Abortion: Who is responsible for our rights

Authors : Jesani, Amar; Iyer, Aditi

Published Year: 1995

In Our lives, Our Health, New Delhi, Coordination Unit, World Conference on Women, Beijing, Edited by Malini Karkal, August 1995, pp. 114-130

Through history, women have practised forms of birth control and abortion. These practices have generated intense moral, ethical, political and legal debates since abortion is not merely a technomedical issue but "the fulcrum of a much broader ideological struggle in which the very meanings of the family, the state, motherhood and young women's sexuality are contested" (Petchesky R.P, 1986: vii). Women have overtly or covertly resorted to abortion, but their access to services has been countered by the imposition of social and legal restrictions, many of which have origin in morality and religion. The norms governing the ethics of abortion have been constantly remoulded to suit the times and the social contexts in which they are set. Despite the dissimilarities in their construct, intent and orientation, these norms have invariably been directed to the fulfilment of social needs that do not recognise women's right to determine their sexuality, fertility and reproduction. This paper reviews the abortion scenario with particular reference to India. A brief historical account of the role of the medical profession in criminalising and decriminalising abortion services is followed by a discussion on the politics of abortion in India. An analytic review of the abortion situation in India provides the reader with information about legal and illegal abortions and the paper concludes by placing the issue of abortion in the context of social (rather than individual) needs and rights.

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