The Politics of Abortion
Abortion is a classic example of political control over gender rights
About 1,50,000 American women came out on the streets on March 8 1956, the International Working Women's Day, demanding abortion as a woman's independent right, cutting across barriers of religion, caste, class, language, nativity and marital status.
Abortion laws during this time, were quite liberal in the USA. The movement aimed at consolidating the position of women regarding abortion across the world.
Abortion is the termination of pregnancy before the foetus is sufficiently developed to survive. At that time, without accurate statistics, one in every five to ten pregnancies were said to terminate in abortion. But this was looking at the issue only from the medical point of view.
Abortion includes both spontaneous (voluntary) and induced (involuntary) abortion. Whether induced or spontaneous, gynecologists across the world are equivocal about abortion being the major cause for maternal mortality in the world.
Then why do women want to claim the sole right to decide about aborting their own foetuses? The reasons are many.
One, they want to be the decision maker in whether they want the pregnancy or not.
Two, they insist on their right to control their fertility. Women do not want others, men specifically and patriarchy in general, breathing down their necks forcing them to carry on with a pregnancy they do not want, for medical, personal, financial, or other reasons.
Three, they insist that no third party, through legal statutes or through official decisions, has a right to invade their privacy as having or not having a baby is an intimate choice.
Four, and the most important, they believe and insist that they have absolute right over their bodies.
Why must decisions on their lives, their health, their individual choices be done by others and not by the women themselves? A few months back, the media was rife with predictions that US Supreme Court would soon ban abortions. This was an incredible piece of news in 2022.
All this was happening right in the middle of the reality that over the past five years, four countries have relaxed their laws on abortion considerably. These are Ireland in 2018, Argentina in 2020, Mexico in 2021 and Columbia in 2022. It is therefore, shocking to discover that within this relaxed and comparatively liberal approach towards abortion, the US went ahead to deprive women of their constitutional right to abortion.
Former US President Barack O'Bama openly expressed his sadness about the new law that has made abortion illegal. He added that not only had the law of the country completely reversed a 50-year-old law, but also deprived the ordinary woman from taking any decisions on her personal life.
In 1973, the US Supreme Court had not expressly or separately stated the woman's constitutional right to abortion, but, based on acknowledging the woman's right to her personal freedom and her right to privacy, it was assumed that this was recognised by the US Constitution.
Isn't it ironic then, that 50 years later, the same Supreme Court has directly refused the logical decision taken by its predecessors on the same issue? It has virtually snatched from all reproductive women their right to abort legally.
According to Caroll Smith-Rosenberg, who authored Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (1985) abortion is a classic example of political control over personal, bodily decisions of human beings in general and women in particular.
This is precisely why a very private and personal decision like abortion brings out in public the link between politics and abortion at every level. Any discussion on abortion means discussing power politics.
Under patriarchy, carrying the family line through children, in all empowering decisions, women have always been ignored. This has gathered strength through the strong excuse offered by religious texts, also manipulated, doctored and created by patriarchy.
Sociologists and experts have begun to discuss that as a consequence of the legal ban on abortions in the US, the affluent in the US will visit countries where abortion laws are relatively liberal for their abortions. This is labelled as "abortion tourism."
The US women who are poor, weak and vulnerable, will be forced to give birth to around 60,000 unwanted babies when the taboo on abortion becomes real. Add to this, the health disasters this might lead to through abortions conducted illegally or by quacks.
This will lead to crude abortions in unskilled hands and increase the opportunity of black-marketing of abortions. The final result will be a rise in maternal mortality and female mortality rates.
However, the nation-wide movement resulting from the recent law misses the significant fact that among a well-informed populace aware of modern birth control and contraceptive methods, abortion can be a last-minute resort to save the life of the mother.
Then, why ban abortion? Why shouldn't women have the right to their reproductive organs and their bodies and the right to make their choice to keep or not to keep an unborn foetus? Is this another political strategy to disempower women? Why not give back women the space to control their own bodies?
The legalisation of abortion in India through the passing of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act) 1971 which came into effect in April 1972 has not worked positively towards bringing down the number of illegal abortions. Nor has it been able to bring down the maternal mortality rate.
For instance, even till 1984, which is 12 years after the MTP Act took effect, registered records in Mumbai revealed a maternal mortality rate of 29 per 100,000 births. A deeper probing exposed that in reality, the maternal mortality rate was 150 for every 100,000 births. This was considered to be a high figure because in Mumbai, about 99 per cent of deliveries were conducted institutionally.
Abortion is a tool in the hands of politicians and administrators in India as it is practiced as a family planning method, as contraception. This makes abortion a collective decision rather than an individual one because, placed beside other forms of contraception, gynecologists themselves state that abortion, as it is often performed by quacks and unskilled people, is one of the major reasons of maternal mortality which is bound to happen when performed illegally which is the natural consequence of legally banning it.