Restrictive Indian Abortion Laws Require Reform

With the widely controversial Donald Trump Policy roller coaster both making global headlines and impacting an immediate ripple-effect if you like on women’s abortion rights worldwide, the already heated abortion debate now enters a hard-line period of conflicted exchange in many global countries, developed and undeveloped alike, including of course, the Mother of the East, India.

In 1971, abortion was made legal in India when the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed with an aim to reduce illegal abortion and maternal mortality. In a society that frequently considers sexuality as taboo, the MTP act was a welcome move and a validation of a woman’s fundamental right. It also established bodily sovereignty wherein each woman has the sole right to make decisions about what happens to her body. The word ‘abortion’ has always been a sensitive topic. Throughout history, induced abortions have been a source of considerable debate and controversy. Many countries still consider it as murder, while women’s rights insist it to be a woman’s fundamental right to have control over her body.

Here are some things you should know about Abortion in India. So stay safe and well informed.

What is Abortion?

Mainstream Wikipedia defines abortion as the removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus from the uterus, resulting in, or caused by, its death. This could occur either spontaneously as a miscarriage, or be artificially induced through chemical, surgical or other means.

When can it be done?

Abortion in India is legal only up to twenty weeks of pregnancy under specific conditions and situations which are broadly defined as:

  1. The continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury of physical or mental health
  2. There is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

A woman has the right to abort:

  • If the woman has a serious disease and the pregnancy could endanger her physical/mental health
  • If the continuation of pregnancy could lead to substantial risk to the newborn leading to serious physical / mental handicaps
  • If the pregnancy is the result of rape
  • If the socio-economic status of the mother hampers the progress of a healthy pregnancy and the birth of a healthy child.
  • If the contraceptive device irrespective of the method used (natural methods/ barrier methods/ hormonal methods) failed

Permission/Consent:

  • If a woman is married, her own written consent is sufficient. Her husband’s consent is not required
  • If a woman is unmarried and over 18, she can provide her own written consent
  • If a woman is unmarried and under 18, she must provide written consent from her guardian
  • If a woman is mentally unstable, she must provide written consent from her guardian

Where and Who can perform the abortion:

Abortions can be performed in any medical institution that is licensed by the government to perform medically assisted terminations of pregnancy. Such institutions must display a certificate issued by the government.

Abortions must be performed by a doctor with one of the following qualifications:

  • A registered medical practitioner who has performed at least 25 medically assisted terminations of pregnancy
  • A surgeon who has six months’ experience in obstetrics and gynaecology
  • A person who has a diploma or degree in obstetrics and gynaecology
  • A doctor who was registered before the 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and who has three years’ experience in obstetrics and gynaecology
  • A doctor who registered after 1971 and has been practising in obstetrics and gynaecology for at least a year

Types of Abortion treatment:

There are two types of abortion treatment, ‘Medical’ and ‘Surgical’ abortion:

Medical abortion: A type of non-surgical abortion which involves taking medication to cause an early miscarriage. Abortifacient pharmaceutical drugs made by combination of two medications, mifepristone and misoprostol is an option for women who are 10 weeks pregnant or less.

Abortion pill from 10 weeks up to 24 weeks: Involves taking medication to cause the womb to contract and push out the pregnancy.

Surgical abortion: Surgical abortion is a procedure that ends a pregnancy by removing the fetus and placenta from the mother’s womb and involves a quick, minor operation. There are two types of surgical abortion:

Vacuum aspiration ( first trimester) which removes the pregnancy by gentle suction with local anaesthetic.

Dilation and evacuation is done when an abortion occurs in (second trimester) of pregnancy. It usually includes a combination of vacuum aspiration, dilation and curettage and the use of surgical instruments (such as forceps) to clear the uterus of fetal and placental tissue.

Evolution of the MTP Act

To understand the issues surrounding abortion in India, it is necessary to contextualise the evolution of the MTP Act, which liberalised abortion laws in India. The MTP was enacted two years before the landmark judgement of the US Supreme Court in Roe v Wade – which held that laws which criminalise all abortions, except those required to save a mother’s life, were unconstitutional and violated the right to privacy of a pregnant woman. But this right should be balanced against the right of the state’s legitimate interest in protecting both the pregnant woman’s health and the potentiality of human life at various stages of pregnancy.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 needs to be amended to better address the varying concerns of Indian women be they rape survivors, married women or sexually active single women.

