry their foetuses to term: a metaphorical cross they must bear for a sin that wasn’t their own; all to uphold lawmakers' own personal, ‘religious’ or archaic beliefs.
“25 republican males lay out extensive and strict laws that govern the female body, snatching away a woman's control over her bodies, rendering her hapless and helpless.”: this is the raw, unadulterated truth behind that abhorring parliamentary session. The main aim of this bill is to overturn the landmark case, ‘Roe v/s Wade’, which cited abortion as part of the ‘right to privacy’, leaving the decision to abort a foetus in the female’s hands. Several anti-abortion supporters, including POTUS himself, have called out this law for being “too extreme”. And very rightly so.
Alabama’s abortion law closely resembles the ‘heartbeat’ abortion laws, wherein an abortion after six weeks is not permitted unless the mother’s life is in critical danger. The archaic law denies women the very basis that democracy is based on — choice, and self governance. Another key criticism of the bill — holding victims of incest and rape to gunpoint, to carry their foetuses to term — is the appalling absent-mindedness of the lawmakers who have failed to realise the lack of care or legislation available for these children, born in broken, volatile and unstable homes; shattering their chances at a remotely normal future. Victims also tend to belong to relatively poor minority groups, further compounding their woes and obliterating their fundamental right to choice. These harsh and restrictive legislations may also lead to the deterioration of the social status of women, further empowering crimes such as rape and incest. This gender inequality is evident in India, home to the ‘rape capital’ of the world – New Delhi; where India’s apex court has also stirred up controversies with respect to its stances on abortion.
Historically, the Indian Penal Code of 1860 criminalised abortion; shunning it as ‘intentionally causing miscarriage’. In 1971 however, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act came into effect introducing a provision for abortions within 20 weeks of conception; leaving the decision in the hands of doctors; an extremely patriarchal profession, with over 80% of Indian doctors being males. The ‘abortion battle’ in India is rather different from that in the United States, because anti-abortion laws here must also take into account the inherent want for male children, and the social evil of female foeticide that is prevalent throughout the country.
While the Indian government has introduced campaigns such as ‘Beti Bachao, Bati Padhao’, the existing abortion laws and the bureaucratic complications render several victims powerless in the face of legislation. Astonishing cases like that of a ten-year old girl from Chandigarh raped by her uncles, then denied an abortion on account of the foetus reaching thirty weeks, or the incredulous case of a rape victim from Chattisgarh, denied an abortion because her pregnancy had crossed the 20-week threshold; highlight inherent problems in India’s abortion laws. Both girls belonged to underprivileged families. The former, unaware that she was ever pregnant, was operated upon under the guise of a ‘stone-removal surgery’; her parents only learnt of her pregnancy after she finally voiced her disgusting rape story, 26-weeks after conception. The latter was raped over a year, filed for abortion when she was 17-weeks pregnant; below the legal threshold. However her fears turned into a bureaucratic nightmare; her case was heard when she was 22-weeks pregnant, denying her the right to obtain an abortion. Both cases highlight a grassroots problem in Indian society — the lack of education, extreme poverty, lack of basic healthcare facilities; all social evils that collide into the vortex of problems: not knowing when pregnancy begins, and the lack of awareness about abortion deadlines.
The abortion debate globally, is fuelled by the idea of the ‘rights and wrongs’ of deliberately ending a pregnancy before normal childbirth, which has led to the formation of two sides, ‘Pro-Life’ and ‘Pro-Choice’. If every woman is an individual being with a complete set of rights to make decisions about her life, certainly, she is free to choose pregnancy; to terminate it if it has been forced upon her. Certainly, a woman must be able to dictate the course of her life, and that of her unborn child: ultimately, it is her decision; no one must be allowed to infringe that right. The ‘Pro-Choice’ approach exults the freedom and individuality of every woman; a power that must not be snatched away by any government body, or group. Being staunch believers in the ‘reproductive freedom’ of the woman, which encompasses her right to bodily autonomy, to decide whether she is ‘fit’ to carry the pregnancy to term and support the child later on, the ‘Pro-Choice’ group allows a woman to consider both, the short and long term picture to fully ascertain the fitness of the pregnancy to make an informed decision. However, the ‘Pro-Life’ group, can argue that even the unborn foetus is entitled to freedom and fundamental human rights from the time of its conception. The latter weighs murder and abortion equally, since Pro-Choice allegedly ‘violates’ the ‘right to life’ of a foetus, heavily weighing down on the ‘individual’ freedom of a mother by assigning rights even to the unborn child; arguing that life begins at conception (a medically untrue fact).
The ‘Pro-Life’ movement, with its staunch anti-abortion stance, is attempting to criminalise abortion in multiple areas; a felony that denies victims of rape, incest and a lower-order socio-economic background a right to participate in the fundamental of democracy – the right to freedom; plunging them deeper into economic debt, the demons of their perpetrators looming over them every single day as they are forced to live with the horror that once ensued. Outlawing abortion creates a larger problem, one that can damage future generations; prohibiting children to grow in an environment where they may truly be cared for and cherished in the best possible manner to become citizens of the law. Outlawing abortions certainly isn’t the route to obliterating them, especially not when unintended pregnancies due to the lack of availability or affordability of contraceptives is a problem faced by over 200 million women globally. Not when 86% of the world’s abortions take place in countries with highly restrictive laws; with countries where abortion is ‘prohibited’ having a higher abortion rate. What this does, however, is make an already risky procedure much, much more dangerous, leaving over 50,000 dead and millions more injured in countries supporting ‘Pro-Life’ stances.
Certainly, liberty, equality and fraternity, cannot be words the are simply etched into constitutions worldwide, and then ignored. They are the living, breathing foundations of the modern world. Liberty snatched away from women; forced to carry foetuses to term. The lost liberty of that poor, uneducated girl from a village in Uttar Pradesh, brutally raped by her uncle; the forgotten liberty of that ten year old girl who was raped by her own step-father; no liberty to the Yezidi woman in Syria raped by ISIS soldiers; pregnant for no fault of her own. All of them, haunted by their demons till eternity, haunted by a product of their violators. The ‘Pro-Choice’ movement is not ‘pro-abortion’, it upholds the key value of democracy: individual choice. It allows for women to be free, to take their destiny into their own hands — not living by the decision of 25 men in a state senate.
‘No woman can be free who does not control her own body’
Let HER Choose.