Sexual and reproductive rights in India aim to provide women and girls not only access to comprehensive reproductive health information and services but also to experience positive reproductive health outcomes such as lower rates of unsafe abortion and maternal mortality. Women are offered the opportunity to make fully informed decisions on their sexual and reproductive health choices as and when required. Abortion hospital in Chennai considers the right to safe abortion as an important aspect of every woman’s right to bodily integrity, right to life, and equality that needs to be protected.
The legality of abortion in India
Abortions are legal in India since the enactment of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) in 1971, creating a framework meant to protect women from the grave risks of unsafe abortion. But unfortunately, unsafe abortion still remains the third leading cause of maternal mortality in India. Every day around eight women is estimated to die from causes related to unsafe abortion. Abortions are permissible based on relevant conditions and demographic characteristics such as age, economic status, environment, adverse impacts/improvements on the health of the woman seeking abortion services. In 2002, abortion services shifted major focus after being classified as a medical procedure.
The legality of abortion in India is subject to the mental and physical health of the pregnant woman and the probability of the unborn child having a physical or mental anomaly. The Indian law states that the mental health of the woman is likely to be negatively impacted if the pregnancy has occurred without consent such as in circumstances of rape or the failure of the contraceptive method.
The legality of abortion in India is also dependent upon the consent of the pregnant woman. MTP 2003 Act demands the guardians’ consent to allow legal access to abortion care services if the pregnant woman is below 18 years of age or has a mental illness. Law allows abortions to be sorted only from identified public hospitals and certified private facilities. However, in emergency situations during pregnancy, abortion can be performed by a certified obstetrician or an abortion specialist. It is difficult for many women under 18 years to take the legal ways or look for a guardian to provide consent and hence often seek unsafe illegal methods of abortion.
As per MTP Act, abortion practitioners performing illegal procedures are criminalized. Women seeking abortions for reasons inclined other than to protect their own life are also considered to be acting out of the law. This makes the burden of procuring legal abortion care in India especially difficult for unmarried women. Unlike married women, unmarried women are at the risk of having no easy access to contraception. This has increased the burden to meet one of the other conditions of receiving an unmarried abortion in Chennai.
Abortion is legalized up to 20 weeks wherein it is enough to consult one medical practitioner for abortion within the gestational period between weeks 1 and 12. Whereas, 12-20 weeks of gestation requires the consultation of two practitioners for a legal abortion. So, decision-making and discretionary power for conducting legal abortions are in the hands of the medical provider.
Barriers in Rights to Access Safe and Legal Abortion
India was one of the first countries to form legislation and legalize conditional abortion. While contraceptive measures were made available, more focus stayed on meeting targets for sterilization and less on temporary spacing methods. This has distracted the attention away from the universal provision of abortion and contraception to meet set targets of population control.
Reproductive health-related laws and policies in India have not been successful in taking a women’s rights-based approach. While the focus has been on demographic targets like population control, women’s reproductive autonomy has been undermined through discriminatory requirements such as spousal consent to avail reproductive health services like abortion. It has also failed to remove structural barriers to reproductive health services, which is reflected in the barriers to the provision of safe abortion.
Violation of Reproductive Rights
Reproductive rights in general terms are understood as the rights of a person to decide whether to reproduce and have reproductive health. The right to plan a family, terminate a pregnancy, use contraceptives, learn about sex education in public schools and gain access to reproductive health services are inclusive of reproductive rights. Legal protection of these rights as human rights is imperative to establish gender justice and equality for women. There are certain violations and disparities in availing reproductive rights that contribute to the incidence of maternal mortality. Violations of reproductive rights that disproportionately harm women due to their capacity to become pregnant include:
* Maternal mortality and morbidity
* Unsafe abortion and poor quality of post-abortion care
* Lack of access to the full range of contraceptive methods
* Reliance on forced and substandard female sterilization
* Child marriage
* Lack of information and education on reproductive and sexual health.
Reproductive Rights and Medical Obligations
Courts in India have been playing an important role in ensuring women’s reproductive rights as guaranteed by their constitutional and human rights. Rights to reproductive healthcare and autonomy have surfaced medical obligations such as:
* Availability of affordable, timely, and quality maternal health care
* Assurance of access to a full range of contraceptive methods in a non-coercive, quality, and target free manner
* Preventive measures against child marriage and
* Approach to safe and legal abortion that ensures freedom from forced pregnancy
The Supreme Court of India has in the recent past made great progress in recognizing the denial of reproductive rights as a violation of women’s and girls’ fundamental and human rights. Reproductive autonomy is a dimension of personal liberty. It is important to recognize that reproductive choices can be exercised to procreate as well as to abstain from procreating. The upholding of reproductive rights and the provision of sexual and reproductive health services are essential to protect the human rights of women. Legal reproductive health services are safe and accessible at abortion hospitals in Chennai. Thereby, morbidity and mortality due to unsafe abortion are preventable and can improve the well-being of women in India.