U.S. Supreme Court overturns abortion right

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    • Recently, US Supreme Court overturned the landmark decision that established a constitutional right to an abortion.

    More about the issue:

    • The US Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade judgement of 1973.
      • It gave women in America the right to have an abortion before the foetus is viable outside the womb or before the 24-28 week mark. 
    • Striking down this judgement is considered as a significant step backwards for women’s rights in the U.S.
    • Given the global influence of the U.S. across every sphere, this is likely to stigmatise abortions worldwide , according to the Population Foundation of India (PFI).

    Abortion Laws in India:

    • Women in India do not have an unrestricted right to abortion under the law. 
    • Under specific conditions and to a certain extent, abortion is permissible based on a medical opinion.
    • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, a piece of legislation passed by the Parliament in 1971, gave licensed medical professionals permission to perform abortions in specific predetermined situations.
      • This law was amended in 2021.

    Salient features of the “Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 2021”:

    • Abortions before 20 weeks of pregnancy:
      • Terminating a pregnancy up to 20 weeks will only require the medical advice of one doctor.
    • Abortions upto or beyond 24 of pregnancy:
      • Abortion is legal for women in certain circumstances up to 24 weeks.
      • It would include:
        •  survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women (like differently-abled women, minors) etc.
      • Opinion of 2 providers is required for termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation.
      • A state-level medical board will be set up to decide: 
        • if pregnancy may be terminated beyond 20 months till 24 months.
        • Such a decision can be taken by the medical board only after 
          • due consideration and 
          • ensuring that the procedure would be safe for the woman.
          • The time frame available to the Medical Board is 3 days.
      • The upper gestation limit not to apply in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by the Medical Board
    • Anonymity: 
      • Name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated shall not be revealed except to a person authorised in any law for the time being in force.
    • Marital and age criteria:
      • Unmarried women can also access abortion under the above-mentioned conditions because it does not mention the requirement of spousal consent. 
      • If the woman is a minor, however, the consent of a guardian is required.
    • Intentionally causing a miscarriage:
      • Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code holds intentionally causing a miscarriage as a criminal offence.

    Significance:

    • Constitutional right:
      • The reproductive choice is personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian constitution.
    • Reproductive Rights of a Woman: 
      • The laws provide greater reproductive rights and dignity to women as abortion is considered an important aspect of the reproductive health of women.
    • Right to Privacy: 
      • The rape victims and vulnerable victims are also benefitted from Privacy Clause.
    • Encouragement to Safe Abortion: 
      • Deaths and injuries from unsafe abortions are largely preventable provided services are performed legally by trained practitioners.

    Criticisms:

    • No Personal Choice: 
      • The boards are unnecessary and an invasion of privacy of the pregnant women which pushes the laborious process a woman had to undergo in order to get an abortion.
      • As the law does not permit abortion at will, critics say that it pushes women to access illicit abortions under unsafe conditions.
    • Increase in Gestational limit only in certain cases: 
      • It enhances the gestational limit for legal abortion from 20 to 24 weeks only for specific categories of women.
      • A woman who does not fall into these categories would not be able to seek an abortion beyond 20 weeks.
    • Shortage of medical staff:
      • According to a 2018 study in the Lancet, 15.6 million abortions were accessed every year in India as of 2015. 
      • The Act requires abortion to be performed only by doctors with specialisation in gynaecology or obstetrics. 
      • However, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s 2019-20 report on Rural Health Statistics indicates that there is a 70% shortage of obstetrician-gynaecologists in rural India.

    Way ahead

    • Access to legal and safe abortion is an integral dimension of sexual and reproductive equality and must be a crucial element of conventional society.

    Abortion laws around the world:

    • Abortions are either banned entirely or permitted with certain restrictions in place. 
    • Very often limits are placed on when an abortion is permitted, generally around gestational time limits. 
    • Countries that have altogether banned abortions:
      • Abortions are illegal in 24 countries, where about 90 million or 5 percent of women of reproductive age reside.
        • These include Senegal, Mauritania, and Egypt in Africa, Laos and the Philippines in Asia, El Salvador and Honduras in Central America, and Poland and Malta in Europe.
        • As per the hardline laws in some of these countries, women are imprisoned for getting abortions.
    • Countries that permit abortions, but with significant restrictions:
      • Around 50 countries — including Libya, Indonesia, Nigeria, Iran and Venezuela — permit abortions if a woman’s health is at risk. 
      • Several others allow it in cases of rape, incest or foetal abnormality.
    • Countries where abortions are more easily accessible:
      • In Canada, Australia and much of Europe there are few restrictions other than gestational limits.
      • Most European countries permit abortions within gestational time limits, which most commonly is about 12-14 weeks. 

    Source: TH