Double Standards in India’s Sex Industry

You can find in India some of the largest red light district in the world. In fact, the documentary Born into Brothels discussed what it’s like having parents who are prostitutes. Among the major red light districts in the country are Sonogachi in Kolkata, and Kamathipura in Mumbai.

Unfortunately, some girls here are coerced into the sex industry. Human trafficking is rampant, as well as forced prostitution. This being said, many Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) help sex workers, especially with regards to their sexual health.

UNODC reported that even though some sex workers would want to leave the industry, they are afraid of the stigma of the society. No matter what they do, they will always be labeled as prostitutes. As ironic as it may sound, sex is not that a taboo topic in India. Although the sex industry is thriving, the Indian culture does not consent this in contrast to more liberal attitudes to brothels in Australia.

Sex in Hinduism

Hinduism does not consider sexual desires as evil. However, the religion stresses the value of purity and living morally. Regardless of the social stigma and reputation for prostitution, the religion regards the sexual fulfillment as a primary goal of human life.

Intention plays an important role as to whether or not sex, in general, is allowed or disallowed. If the sexual purpose is only for pleasure, Hinduism sees it as adharma or unlawful. On the other hand, if sex is for procreation, it is dharma or lawful.

Hindus of high social ranking also deem sex outside marriage as against the religion. An article from the BBC tells how a judge in New Delhi asserted pre-marital sex as morally wrong and in contradiction of religious teachings.

Prostitution and the Sex Industry

As much as Hinduism detest prostitution, the sex industry in India continues to boom. The sex trade in the country can be traced back in the 1800s during the British occupation. Brothels were established to accommodate and meet the sexual needs of British soldiers. More than a hundred years later, India’s red light districts are still the same poverty-stricken areas.

Instead of regarding sex workers as an outcast, the society should help them if they are serious in enforcing the tenets of Hinduism. Moreover, one should refrain from paying for girls then loathing them after satisfying your sexual desires. It is equally wrong.

 

Waste Management in India: Opportunities in Rubbish

It is quite apparent that India has mountains of garbage, and the cities are drowning in sewage. Is there any hope?

It’s not like the government has not been taking actions to handle India’s waste crisis. However, there is more that can be definitely done. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) was a massive city-modernisation scheme launched by the Government of India under Ministry of Urban Development. It aims to create ‘economically productive, efficient, equitable and responsive Cities’ by a strategy of upgrading the social and economic infrastructure in cities. However, aside from that, there has been no national level effort found to address the problem.

This basically means that municipal corporations got their hands full and will not be able to deliver solutions right away. It should be noted that for about eight years, officials of Hyderabad’s municipal corporation have been conducting interviews with locals and were quite unsuccessful with their efforts. This can be attributed to the track record of dumpsite operations and maintenance in India making the task of finding new landfills in and around cities is nearly impossible along with the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) phenomenon. What corporations can do however is to take measures in their own hands by reducing landfill fires and open burning, and control pollution which is the result of leachate and odor and vector nuisance. This in turn, provides the needed relief to adjacent communities and allows corporations some time to plan better. Working closely with the community is also of utmost importance as they navigate through this sensitive issue. This is made possible by increasing clarity and transparency over such issue.

Indeed, waste management is a shared effort and should not be handled by the government and corporations by themselves. The community needs to join with the cause by practicing proper waste management procedures in an effort to reduce waste. Of course, waste will not go away overnight but such activities will make sure that this lessens over time.

Waste management goes under different category that needs to be separated from each other. This in turn makes recycling much easier and more efficient than before.  For instance, BMW of Bio-medical Waste means any waste generated in health care processes like diagnosis, treatment or immunisation of human beings or animals. BWM needs to be handled in a timely manner not it causing any adverse effect to human health and environment. It also needs to be segregated in containers at point of generation and handled and disposed off in accordance with prescribed standards.

Another popular waste product that is used on a regular basis is the batteries. It should be noted that batteries that are not disposed properly can end up to leak with used lead acid batteries and their components which can be very dangerous. As such, the community is advised to deposit used batteries with dealer, manufacturer, importer, assembler, recycler, re-conditioner or designated collection centres instead of throwing them away. Cleaners services of plastic waste also needs to be handled effectively especially since plastic takes a very long time for them to decompose compared to other types of waste. Finding the nearest recycling center is able to make waste management activity much easier to handle. We can only hope for the best with India’s waste management problem.