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Advocacy on Abortion and sex-selection

Recently there have been a series of knee jerk reactions by the GoM as a response to the rising pressure to curb sex selection. The Census 2011 found that the sex ratios have further declined both nationally as well as at the state level. In Maharashtra, the sex ratios have declined in almost all districts making it a state issue and not a regional matter anymore. CEHAT staff has been involved in many ways in responding to these proposals from writing letters to the officials, issuing press statements, working with journalists, amongst others. From proposing that abortion should be considered as murder, to replicating a bizarre scheme like ‘Silent Observer’ that tracks all pregnancies through software in the ultrasound machines, to seeking permissions for every abortion from municipal commissioner of the city are some examples of such responses. A lot of effort and time was spent by the CEHAT in coordination with the media, civil society representatives to ensure that a strong resistance was built.

In September 2011, a committee for ‘control of unauthorized abortions’ was appointed under the chairmanship of Dr.Sanjay Oak (Dean, KEMH), by the Health Minister. Padma Deosthali from CEHAT was appointed on the committee along with several others including a representative of FOGSI and UNFPA. While most of the recommendations were positive - about increasing awareness of and access to abortion services - there were voices that felt that in the context of falling sex ratios, there should be more stringent monitoring of abortions. Two recommendations were made by the committee in this light – one to preserve photographic evidence of every second-trimester abortus, and the second to make medical abortion pills available only with service providers registered under MTP. Six out of the nine members vehemently opposed these recommendations arguing that it would reduce access to abortion but the Chairperson insisted on making it a recommendation along with dissenting note. A letter signed by all the six members was submitted to the health minister expressing concern over these suggestions.

Senior police officers were designated by the Government of Maharashtra, as nodal officers at district level for implementation of the MTP and PCPNDT Acts. Both the laws have absolutely no role for the police, the monitoring mechanisms under both the acts are clearly defined. CEHAT staff participated as resource persons for training of the police on these acts and deliberated upon the salient features of the act and emphasized issues such as confidentiality of MTP records, right to abortion for women, barriers in seeking safe abortion, reasons for delay in seeking abortions indicating vulnerability of women. The need for privacy and confidentiality as core to abortion services was underscored.

In February 2013, CEHAT also organized a consultation between activists and civil society organizations working on abortion and sex selection to build ‘common ground’ between them.

CEHAT is currently drafting Frequently Asked Questions on Abortion and Sex-selection, in order to clarify misconceptions about the two laws and to convey the dangers of jeopardizing access to abortion.

Team: Padma Deosthali, Sana Contractor, Asilata Karandikar