United States Supreme Court upending its own 1973 judgment in “Roe Vs Wade” -- that had made abortion a fundamental right in the country -- has sparked a debate among women rights activists across the world, with India not being far behind, and with gender and reproductive health experts terming the new ruling as “regressive” and “conservative”.
With abortion no more a fundamental right in the world’s richest country, which has a total GDP of $20.95 trillion, the impact is expected to be not only on the American women, and transgender individuals in the US, but can also have global repercussions, public health experts have indicated.
“Given the global influence of the US across every sphere, this is likely to stigmatize reproductive health worldwide, affecting millions, if not billions, of women,” said Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of Population of India.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, at least 45 per cent of all abortions across the world are unsafe and becoming one of the leading causes of maternal death. Since 1994, four nations, now including the US, have rolled back abortion rights. The US is by far the richest and most influential nation to do so. The other three nations to restrict abortion rights are Poland, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Public health experts have said that reproductive rights not being a part of fundamental rights may lead to similar interpretations in different countries and it will lead to more unsafe and unregulated abortions worldwide.
Citing a study published in The Lancet, Muttreja said that there is evidence to suggest that restrictive abortion laws can be counterproductive and result in an increase in the absolute number of abortions taking place.
According to the Lancet study, the abortion rate dropped by 43 per cent in the decades between 1990-1995 and 2015-2019 in settings where abortion is broadly legal, excluding China and India. In contrast, the abortion rate increased by about 12 per cent “in countries that highly restrict access to abortion."
“As always those most affected by the new US law will be people of colour, the poor, those living with disabilities,” cautioned Dr Suchitra Dalvie, Asia Safe Abortion Partnership & member of Pratigya Campaign, an initiative towards gender equality and safe abortions.
Indian abortion laws are relatively progressive when compared to other countries in the world. The Rajya Sabha in March 2021 approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2021 to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. The India abortion law enhanced the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women, including survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women (like differently-abled women, minors), etc. Also, if "substantial foetal abnormalities" are diagnosed by a Medical Board, there is no upper-limit for abortion in India after the amendment.
“This move [new US law] is deeply concerning as it could encourage regressive thinking in society and condemn India's reproductive health measures. This is a major obstacle to the movement that protects women's rights to sexual and reproductive health. Given the global influence of the United States, this can stigmatise reproductive health,” said Debanjana Choudhuri, gender specialist.
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