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Equal abortion rights for single women: A positive first step

The Centre’s move to give single women equal abortion rights is the first step towards re-hauling the law

editorials Updated: Dec 13, 2016 01:34 IST
While seven million abortions are conducted every year in India, only 50% are safe
While seven million abortions are conducted every year in India, only 50% are safe

“You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion,” United States politician Hillary Clinton once said in an interview. Thankfully, the Indian government too is thinking on these lines: According to a report in a national daily, the Union health ministry has recommended recognising “failure of contraceptive” and “unplanned pregnancy” as lawful reasons for abortion among all women, married or otherwise. As things stand now, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act recognises these two reasons for abortion only in the case “married women”. This proposed rule is part of series of recommendations made by the health ministry for amending the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act. The proposal is likely to be taken up by the Cabinet soon after the ongoing Parliament session ends.

Read: The ugly abortion sales pitch in Rajasthan: Say it’s a girl even when it isn’t

According to government data, while seven million abortions are conducted every year in India, only 50% are safe. Nearly 8% women opting for abortion die due to complications arising from unsafe procedures. Globally, 22 million unsafe abortions are reported every year. Women rights activists feel that women have a moral right to decide what to do with their bodies and the right to abortion is vital for gender equality and is critical for them to achieve their full potential. Plus, banning abortion puts women at risk by forcing them to use illegal abortionists.

Read: Women should be allowed to end pregnancy even when there is no risk: Bombay HC

Along with expanding the scope of the law, medico-legal experts feel that a revision of the legal limit for abortion too has to be done. This is because foetal abnormalities show up only at the end of 18 weeks, giving would-be parents a two-week window to take a discussion. Even for a doctor, this is too small a window to help patients decide. Moreover, these days, technology has moved ahead, which has taken prenatal diagnosis far beyond the illegal sex determination tests that have refused to die out completely. There is an urgent need to change the law because there is a rising incidence of sex crimes, and the urgent need to empower women with sexual rights and choices both in their own interest and for the sake of reducing the fertility rate as a whole.