“There is no freedom, no equality, no full human dignity and personhood possible for women until they assert and demand control over their own bodies and reproductive process…The right to have an abortion is a matter of individual conscience and conscious choice for the women concerned.”
– Betty Friedan.
“Life is the most sublime creation of God.’’ Mahatma Gandhi mentioned thisin his weekly journal Harijan. “God alone can take life because only he can give it. ’’
And with these statements I begin my musings on the most controversial topic ‘Right to abortion’.
This 8 letter word has the parliaments around the world in a dilemma. One issue on which everyone has an opinion. It is the one thing that even the United Nations has not been able to get a resolution on.
Before starting it all let’s get our terms and facts right.
Abortion in common phraseology is getting the pregnancy terminated before six months of gestation.
The word abortion has a Latin origin “abotus”, meaning an object which has been detached from its proper site. According to Webster Dictionary it means the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or foetus.
Okay, now let us get started.
Since, times immemorial abortion is amongst the most controversial social and ethical issues. As abortion involves taking of a human life, this concept is usually surrounded by various legal, religious, political, moral and social arguments.
This issue of abortion is dealt with two questions mainly. Firstly, if women should be permitted to abort the child and under what conditions. The second is, if there is an obligation on the State to protect the unborn child.
Though child is a gift of god to all, at times it has to be ‘cast aside’. This single act faces a lot of criticism and that judgmental question “how’’? Let’s take a breath and try to get in someone else’s shoes. There cannot be only a single reason for abortion. Don’t believe me? See below.
Pregnancies that occur as a result of rape, which are the most unwanted and seek abortions. Many women, are not prepared emotionally or physically to become a parent. Many women get pregnant before they had actually planned. No doubt most women want a child at some stage of their life, but when to bear a child and when not to, is their choice. In fact, most of the times the abortions take place because the couple did not plan the child. Most girls enter into unwanted pregnancies at an early age, where they have to choose between the society and the child. Also, sometimes the partner denies taking the responsibility of the child. The reason can also be financial crises. Manytimes, the family is not economically sound to raise a child, and pregnancies like these seek abortions. The worst reason for abortion sometimes is that the women, that when women conceive late in reproductive years, and find that the foetus may not live or may be abnormal. This is the most painful choice to make. There are cases where the sex of the foetus is determined and the undesired sex is aborted. This is the most common culture prevalent.
This isn’t a new ‘trend’ or issue. Generations and generations of women demanded for abortion, to control their reproduction thus making it a medical and legal issue. This persistent need for abortion fired a mass movement that succeeded in reversing public policy toward abortion in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Abortion had become a crime and a sin for several reasons. A trend of humanitarian reform in the mid-19th century broadened liberal support for criminalization, because at that time abortion was a dangerous procedure done with crude methods, few antiseptics, and high mortality rates. But this alone cannot explain the attack on abortion. “Protecting” women from the dangers of abortion was actually meant to control them and restrict them to their traditional child-bearing role. Anti-abortion legislation was part of an anti feminist backlash to the growing movements for suffrage, voluntary motherhood, and other women’s rights in the 19th century.
Women who are determined not to carry an unwanted pregnancy have always found some way to try to abort. All too often, they have resorted to dangerous, sometimes deadly methods, such as inserting knitting needles or coat hangers into the vagina and uterus, douching with dangerous solutions like lye, or swallowing strong drugs or chemicals. The coat hanger has become a symbol of the desperation of millions of women who have risked death to end a pregnancy.
The concept – individual freedom to do as one pleases with its own body crops up, also so does the concept of population control.
While most women’s health groups see the fight for abortion rights in the context of defending the rights of all women to make their own decisions about reproduction. Some view legal abortion and contraception as tools of population control.
Advocates of population control blame overpopulation for a range of problems, from global poverty to ethnic conflict and environmental degradation. Historically, this type of thinking has led to a range of coercive fertility control policies that target Third World women. These include sterilization without a woman’s knowledge or consent; the use of economic incentives to “encourage” sterilization, a practice that undermines the very notion of reproductive choice; the distribution and sometimes coercive or unsafe use of contraceptive methods, often without appropriate information; the denial of abortion services; and sometimes coercive abortion.
For example, HIV-positive women in the U.S. (who are overwhelmingly women of colour) are often pressured to have abortions, though only 20 to 25% of their children will be HIV-positive and new treatments during pregnancy have reduced the likelihood even further.
The right to abortion is part of every woman’s right to control her reproductive choices and her own life. We must reject all efforts to coerce women’s reproductive decisions. The goals of reproductive rights activists must encompass the right to have children as well as the right not to.
But these were activists and all; now let’s move to the religious institutes.
Many philosophers, before ascertaining the desires or the health of the mother, stress upon the fact that the moral status of unborn should be protected. The questions, which need to be determined, are:
a) Does a foetus have the moral status of a human being?
b) Does the foetus have the same and equivalent status as the mother?
With the advent of Human Rights, it is usually argued that a foetus has perhaps more moral rights and thus Termination of Pregnancy is not permissible. Traditional perspectives say that the foetus acquires the moral status right from the conception because at this point the ensoulment happens i.e., when the soul of unborn gets attached to the soul of the mother.
But the question to be given importance is balancing the interests and rights of a woman seeking abortion to the rights of the foetus who shall possess equivalent moral considerations whose life will end. Sometimes the woman’s life is in danger if the pregnancy is continued, thus there is no option but to terminate the pregnancy. But where there are no psychological and medical risks, the question of the moral status of the foetus arises.
In justifying if morally abortion is fully justified or not, the question which needs consideration is the rights and preferences of the mother who bears the child. Even if we give the foetus a moral status that does not mean that termination of pregnancy is totally morally unethical.
Even if the foetus is a person with all kinds of rights, it does not in any sense mean that abortions are morally unjustified. The main claim of this argument is that the right a woman who is pregnant justifies abortion in every sense. This justification is stronger in cases such as rape, contraceptive failure and other harms to the mother. Also if there is a possibility that the future child would be disabled, it would not be justified to force a woman to give birth to an unwanted child.
Saying and portraying all the facts and coming to the moral issues revolving abortion, it is very important to acknowledge that when a woman chooses to abort the fetus living inside her, she never does it out of any frivolous or uncaring desire, rather it strikes at her choosing between her life and the fetus’ pointing out all the ethical pros and cons of terminating the unwanted pregnancy. The debate to this will only end if this is realized that a solution to this won’t be obtained by denying abortion but by realizing the fact that who will be affected if the unwanted pregnancy is continued. A true moral solution shall include reducing the rate of unwanted pregnancies and providing proper awareness on proper family planning and safe sex.